Taming of the Shoe

Illustration for article titled Taming of the Shoe

"He totally just wrote me off like I'm that nigga to steal on."

- Charlie Murphy

"I'm Rick James, he's Charlie Murphy."

- Rick James

If the Iraqi justice system worked anything like ours, Muntader al Zaidi, reporter for the Al-Baghdadiya network and erstwhile thrower of hard-soled dress shoes at President George W. Bush, would get a two-year sentence on a minimum-security federal work farm and early release after 180 days for good behavior. Book deals, an exclusive interview on Hannity's America and marriage proposals from Lebanese pop starlets would ensue. He might even get to attend the dedication of the Bush 43 presidential library. So, what we need in this situation is someone in the Iraqi Ministry of Justice with a feel for the big picture, who can get us a win-win. Quickly…


Al Zaidi has, in the span of a week, become a populist hero in the Arab world for attacking Bush, kick-started a major public-relations headache for his fellow Shia, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, who is up for re-election in January, and brought emotions in the region to a boil just as the ink is starting to dry on the recently signed Status of Forces Agreement that calls for the U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq three years from now. Al Zaidi has written to al Maliki, expressing contrition and asking for a pardon, most likely realizing ex post facto that being a folk hero is only worthwhile if the subsequent beatings you take from Iraqi police leave you with all your limbs intact.

So, if he hasn't already been rendered to a secret CIA basement torture chamber in Jakarta, never to be seen or heard from again, here's a thought for al Zaidi: You're at liberty to hang all the effigies, burn all the flags, chant all the slogans and write all of the stinging editorials that you want. But you just can't toss your loafers at the president of the United States. George W. Bush might be the worst president of all time, and Iraqis' collective anger over what the war has done to your country in the past six years is more than understandable. But the shoe attack was not cool. Really not cool. Here's why…

Americans get it (well, we do now…)—shoe throwing is meant to be a low insult in Iraqi culture and not an attempt to inflict bodily harm. We also get that no one has ever really been seriously injured from getting popped in the mug with Bruno Maglis. We're even finally starting to learn the most important lesson of all, that even with a bloodthirsty, megalomaniacal dictator in charge, no one is ever going to be OK with their country being invaded and occupied on spec. But Bush is over, and about to be out, so try to look at it this way:

A few weeks ago when Al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al Zawahiri dropped "house Negro" on President-elect Barack Obama, even most of Obama's hard-core right-wing critics generally had the same reaction—"Maybe he is a house Negro, but he's our house Negro, and y'all can't talk to him like that." And the same now goes for Bush—he's a complete failure, but he's our complete failure. In fact, we just had an election in November that was largely about the complete rejection of the Bush presidency and his policies. It can be fairly stated that most Americans now regret what happened to Iraq. But ixnay on the shoe-throwing…

Because, among other things, if soon-to-be H.N.I.C. Obama is going to travel throughout the Middle East and South-central Asia using his magic, Bagger Vance-like powers to heal deeply embedded animosities between Islam and laissez-faire Christendom, then at a minimum, he's got to know that he and Michelle aren't going to be subject to the "W." treatment, or worse. Brothas don't play that shit. Obama was always against the invasion and occupation of Iraq. So let's just say that the first black president had best get the full benefit of the doubt from the Middle East. Anything less will not be a good look.

Peace-loving people the world over are waiting anxiously to see President Obama strolling through downtown Mumbai/Damascus/Jerusalem shaking hands and sampling local cuisine while first lady, Michelle, does photo-ops with smiling, hijab-wearing Iraqi schoolgirls. But this shoe attack now means that the U.S. Secret Service rope line goes back at least 20 or 30 feet.


Let's all agree that Bush should never have been elected in the first place. He would have made an outstanding regional sales manager for Wal-Mart, but "leader of the free world" was way more than the guy could handle. And although it was one war, one hurricane and one recession too late, Bush and his policies have finally been turned out by the American electorate.

But for perhaps the first and only time, there's something positive to say about President George W. Bush. Sure, it was pretty thickheaded for him to go on a victory tour when he's only half-won a war that he started on a humbug and paid for on credit. But considering that he and his immediate family are now and will always be under the protection of the Secret Service—who did a less than stellar job in this particular case—he's handled this whole wing-tip drive-by pretty well. Bush circa 2002-2006 would almost certainly have taken the shoe attack as an opportunity to scold the "haters of freedom." He might have sent in another brigade of infantry. But this time, for once, Bush did his best Jay-Z "brush your shoulder off" and tried, at last, to see the situation for what it was.


Following the ambush, Bush joked, "I don't know what the guy said, but I saw his sole." And accidentally, the almost unbelievable, yet oddly foreseeable attack became a perfect metaphor for the relationship between the U.S. and the Arab world. Al Zaidi chose the wrong medium and the wrong forum, but he got his message across. The Arab world wants respect, not condescension. But they haven't yet figured out how to get it from us, and we haven't quite figured out how to give it to them.

David Swerdlick is a regular contributor to The Root.

David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter