Iraqi Journalist Forced to Apologize for Throwing Shoes

Today, Iraqi journalist Muntathir al-Zaidi was forced to apologize today for throwing his shoes at U.S. President George Bush and insulting him.  Al-Zaidi, who achieved hero status in much of the world for throwing his shoes at Bush during a press conference last weekend, was beaten by Iraqi officials and jailed in the Green Zone.  He was held for days without due process of law, and is reported to have suffered a broken arm and other injuries, including possible broken ribs.

There has been much discussion about the cultural significance of throwing or waiving shoes at someone in the Arab world.  Indeed, shoes are considered unclean, and throwing one's shoes at a person would be considered quite an insult.  The only Western equivalent that I can think of might be spitting on someone.

But what is not likely to receive much attention is the import of al-Zaidi's apology, especially his choice of words.  The Guardian reports that in a plea for clemency to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, al-Zaidi stated: "I remember in the summer of 2005, I interviewed your excellency and you told me, 'Come in, this is your house.' And so I appeal to your fatherly feelings to forgive me."

In his apology, the theme of the Arab leader as father emerges clearly.  This is a theme cultivated by many, perhaps all dictators in the Arab world, from Saddam Hussein to Hosni Mubarak to King Hussein of Jordan. Added to the severity of al-Zaidi's potential punishment (he could receive 15 years in prison for "aggression against a president") suggest how much Iraq remains an oppressed society.  They suggest how much the old paradigms of domination and submission cultivated by autocratic regimes in the Arab world continue to this day.

The U.S. government loudly proclaimed its intentions to "liberate" the people of Iraq.  But clearly, five years into Bush's illegal war, the Iraqi people find themselves under yet another brutal regime.  Of course, this is not to deny Saddam's brutality or the relative improvement of civil liberties under Iraq's current leadership.  But comparing favorably to Saddam Hussein is not much of an achievement.  Iraq's government is still largely the province of a powerful oligarchy that persecute dissdents.  The rule of law is daily abused by the government and armed groups, both supportive of and against the U.S. presence, regularly torture and murder individuals because of their beliefs or for speaking out against the gangster rule in the country.

The Iraqi government remains a government of thugs.  And there is no indication that the U.S. government wants it any other way.  The forced, abject apology of al-Zaidi, no less than his courage, attest to long path ordinary Iraqi's will have to travel in order to free themselves from the various forces of abuse, corruption and oppression in their country.

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About Jonah Ayoub

Jonah Ayoub is a writer and artist living in Portland, Oregon. He was born in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.

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