The Truth in Muntadhar al-Zeidi’s Shoes

by Genevieve Long

When Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zeidi hurled his shoes and insults at U.S. President George Bush recently, it sent a shockwave around the world. In the U.S., we watch the video of our lame-duck president dodging size 10 Iraqi shoes and laughed. Maybe in embarassment, satisfaction, or even disgust at the havoc Bush’s administration has so obviously wrought in Iraq.

Iraq is home to what veteran war journalist Jon Lee Anderson calls a “new generation” of hard-working, dedicated Iraqi journalists. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 136 journalists have been killed working in Iraq since the war started in 2003. The large majority–114–were Iraqi. Al-Zeidi himself was kidnapped by militants last year for 2 days, but continued to work.

It is a falsity that journalists need sympathize with or not detest military forces and their governments in order to report on a war. Al-Zeidi stepped out of his observer role of journalist, yes, but it is also a falsity that the standards news organizations hold their journalists to are universal. In al-Zeidi’s case, his Cairo-based employer has supported him and called for his release since after he was taken into custody.

Not only has his employer supported him, but so have the hundreds of Arabs who are marching in the streets in Iraq to call for his release. What’s more, they are sending the message that they, too, have strong feelings of resentment toward Bush and his administration for the damage that has been wrought on their country and people in the last five and half years of war.

The Iraqi people have undergone tremendous suffering in the past few years, and it can’t be denied that the U.S. government is largely responsible for this. In fact, the shoe-hurling incident gave Bush a chance to see, extremly close-up, how frustrated and bitter some Iraqis have become toward the U.S. It could have been a chance to apologize. Instead, he dodged both shoes and any responsibility for the pain the war has caused.

Maybe the western world should stop and ask themselves what they would have done if they were in Muntadhar al-Zeidi’s shoes.

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