Shoes make news surprisingly often. Think Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev at the U.N. General Assembly in 1960, brandishing his shoe at a Filipino delegate who was accusing the U.S.S.R. of imperialism in Eastern Europe. Speaking of the Philippines, think First Lady Imelda Marcos and her 1,060 pairs of shoes that made footwear a symbol of the excesses of the Marcos regime.
President-elect Barack Obama often is said to be walking in the shoes of Abraham Lincoln or Franklin D. Roosevelt. Obama was caught with holes in the bottom of his own shoes, just like fellow Illinois politician Adlai Stevenson, while Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was taken to task for strutting expensive clothes and shoes on the vice presidential campaign trail. British Prime Minister Tony Blair confronted his political opposition in the House of Commons each week for 10 years wearing expensive, handmade Church's that he called his "lucky shoes."
Lucky would not be the word to describe the Iraqi journalist who reportedly was beaten before his arrest for hurling two shoes at President Bush during a news conference with Prime Minister Nouri Maliki in Baghdad on Sunday. As he threw the first shoe, Muntather Zaidi yelled that it was "the farewell kiss, you dog!" The second, he said, was "from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq." Bush successfully ducked the projectiles, if not the anti-imperialist insult. Although hardly a compliment in the West, a shoe in the face is a particular affront in the Arab world. After the U.S. invasion in 2003, Iraqis frequently slapped their shoes against portraits and statues of Saddam Hussein. Now, the shoe is on the other foot, so to speak. Zaidi embarrassed the prime minister by attacking Bush, thereby violating the Middle Eastern tenet that hospitality includes protecting your guest. Zaidi could face up to seven years in prison on charges of insulting the Iraqi state.
Many Iraqis, however, took to the streets on Monday to hail Zaidi as a hero. Tens of thousands of Iraqis have died in the 5 1/2 -year war, and anger about the U.S. occupation is widespread, even among those who view the presence of U.S. troops as a necessity to avoid further sectarian conflict. Many of those demanding the journalist's release chanted, "Bush, Bush, listen well: We pushed you out with two shoes." The good news for Bush is that the assailant hurled shoes, not bombs. That's impolite, but it's still a measure of progress in the violent politics of Iraq. This was an act of protest with a shoe laced with blame. Bush made light of the incident, saying all he could report was that the shoe was "a size 10." Many Iraqis thought the shoe fit.