Topic(s): Iraq | Comments Off on Rene — THE SHOES WE LONGED FOR

Whatever remains of a left could learn a lot from this event. -rg
by Sami Ramadani
The Guardian
December 17, 2008 UK
The young journalist who took on Bush has become a unifying Iraqi
symbol, a national hero
Within a few unlikely seconds, a pair of size 10 shoes have become the
most destructive weapon the people of Iraq have managed to throw at the
occupying powers, after nearly six years of occupation and formidable
resistance. One Iraqi writer called the shoes, hurled by a journalist
at George Bush, “Iraq’s weapon of comprehensive destruction”.
While the uprisings of Falluja, Najaf, Basra and Baghdad against
the occupation will always remain as landmarks of a people resisting
occupation, these incredible seconds have united Iraqis in the most
dramatic fashion.
Contrary to most media coverage, the 28-year-old TV reporter Muntadhar
al-Zaidi made history not by merely throwing a pair of shoes, the
highest expression of insult in Iraqi culture, at the US president,
but by what he said while doing so and as he was smothered by US and
Iraqi security men. He groaned as they dragged him out of the press
conference. They succeeded in silencing him – and according to his
brother he was beaten in custody – but he had already said enough
to shake the occupation and Nouri al-Maliki’s Green Zone regime to
their foundations.
Strip the words away, and his and the Iraqi people’s cry of deep
pain, anger and defiance would amount to no more than a shoe-throwing
insult. But the words were heard. “This is the farewell kiss, you dog,”
he shouted as he threw the first shoe. The crucial line followed the
second shoe: “This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were
killed in Iraq.” Once those words were heard, the impact of a pair
of shoes became electrifying. A young journalist has put aside the
demands of his profession, preferring to act as the loudest cry of his
long-suffering people. If one considers the torture and killings in
Iraqi and US jails that Muntadhar often mentioned in his reports for
al-Baghdadia satellite TV station, he was certainly aware he risked
being badly hurt.
As the Iraqi and Arab satellite stations switched from the live press
conference to reporting reaction to the event, the stunned presenters
and reporters were swept away by popular expressions of joy in the
streets, from Baghdad to Gaza to Casablanca. TV stations and media
websites were inundated with messages of adulation. The instant
reply to any criticism of “insulting a guest” was: “Bush is a mass
murderer and a war criminal who sneaked into Baghdad. He killed a
million Iraqis. He burned the country down.”
Expressions of support and demands for Muntadhar’s immediate release
have spread from Najaf and Falluja to Baghdad, and from Mosul in the
north to Basra in the south. An impressive show of anti-occupation
unity is developing fast, after being weakened by the sectarian
forces that the occupation itself has strengthened and nourished,
as Muntadhar himself used to stress.
No one asked after Muntadhar’s religion or sect, but they all loved
his message. Indeed, I have yet to come across an Iraqi media outlet
or website that pronounced on his religion, sect or ethnicity. The
first I heard of his “sect” was through US and British media.
The reality is that Muntadhar is a secular socialist whose hero
happens to be Che Guevara. He became a prominent leftwing student
leader immediately after the occupation, while at Baghdad University’s
media college. He reported for al-Baghdadia on the poor and downtrodden
victims of the US war. He was first on the scene in Sadr City and
wherever people suffered violence or severe deprivation. He not only
followed US Apache helicopters’ trails of death and destruction, but
he was also among the first to report every “sectarian” atrocity and
the bombing of popular market places. He let the victims talk first.
It was effective journalism, reporting that the victims of violence
themselves accused the US-led occupation of being behind all the
carnage. He was a voice that could not be silenced, despite being
kidnapped by a gang and arrested by US and regime forces.
His passion for the war’s victims and his staunchly anti-occupation
message endeared him to al-Baghdadia viewers. And after sending Bush
out of Iraq in ignominy he has become a formidable national hero. The
orphan who was brought up by his aunt, and whose name means the longed
or awaited for, has become a powerful unifying symbol of defiance,
and is being adopted by countless Iraqis as “our dearest son”.
Sami Ramadani, a political exile from Saddam’s regime,
is a senior lecturer at London Metropolitan University