• Chief investigator says journalist may be pardoned
• Doubts cast on apology as ’shoe intifada’ spreads
- The Guardian, Saturday 20 December 2008
Muntazer al-Zaidi could hardly have anticipated the extraordinary reaction when he hurled his shoes at George Bush on Sunday to protest at the invasion of Iraq. His “farewell kiss” to the US president has kept the previously unknown TV journalist in the centre of global attention - a hero across the Arab world and beyond.
Zaidi, who was wrestled to the ground by security men, was beaten on the face, investigating judge Dhia al-Kinani revealed in Baghdad yesterday. But claims that he has asked the Iraqi prime minister to forgive him for his “big ugly act” were immediately questioned by his brother.
Zaidi’s emergence as a role model for anti-American resistance was confirmed by the Iranian ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, who praised what he called the “shoe intifada [uprising]” at Tehran University, where demonstrations against the “Great Satan” have been routine for 30 years.
In a mosque in Baghdad’s Sadr City, Shia cleric Mohanad al-Moussawi told worshippers that “al-Zaidi’s life must be protected and he must be immediately, immediately, immediately released”. Sunni preachers issued similar calls.
In London, Media Workers Against the War presented a box of shoes and a letter - signatories included Tony Benn - to the US embassy, pointing out that the journalist was “guilty of nothing but expressing Iraqis’ legitimate and overwhelming opposition to the US-led occupation of their country.”
Kinani said Zaidi’s letter to prime minister Nouri al-Maliki could lead to a pardon rather than a two-year jail sentence, but Zaidi’s brother Dirgham insisted in an interview with al-Jazeera that any apology could only have been written “under pressure”.
If it is confirmed, Zaidi’s remorse may not be appreciated by supporters such as the Egyptian who offered to marry his 20-year-old daughter to Zaidi or the Palestinian from the West Bank town of Nablus who went further: pledging both a daughter and $30,000 for the Iraqi’s legal costs. A Bahraini admirer offered to buy him a luxury limousine.
It could also be a disappointment for the Saudi who reportedly said he would pay 10m riyals for the size 10 “freedom shoes.” Following the old adage that success has many fathers, cobblers all over the Middle East have claimed they manufactured the loafers though most footwear in Iraq is Chinese-made. The most convincing claim came from Turkey, where manufacturer Ramazan Baydan said he might change the name of the shoe, prosaically called Model 271, to the Bush Shoe or Bye-bye Bush model. “Thanks to Bush, orders are flying in like crazy,” he said. Ayatollah Jannati called for the shoes to be deposited in a museum in Iraq. But Judge al-Kinani revealed they had been destroyed by investigators trying to determine whether they contained explosives.
Copycat footwear hurling has apparently also begun elsewhere, with a Ukrainian nationalist, as yet unnamed, throwing his boots at an Odessa speaker arguing in favour of Nato expansion.
It has also been a busy week for the spinoff online game Sock and Awe, which lets players throw virtual brown loafers at Bush. The site says 46m cyber-shoes have struck the presidential head as of Friday afternoon.