The Shoes that Made History
“This is a farewell kiss from the Iraqi people, you dog”
, the young man shouted as he threw the first shoe at the American president, George Bush. “This is for the widows and orphans and all those killed in Iraq”
, he hurled the second shoe. In seconds, the Prime Minister al-Maliki’s security guards and US secret service agents pounced on him and began beating him violently before he was whisked away to an unknown location. This incident occurred on Dec 14, 2008, at a press conference held at the Prime Minister Palace . The 29-year old, Muntazar al-Zaidi, an Iraqi broadcast journalist from al-Baghdadia TV and no stranger to his fellow Iraqis for his journalistic contribution, thus became an overnight global hero. At the time when Zaidi who could be heard screaming outside on account of the beating that left a large trail of blood behind him on the carpet, Bush sadistically remarked: “That’s what people do in a free society, draw attention to themselves”.
And attention he did receive. Hundreds of lawyers, including American lawyers, around the world offered to take up Zaidi’s case which may carry an imprisonment for up to 15 years upon conviction. The next day of the incident thousands of Arabs led protest marches in major Arab cities demanding Zaidi’s freedom. On Dec 17, the Iraqi law makers called for the Iraqi legislature to take up the issue. The Iraqi government felt pressure to produce an apology letter ascribed to Zaidi which he supposedly penned in prison. Zaidi has been awarded a bravery award by a Libyan charity group headed by Qaddafi’s daughter. Malaysian Foreign Minister, Rais Yatim, called his act “the best show of retaliation so far”. Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela, sent an official invitation to Zaidi’s family members, who have received many threatening calls after the incident, to come and live in Venezuela if they so wish. Songs and poetry eulogize the imprisoned Zaidi who is offered a 6-door Mercedes, marriage proposals and handsome job offers by his global admirers. Muntazar al-Zaidi currently holds a “cult status” in the eyes of his supporters some of whom presented shoes to American embassies around the world.
The question arises as to why the world lauded Zaidi’s act of shoe-hurling at George W. Bush as a form of protest?
The answer is because the world is tired of lies, tired of wanton destruction, tired of terrorism perpetrated by Bush and the gang.No war has been protested against in greater numbers around the world in history than the Iraq war. An estimated 36 million global protestors held around 3,000 marches against the war, reaching their peak on Feb 15, 2003. A BBC poll conducted last year found that 2/3 of people around the globe
want US forces to leave Iraq . A vast majority of Iraqis want American soldier out of their land in a war which the ex-UN General Secretary called “illegal”. Bush has successfully made America the single most hated and feared nation around the world. Under a garb of lies, he is responsible for shedding more Muslim blood than any other American president. The greatest tragedy is that while the criminal Bush now admits to having been “unprepared for war” (Time Magazine, 20 Dec, 2008), his cronies continue to support his invasions and the resulting occupations that have inflicted suffering upon an untold millions.
One such figure is Salim Mansur, who teaches political science at Western University , and is best described as a hand licking lapdog of the Bush administration and a pet-media columnist for the Toronto Sun. At a time when even the hardest Bush-supporters fumble for words in backing the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Mansur in his recent article condemns Zaidi for his action and blames the Iraqis for not being able to stomach the good the US occupation has brought to their lives. Like a typical Uncle Tom, Mansur further accuses the Iraqis for adhering to “a dysfunctional tribalism” and of being “fearful of modernity” by not blessing the American military presence on their soil, not minding the fact that Iraq under the Baathists (of which I am no fan) was once the most progressive of all Arab nations. Mansur, who is of Bengali origin, should know better as to why and when people throw shoes at tyrants while risking their lives. When General A. A. K. Niazi surrendered the West Pakistani forces in Dacca, East Pakistan to General Jagjit Singh Arora, the CIC of the Indian and Bangladesh Allied forces on 19 Dec, 1971, by signing the instrument of surrender, a small statured, skinny Bangali slipped through the crowd and struck Gen. Niazi on the face with two shoes in his hands in a well deserved act. Alas, Mansur’s twisted mind accuses one who hurls shoes not one who rains bombs, rockets, and missiles as the real criminal.
The American invasion of Iraq started in March 20, 2003, but the war plans had been cooked up much earlier. A secret memo “Plan for post-Saddam Iraq ” was discussed in Washington at the start of 2001. A Pentagon document entitled “Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield contracts” (dated March 5, 2001) contained a map of potential areas for oil exploration in a country with the second largest proven oil reserves in the world. The second stage was making a case for war. The Bush government waged war on Iraq by claiming that Iraq possessed WMDs that posed an imminent threat to the US and its allies. The story was that the Iraqis were ready to launch biological and chemical weapons on the eastern seaboard of US delivered by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), even though the US Air Force agency and the intelligence community denied any such capability. You will remember Collin Powell's shameless presentation to the U.N. on February 3, 2003 in which he held a vial of anthrax in order to influence U.N. members that Saddam had WMDs. When neither the UN weapons inspectors nor the US-led Iraq Survey Group (Duelfer Report) found any WMDs, the allegation then turned the focus on to Iraq ’s support for al-Qaidah. When the head of CIA, George Tenet, insisted in secret meetings with Bush that there was no link between the two, he was quickly discharged by Cheney and Rumsfeld. To feed false information to the public however, Dept Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz, created Office of Special Plans (OSP) which made up lies such as Iraqi purchase of yellowcake uranium from Niger or Iraq ’s attempt to acquire high strength aluminum tubes to enrich uranium. The Center for Public Integrity records 935 false statements related to Iraq ’s threat to the US made by the Bush government in the 2001-2003 year period. Bush’s own treasury secretary, Paul ‘O Neil, said: “It was all about finding a way to do it…with the president saying: ‘Go find me a way to do this.”
The criminal vigilantism may have been palatable had the Iraqi people fared better in the process. But history as a witness, the US-led war and occupation is the worst thing that happened to Iraq since its inception in 1921. Today, we are at loss as to whether mourn the 1 million dead; or the 4.7 million Iraqi refugees; or the nearly 1 million babies who breathed their last on hospital beds as a result of crippling sanctions; or the underage girls-turned-prostitutes in Iraqi refugee camps; or the condition of tens of thousands of Iraqis in unknown jails held without charge. Once the most progressive and modern of all Arab nations, today Iraq fares fifth on the Failed States Index of 2008, with Red Cross calling its humanitarian crisis as “among the most critical in the world”. Around 100,000 Iraqi refugees pour into Syria and Jordan every month.
Is it then of any surprise that a patriot journalist would hurl his shoes at a man responsible for ravaging his country? Iraq was not responsible for 9/11, was no threat to its neighbors or the US, had no connections with al-Qaida, and possessed no WMDs. Bush may be “an agent of change” for an Uncle Tom like Salim Mansur, but thousands of Iraqis expressed their cordial opinion of him when they burned his effigies in Baghdad Square on Nov 21, 2008. The Iraqi Parliament only recently rejected a draft law that would’ have permitted non-US forces to remain on Iraqi soil whereas the US government is facing increasing pressure by the Iraqi government to relieve them of their occupation by 2012 under the US-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement.
The bigger issue in the shoe-tossing incident for Muslims in Canada and worldwide is the awakening to a situation in which a young Iraqi secular socialist, Muntazar al-Zaidi, whose hero happens to be Che Guevara, stuns the world with his martyrdom-like protest before the face of tyranny. Where are the Muslim ulema playing a similar role? The Prophet (pbuh) calls the ulema “the inheritors of the prophets”, meaning that they are not mere storage-houses of religious knowledge but must be the vanguard of opposition against any kind of social oppression, as were the prophets. Why is it that we find our ulema (with few noteworthy exceptions) the most meek, obsequious and socially passive individuals when it comes to bringing to light the most burning issues concerning Muslims? Sadly, the Imam Council of Canada which boasts of around 150 members had no more than 4 attendees in its annual Eid dinner held last week. I am told that this is the norm in most meetings. I would like to ask our holy fathers whether they do not find even one issue facing the community worthy of mutual discussion? For the sake of the divine knowledge that you possess in your bosoms, stand up and recognize the challenges of the day. Then, awaken the masses in your public engagements. Recognize what your community needs and what it expects of you. If you covet leadership, then know that it will be yours provided you act as leaders of your flock. But if you do not recognize your true role in society, then be ready for divine retribution that would encircle the entire community.
As commoners, the least we can do now is lift our hands and pray for justice for Muntazar al-Zaidi, “the dearest son of Iraq ”, who despite his youth and humble background jolted our collective conscience by his brazen act on Dec 14.
Sheharyar Shaikh is the President of North American Muslim Foundation and leads Friday Prayer at Masjid Qurtabah. He is specializing in contemporary Islamic thought and modernity