Lionizing the shoe thrower

Rally held for Iraqi TV reporter who threw a shoe at President Bush.

Published December 15, 2008 3:46PM (EST)

A rally was held in Baghdad in support of Muntadar al-Zaidi, the al-Baghdadiya TV reporter now in custody who threw his shoes at President Bush.

As you surely heard by now, al-Zaidi threw first one shoe and then the other at Bush during a press conference Sunday. He shouted, "This is a farewell kiss, you dog. This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq."

Look: Bush has wreaked havoc on Iraq. Death, dismemberment, disfiguring, displacement and political disarray are all part of his tragic legacy. Al-Zaidi has many legitimate reasons to be angry.

But his actions and the subsequent lionizing of him are not helpful. If anything, the incident created sympathy for Bush (myself included, yes), who is on his way out the door and doesn’t deserve it -- all so that one television journalist, acting unprofessionally, can draw attention to himself. And don't say he did it to draw attention to the plight of Iraqi widows and orphans. Americans, and the world, know what's going on in Iraq, even if some prefer to ignore it.

If he wanted to be a political agitator, al-Zaidi could have quit his job and joined the ranks of the political protesters. Or he could have used the power of the media to opine. Sure, he got our attention. But Bush cleverly turned that attention into an opportunity to reiterate a point he's made before about how political expression is now possible in ways it was not previously -- which, while true and not without meaning, does little to reduce the real-life effects of all that death, dismemberment, disfiguring, displacement and disarray.

Further developments and reflections:

It is not surprising that al-Zaidi is being hailed as a hero in the Arab world. (And, presumably, much of the Muslim world, too.) But, I'm sorry, American journalists and commetators should not be joining the chorus.

In a column entitled "A Hero of Our Time: Muntadar al-Zaidi" (and the teaser super-headline of "Finally, A Journalist We Can Look Up To!"), Counterpunch's Dave Lindorff opens with this:

When Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi heaved his two shoes at the head of President George W. Bush during a press conference in Baghdad, he did something that the White House press corps should have done years ago.

Is he joking? Would he say the same thing if an American journalist heaved something at the head of state of some undemocratic regime that engaged in human rights abuses on its own people?

Perhaps I missed something one of them wrote, but a quick check of some of the top liberal bloggers -- none of whom are inclined to dial back their criticisms of Bush -- reveals that none have championed what al-Zaidi did. They may have said the video deserves watching; it does, maybe a few times, because let's face it, there is something naturally funny about a shoe being thrown, twice no less, at any president or head of state. But I didn't see anything from Kos, Atrios, Digby, or John Amato in the way of cheerleading for this guy. (Commenters on these sites do not count, natch.)

I don't like Bush. He's been terrible. January 20th cannot arrive fast enough. Our reputation around the globe will take decades to repair. But when somebody throws a shoe at the president, even a horrible and incompetent and insecure president who covers for his insecurities by being horribly incompetent, that person is throwing a shoe at my head and yours, too.

And, again, it just lends sympathy and credibility to a president and administration that deserve neither, especially on the issue of Iraq.

As for the lionizing of the TV reporter in the Arab and/or Muslim world, I'm not sure what to make of that. On the one hand, I can understand the frustration. If I had a chance to be close to somebody who caused friends or family members to be killed or injured, I'd want to do more than heave a shoe or two. And I'm all for al-Zaidi being released, without harm, as quickly as possible, because it's the right thing to do generally and also politically, so as not to turn him into a martyr.

But the shoe-bombing by this television journalist was just plain stupid.

By Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

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