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Commentary: Throwing shoes doesn't help Iraq

  • Story Highlights
  • Arsalan Iftikhar: The journalist who threw shoes at Bush got 15 minutes of fame
  • He says the incident was a sign of brazen contempt for the president
  • Iftikhar says shoe-throwing does nothing to improve the situation in Iraq
  • He says a journalist's job is to bring truth and information to his audience
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By Arsalan Iftikhar
Special to CNN
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Editor's Note: Arsalan Iftikhar is an international human rights lawyer and contributing editor for Islamica Magazine in Washington. He is the founder of TheMuslimGuy.com, a Web site focused on Islamic issues, and is former national legal director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Arsalan Iftikhar says the journalist who threw his shoes at Bush wasn't doing his job.

Arsalan Iftikhar says the journalist who threw his shoes at Bush wasn't doing his job.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Not since Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's famous footwear pounded into a table at an October 1960 United Nations session have we seen a shoe create such a global political firestorm.

Alas, we now have an Iraqi journalist entering into the annals of political history with his contribution to the ongoing historical saga entitled "Shoes Heard Around the World."

Some regional TV channels in the Mideast have aired the footage from the "shoe" press conference "more than a dozen times in several hours," according to The Associated Press. The infamous scene has now bounced around Internet networking sites like YouTube and Facebook, showing Iraqi journalist Muntadhar Al-Zaidi standing, hurling both his shoes at President George W. Bush and shouting in Arabic: "This is a farewell kiss, you dog....This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq."

Mr. Al-Zaidi, 29, a journalist for private Iraqi television channel Al-Baghdadia, was swiftly overpowered by Iraqi security forces after he threw the shoes at Bush in a gesture described by Agence France Presse as "the supreme mark of disrespect in the Muslim world."

Let it be made clear that no shoes should have been thrown at President Bush. Aside from being patently childish (and simply bad manners), notwithstanding the global public's distaste for President Bush's policies, the job of a journalist is to be a purveyor of truth and information to his or her audience.

Mr. Al-Zaidi's job as a journalist is to report the news to his citizens, who otherwise would have little or no access to information. Thus, as a journalist, Al-Zaidi failed miserably in his profession by not keeping his shoes firmly on his feet. Although many people are applauding the "15 minutes of fame" achieved by the shoe incident, there is simply little excuse for such childish and silly behavior by Mr. Al-Zaidi.

Throwing a shoe at someone in the Muslim world is a patently insulting gesture. The context of the incident would have been completely different had it been a cream-filled pie (a la Bill Gates or Ann Coulter) as the projectile in question. Within its cultural context, simply showing the soles of your shoes to someone, let alone tossing your shoes at them, is a sign of brazen contempt.

For example, when Saddam Hussein's statue was toppled in April 2003, Iraqi protesters in Baghdad pelted the toppled statue with shoes and sandals. A CNN report on the April 2003 statue toppling called the throwing of shoes "a grave insult in the Arab world".

For these reasons, this latest Iraqi shoe incident is taking away focus from the actual plight of the Iraqi people and is being wrongfully applauded by many people in certain parts of the world.

According to ABC News, a wealthy Saudi citizen named Hasan Muhammad Makhafa has apparently offered $10 million for one of the shoes thrown by the Iraqi TV journalist. Mr. Makhafa, described as a landowner and retired teacher, told Dubai-based Arabic satellite TV station Al-Arabiya that Al-Zaidi's shoes were "a symbol of freedom, not just footwear."

"They represent a victory for those who have disgraced the Arabs by occupying their lands and killing innocent people," he said.

Hey, Mr. Makhafa. Why don't you take your $10 million and donate it directly to the Iraqi people to help build more water wells, educate Iraqi women or help resettle Iraqi refugees in Syria and Jordan?

How does it help the plight of an impoverished nation when you are willing to spend millions on eBay for these infamous shoes rather than figuring out a way to help the nation of Iraq rebuild into a functional and prosperous society?

The answer is that the shoe story does not help the plight of the Iraqi people in any way. Instead of perpetuating the stereotype that Arabs and Muslims are less-than-civilized shoe-throwers, perhaps we need to propagate the more accurate stereotype of Muslim and Arab hospitality around the world.

A well-known Islamic parable deals with the Prophet Mohammed and the story of his interaction with a female neighbor who used to throw garbage on him every day from her window whenever he walked by her house.

One day, when the woman was not present to throw garbage out her window, the Prophet inquired about her whereabouts and visited her inside her home when he found that she had fallen sick.

This genteel act of kindness toward unfriendly neighbors is the Muslim Ubuntu standard that should be used in our collective lives; not the silly example of an overzealous Iraqi journalist with "size 10" shoe missiles.

As our global community transitions from the ill-fated presidency of George W. Bush to the much-anticipated presidency of Barack Obama, we can take comfort knowing the gigantic imprint of history's "shoe" will leave a much more humiliating mark on the Bush legacy than a pair of misguided size 10 Iraqi shoes thrown in his general direction.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Arsalan Iftikhar.

All About Iraq WarIslamGeorge W. Bush

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