Shoes, Snark, Suffering: Whatever Happened to Muntadar al-Zaidi?
Tonight, from the Independent:
The Israeli embassy in central London turned into a battleground yesterday evening as police and demonstrators clashed following a pro-Palestinian rally…. In London, 13 people were taken to hospital following increasingly violent scuffles between police and protesters, and scores more were treated at the scene. The trouble began when protesters hurled shoes at the US embassy, in the spirit of Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi, who threw his shoes at George Bush in protest at his "war crimes".
"The spirit" of Muntadar al-Zaidi — quite a phrase. Most of us don’t get a "spirit" named for ourselves. But then, his was quite a remarkable act of protest — probably the single most memorable act of individual symbolic protest against the American presence in Iraq. And one with a life of its own, with consequences and resonances far outstripping whatever was in al-Zaidi’s mind the moment he threw the shoes: it’s bound up with everything from violence in London to stupid Internet games to tongue-in-cheek protests in America to asinine wingnut faux-outrage at the impolite horror of it all.
But then, as I noted at the time, there is more to the shoe-throwing than just the act itself. I think that the way the shoe-thrower, al-Zaidi, has been treated, and the way Americans have responded to his treatment, reveals more than the act itself.
Because we seem to have forgotten him, whether we liked what he did (that would be most of us) or we did not. Because while what he did surely had its comical side, to him, it was not at all a joke. And even if it were then, it is now, because he has been in jail ever since, without being charged for anything, has probably been beaten or tortured, and seems to be facing some perfectly ridiculous charge of "insulting a foreign leader," which carries a two-year sentence. And while his fate still seems to be a matter of concern in Iraq, in the US, and elsewhere? Not much.
But it always seemed to me that it was wrong to see the shoe-throwing as a joke, or an outrage. What it was, was a test. A test of American values. I mean, for me, my most cherished freedom is the right to get right to get up right in one of my leader’s faces and tell that sonfabitch exactly what I think of him, or her. If we are not a nation of shoe-throwers, what the hell good are we? What the hell is the point of America otherwise? But the corollary of freedom is that it is defended. And that those who exercise it ought to be protected. And al-Zaidi was, whatever else you may say of him, a free human being when he threw those shoes, even if he’s not now, and we as a nation don’t seem to respect that.
Last month I argued that Geroge W. Bush should publicly forgive Muntadar al-Zaidi. He hasn’t, living down to all my expectations of him. But we already knew that fucker is a lousy American. But that does not mean that al-Zaidi should be so easily forgotten. We don’t need to like his shoe throwing, but haven’t some of us died to give him that right, according, at least, to the Official Story? What do those deaths mean, anyhow, if he’s in jail for the freedoms we supposedly sent our men and women to die to give him?
Or is that a question too tasteless to ask?