Not many people remember his name, but everyone knows Muntadhar al-Zaidi’s shoe size. In one glorious moment on 14 December, the 29 year old al-Baghdadia TV journalist recruited the whole world’s media to display what no analysis or opinion poll, no insurgency or election had, that Iraqis don’t like living under the bootheel of US occupation. Since then, his action has become iconic, with shoe tossing now a staple of protest tactics.
So inspiring was his protest that within a week of the incident, the Baydan Shoe Company in Istanbul, allegedly the manufacturer of al-Zaidi’s shoes, had to hire 100 new workers to cope with 300,000 orders for their Model 271 Ducati, making it perhaps the only employer in Turkey not laying off staff.
Arrested on the spot and consigned to al-Maliki’s gulag, he was beaten into signing an apology to al-Maliki. While he languished in prison, orphans in Tikrit helped sculptor Laith al-Amiri construct a monument in his honour, unveiled on 29 January and removed the next day,
"We will not allow anyone to use the government facilities and buildings for political motives," said Abdullah Jabara, Salaheddin deputy governor.
Three months down the track, he is finally to stand trial, ‘charged with assaulting a foreign leader and faces a maximum sentence of 15 years’. Unfortunately, Bush was agile enough to evade al-Zaidi’s missiles, although I daresay he’d be facing even more serious charges if they had hit home. Initial hearings in December were held at the prison, where he has been held ever since. presumably to allow time for him to recover from his injuries before appearing in a public courtroom.
In his first public appearance since his arrest, Mr Zaidi was met in court by applause, ululating and chanting…He appeared fit and well, despite reports from friends and family that he was badly beaten shortly after his arrest.
The facts of the case are not in dispute, nor has al-Zaidi denied the charges against him. And in all fairness, it’s inconceivable that a capitalist state would neglect to criminalise assaulting a foreign head of state. But at the same time, the new democracy Mr Bush has so magnanimously bestowed upon the grateful Iraqi people must show its respect for freedom of expression. What a dilemma!
We can only hope that Iraq’s thoroughly independent judiciary will acknowledge what every Iraqi knows and release al-Zaidi immediately, honour him as a hero, with an abject apology and compensation, and let him return to recording the depredations of US occupation.