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December 17, 2008

Muntadar al-Zeidi: Hero, Martyr, Symbol of Resistance


Reach for your shoes…

by Justin Raimondo

The shoe-throwing Iraqi journalist, who is, by now, probably half beaten to death for the "crime" of paying back – in very small measure – George W. Bush for his crimes against the Iraqi people, is a folk hero to millions. And his admirers aren't all Iraqis or other Arabs, not by a long shot.

The shoe-wielding Iraqi television reporter, one Muntadar al-Zeidi, managed to sum up, in a single gesture, how much of the world feels about the 43rd president of the United States – including Americans.

Remember waaaay back when we were supposedly going to be greeted with showers of rose petals and high fives by the "liberated" peoples of Iraq? Mr. al-Zeidi seems to have definitively put that one to rest for all time.

What gets me, however, is the neocons' response to this instance of life-imitating-art: typical is the always clueless Ralph Peters, a military "expert" who blames the failure in Iraq on bad execution of a flawless policy and avers al-Zeidi's act, just proves the War Party was right all along:

"When an Arab heel aimed those shoes at our president, it showed the world the extent to which Bush loosened the laces of Middle Eastern tyranny. If an Arab journalist had thrown his shoes at Saddam Hussein or one of his guests, the tosser would've been beaten, then tortured, then killed. Today's Iraqi government is considering whether the man should be charged under the state's democratically validated Constitution."

The charge against al-Zeidi is "aggression against a president," a provision in the Iraqi "legal code" (and I use the term loosely) that makes it a crime to attempt to murder either an Iraqi or a foreign head of state, punishable by 15 years in prison.

Yet the worst that could have happened to Bush was nothing more than a black eye. It would be laughable to try this as a case of attempted murder. Yet the very idea that Iraq is a place where the rule of law exists is nothing but a very bad joke.

"Aggression against a president?" The real "aggression" here was launched by the chief executive of the most powerful nation on earth when he invaded a country that had never attacked us and posed no threat to our territory or legitimate interests. No word yet on whether al-Zeidi is claiming self-defense, but it makes sense to me. After suffering over 1 million dead and wounded and countless others rendered homeless, perhaps the Iraqi people can be forgiven for making al-Zeidi an instant folk hero. No Iraqi jury will ever convict him.

What is worrying, however, is the smugness that accompanied the reporting on this incident. Over at MSNBC, they kept showing the video in a continuous loop of shoe-throwing, with Bush rather artfully and athletically dodging the leathery missiles. We're all supposed to be laughing at our hapless president, whose poll numbers are edging into minus territory – but I wonder…

What I'm wondering is where President Obama's poll numbers will be, four years after launching his own war of "liberation" – in Afghanistan, a far harder nut to crack than relatively soft-centered Iraq. How many Afghans (or Pakistanis) will dream of having their al-Zeidi moment with the 44th president – and with what justification?

Don't we ever learn anything?

Do we have to keep repeating the same pattern of intervention-and-blowback, like Sisyphus rolling that stone up the mountain, with the same inevitable and costly results?

The next time some pompous politician, earnest policy wonk, or just your average, everyday agent of a foreign power suggests invading and occupying a nation purportedly just waiting to be "liberated," we should all reach for our shoes and – like Mr. al-Zeidi – take careful aim…

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

I have to comment on Rachel Maddow's reaction to the shoe-throwing incident, in part because it is so telling when it comes to "liberal" attitudes toward authority and also because I agree with her so much of the time, at least when it comes to foreign affairs.

While taking the opportunity to laugh at Bush, Rachel was clearly horrified by the incident, which she described, I believe, as "scary." The unspoken question: what was this guy even doing at a news conference so close to the president of the United States? Why, you can bet that the ultra-competent, control-freak Obama-ites won't make that kind of mistake!

Beneath that, there is, of course, the liberal reverence for the office and its holder, who, after all, embodies the power and majesty of the federal government, our federal government, and who must therefore be honored and respected… no matter what he does. With the liberal-left now about to take the reins of that government, a whole new outward attitude toward authority reasserts itself. Their days in opposition over, it's amazing how quickly the rad-libs have reverted to form, which, in this context, means absolute reverence for the U.S. government and all its works.

The difficulty, for them, is that this very same government, which they're counting on to save the economy and implement a new era of good-n-plenty here on the home front, is bombing and killing an increasing number of Afghans – particularly members of wedding parties, for some reason – a practice that is sure to inspire the al-Zeidis of the future.

"This is a farewell kiss," al-Zeidi cried out, as he hurled his footwear at the presidential noggin, "you dog!" What struck a nerve, throughout the world, not just the Middle East, was the sight of an ordinary person who somehow got to express his opinion of the most powerful human being on the planet in a way that not only garnered attention, but also underscored the sense of powerlessness and frustration felt by Americans and Iraqis when it comes to this seemingly endless occupation.

The American people votedtwice! – to end it, to bring this disgraceful chapter in our history to a rapid close, yet we're still there. Already, the appointees around our president-elect are making noises about how that "residual" force will be quite a hefty one, while Obama's determination to escalate the war in Afghanistan – and even extend it into Pakistan – seems undiminished.

It's going to be a rocky time for those "antiwar" Obama fans – up until now knee-jerk defenders of their candidate's every twitch and maneuver – who suddenly find themselves defending a war far more costly, more damaging, and more futile than was ever waged by George W. Bush. It's going to be interesting reading the Democratic blogs and listening to good ol' Rachel on MSNBC (I go make dinner when it's time for Keith Olbermann) in the years to come. Will Rachel sell out? Will Arianna Huffington turn out to be the craven lickspittle she's given every indication of being so far? Will DailyKos defend Obama's war crimes?

See, that's what's so interesting about the blogosphere and the new information age that's expanded the concept of media and relegated the "mainstream" to the status of a minor rivulet: in this age of instantaneous communication, where reactions are rapid-fire and one's principles are continuously tested, the wheat is rapidly separated from the chaff.

 

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  • Jorge Hirsch is a professor of physics at the University of California San Diego.

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