The Shoes Hurled ‘Round the World

The Shoes Hurled 'Round the World













Mike Licht was home on Capitol Hill the evening of Sunday, December 14th, when a symbolic protest in Baghdad drew him into a 21st century semiotic cyclone of soaring shoes:

Catching up with email before turning in, I read reports of a Green Zone “press conference,” a pseudo-event designed to make lemonade from the bitter fruit of the George W. Bush presidency. Mr. Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki decorated the room with flags, flowers, and members of the press corps, but one working reporter, Muntader al-Zaidi, refused to be used as a stage prop, and gave Mr. Bush a reality check by chucking shoes at him.

I wrote a brief post on the incident and mashed up a graphic to illustrate it, Mr. Bush’s face on the sole of a shoe atop patriotic bunting. I uploaded the image to flickr and published the completed post to the NotionsCapital weblog.

The next morning’s email pointed me to a photo on the Web, the image from my blog post, a few hours old, printed on a large banner, hanging on a building in a city center on another continent (above).

Welcome to the 21st century.

The photo emailer has not responded to requests for more information; due to his pseudonym, I assumed the picture was snapped in Egypt. I shared the story and images with a listserv, and a friend in Paris pointed out that the sign on the building’s façade identified it as a video store in Ukraine.

This all happened within a few hours. My original post on this topic reached a few hundred readers but the graphic jumped from the Blogosphere into the street. That’s pretty mind-boggling, and I will boggle about it elsewhere. But why fling footwear images into the digital domain in the first place?

1.Americans must understand the symbolic nature of Mr. al-Maliki’s act. The colonists who staged the Boston Tea Party were not actually trying to tomahawk and scalp British occupiers; the shoe-throwing was not an act of physical violence. The President’s disingenuous joking about the shoe-toss attempted to blunt its impact by obscuring its meaning, deflecting the curiosity of Americans unfamiliar with the symbols in play. Mr. Bush hoped to keep people from examining the verbal component of the act, Muntader al-Zaidi’s clear statement of his motives (“this is a goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people, dog. This is for the widows and orphans and all those killed in Iraq”).

2. To Keep Muntader al-Zaidi alive. The minute street protests stop, the moment the media gaze blinks or shifts, Mr. al-Zaidi will be a dead man. The 29 year old working journalist has covered the occupation and civil conflict, seen his city destroyed and neighbors and colleagues killed for nothing. He was abducted by militiamen and tortured last year, held for two days before he was released. Mr. al-Zaidi has the moral authority to reject Mr. Bush’s attempted use of the Iraqi press corps to lend credibility to absurd fictions about democracy, victory, and peace.

Muntader al-Zaidi, imprisoned  for the past week, is still not formally charged with any crime. He has been beaten, burned with cigarettes, and had a tooth knocked out; his brother says his arm and ribs are broken. There are no reports that he has been examined by the Red Crescent or any other independent medical or humanitarian organizations. Let Mr. Bush joke about that, or explain how it embodies victory, freedom and democracy.

Photo: Egyption-on-line. Original image on the banner by Mike Licht; download a copy of that here. Creative Commons license; credit Mike Licht,

Does the title of this post suggest “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World?” Good.

Comments are welcome if they are on-topic, substantive, concise, and not obscene. Comments are subject to editing for clarity and length.

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