Analysts tying event to cultural phenomenon, obscure motive
A protester holds up a placard, in support of the Iraqi TV journalist Muntazer al-Zaidi, in front of the former U.S. embassy in Tehran December 24, 2008. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl
The reporter – and many other Iraqis – considered President Bush’s last mission to Iraq provocative and unhelpful. Moreover, the provoked reporter found in Bush’s visit a historic opportunity to tell the world that Iraqis remain hostile to American military occupation. The message of the angry reporter is that war on Iraq is not merely a mistake, not simply a policy error, not only a foreign assistance flaw; it is, in the opinion of the protesting communicator, a political disaster which has hurt millions of people.
Why have so many commentators and analysts missed the point of the Iraqi shoe incident? One clue may be found in the disconnect between those who praise the occupation as “liberating” for the Iraqi people and those who criticize the U.S. occupation itself, as well as the U.S. conduct in the war. According to neo-conservative democracy promoters, Iraqis before the war would not have enjoyed the liberty to insult a president publicly under a despotic regime. Arabs and Americans see the world differently. Iraqis, in particular, see the results of the occupation as worse than the consequences of regime change.
President Bush’s cost-benefit analysis of Iraq’s occupation is far-fetched and insensitive. Iraqis are not willing to destroy their country to gain a measure of political freedom. The current administration’s war has injured – physically and mentally – or killed one out of ten Iraqis, displaced one out of five, deepened the ethnic and sectarian divisions and pushed back development in Iraq fifty years.
Seeing the war through Iraqi eyes is what this startling shoe throwing episode is about. The journalist, who became instantly a local hero for seizing a moment to make history, became simultaneously famous at home and infamous abroad. He may not speak for all Iraqis, but he certainly speaks for a majority. Overblown cultural analysis or talk of progress in democracy cannot provide any special insight into the motivation behind this unique and controversial brand of political protest.