The plot, so unexpectedly, thickened in Iraq on
a Sunday like no other. The two main actors US President George W. Bush,
and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki took to the stage to perform
another well-rehearsed press conference. The scripts were ever so predictable:
Bush to tout the "progress" achieved in Iraq, while al-Maliki to express
gratitude for the freedom bestowed on his country. Both men were to caution
from overstated optimism, and to forewarn of the great challenges that are yet
to come. The two partners were to shake hands, smile and walk away. Things,
however, didn't go according to plan on Sunday, December 14.
A surprise appearance by till then little-known Iraqi journalist Muntadhar
al-Zaidi provided a most unpredictable conclusion to the public performance
regularly held in Baghdad's Green Zone theater. Every joint press conference
of US and Iraqi officials has, for years, concluded, more or less according
to plan. Since the toppling of President Saddam Hussein's statue in 2003,
in a well orchestrated Shakespearean even series of events, until that fateful
Sunday, few have dared to violate the carefully prepared, monotonous media appearances,
which often end with a handshake, unconvincing smiles, and the mutter of disgruntled
journalists for failing to land a last minute question.
But al-Zaidi changed all of that when he hurled his shoes at President Bush
at the exact moment the two main actors were scheduled to exit the stage
compelling the US president to duck twice, astoundingly escaping the makeshift,
but largely symbolic weapon. Truth be told, Bush's timely dodges were as impressive
as al-Zaidi's seemingly impeccable pitches.
Much has been said of al-Zaidi's daring act, which will indeed secure a permanent
footnote in history books for an Iraqi man's footwear. Stories are told of poems,
computer games and artwork idealizing al-Zaidi's shoes; and a rich Arab has
reportedly offered millions of dollars for the pair of shoes that were meant
as a "farewell kiss" to Bush. While most Americans are likely to remember
Bush's legacy as that of a man who has guided a nation into unprecedented economic
mayhem, Iraqis, and others, will remember him as a brutal, self-righteous zealot,
who invited untold bloodshed, humiliation and the destruction of a once a magnificent
and leading civilization.
According to the US government's logic, Iraq is now better off than ever before.
As for the millions of lives that have been unjustly taken, and the millions
of Iraqis on the run, their plight is a worthy price for freedom and democracy,
precious US commodities that apparently come at a heavy price. Americans and
the sanctioned Iraqi government are never to blame for any wrongdoing. Iraq's
tragedy is always someone else's fault, but largely the making of elusive terrorists,
whose identities and sources of funds change according to whatever Washington's
political mood dictates. The insurgents, as they were called until recently,
were initially remnants of and Ba'ath Party loyalists, disgruntled Sunnis, then
they morphed into foreign fighters, then they were depicted as al-Qaeda sympathizers,
copy-cats, then al-Qaeda itself, then Iranian agents in cahoots with rogue Shi'ite
militants loyal to whatever character doesn't suit the interests of the US and
its allies. New characters were occasionally added to the Green Zone's ever
predictable play, unwanted characters were swiftly removed, and the play's language
was repeatedly rewritten.
Then al-Zaidi showed up and hurled his shoes at a grinning Bush, who just finished
shaking al-Maliki's hand and was ready to conclude his own ominous chapter in
Iraq, one filled with lies, deceit, and the blood of many people, in fact too
many to count.
As al-Zaidi was being overpowered, then dragged away by Iraqi security
who must've tried to impress their American security "counterparts"
by teaching the poor al-Zaidi a lesson in good manners, Abu Ghraib-style
the script writers, and stage directors and actors were likely to have been
summoned to discuss what CNN described as a "security breach," but
what should be more accurately described as a deviation from the script. Their
orders were straightforward and seemingly simple: to create a parallel reality
to the anti-occupation fervor and bloodbath outside, by staging a play of few
actors that depicts the occupier as a friendly, obliging outsider, violence
against the Iraqi people as a war on terror on behalf of the Iraqi people, governmental
corruption as a fostering process of democracy and good governance, and so on.
Naturally, the moment that al-Zaidi flung his shoes at cowering Bush, a new,
although haphazard play was drafted, mixing the painful reality outside the
Green Zone, with the comforting, imagined reality inside. If the al-Zaidi episode
is to be credited in one thing, it should be for tossing up the terminology
of the two stages. Bush was called "dog" by angry Iraqis for years,
but not in a press conference. Iraqis mourned their dead, cried for their orphans
and widows, millions of them, outside the Green Zone, but never inside. An Iraqi
man, Muntadhar al-Zaidi, in a seemingly fleeting moment, changed everything.
What also confused the script is that al-Zaidi was not al-Qaeda, or an al-Qaeda
sympathizer, not a foreign fighter, not a member of the dissolved Ba'ath Party,
nor was he affiliated with it in any way, and not even an Iraqi Sunni, for any
such affiliation would fit perfectly in the political and media scripts that
would demonize the man as an enemy of the Iraqi people, stability, democracy,
freedom, and the rest of the redundant clichés. Al-Zaidi is simply an
Iraqi man who has, as a journalist, highlighted the suffering of his people
as politely, "objectively" and "professionally" as he could,
and when he could no longer tolerate the lies told in the Green Zone's ever-malicious
drama, he scrapped the script altogether, chucking his shoes at the main actor:
"This is a farewell kiss, you dog! This is from the widows, the orphans
and those who were killed in Iraq." His words, although uttered for the
first time in the Green Zone theater, echoed the voices of millions of Iraqis
outside, who have chanted these words for six long, tragic years.