Muntadhar al-Zeidi, the Iraqi TV reporter who threw his shoes at President George W. Bush during a press conference in Baghdad last December, was released from prison on September 15 after serving nine months of a one-year sentence. (Throwing a shoe at a person is considered highly disrespectful in Islamic culture.) Immediately hailed as a hero in the Arab, Muslim, and NPR-listening worlds last winter for his act of defiance — he yelled “This is your farewell kiss, you dog!” and “This is from the widows, the orphans, and those who were killed in Iraq!” as he hurled each shoe at Bush — al-Zeidi emerged from prison into a world with a new American president and a decreased U.S. military presence in his home country. Now, in a loosely translated Popdose exclusive, he speaks out about his experience.
When I went into prison last year, I was 29 years old. Now I am 30 years old. I am a man now, and in prison I was the man, as you Americans say. People made T-shirts. A game on the Internet called Sock and Awe was created by people with much time on their hands. And the video of me throwing my shoes at President George Bush “went viral,” I was told. My prison guards even threw me a birthday party in January. (“Throw” is a versatile verb, is it not?) They gave me bright green shoes with holes on the top side that are called Crocs. It was amusing for a minute or two.
Many things can change in a short amount of time, however. The zeitgeist, it has shifted. The world has moved on. My people say to me, “The sectarian violence is not like it was, Muntadhar, and this new American president, unlike the previous one, he has a brain.”
But now there is a very bad crime wave, and it is led by the same people who almost pushed Iraq into a civil war. They cannot find jobs, so they kidnap and demand ransoms instead. Learn new skills, gentlemen. Take computer classes. Oh, that is right, I have forgotten — there is no electricity to run the computers! Carry on, sectarian thugs.
Let me make a thing clear right here and now — I do not regret throwing my shoes at Little Bush. If I am given another opportunity to throw shoes at him, I shall bring clown shoes so big they cannot possibly miss his thick head. If I were to be granted access to Imelda Marcos’s bottomless pit of footwear, I would throw all 3,000 pairs at the man who tried to take over my country just so his presidential limousine never runs out of gas. Spiked heels facing forward, but of course.
I would like to address a particular thing, if I may. People said I was a hero around the whole wide world for what I did that day in 2008, but I do not think I am a hero, and I was not looking for attention, I promise you of that.
Some of my fellow journalist reporters think I was trying to make myself the story. That is not true. They say, “He is a TV reporter. He likes to shock people. Sensationalism is his game, and that is also its name. It keeps people watching. Now watch me as I roll my eyes at him.” Hey there, fellow journalists, let me ask you this, all right — if you wanted to be neutral and without bias, why did you pull me to the ground after I threw the shoes? When you did that, you became part of the story. Think about that and take two and then you call me in the morning, thank you.
My anger was allowed to get the better part of me. I do not disagree with those who think that opinion. But I do disagree with those who think I was trying to make “Muntadhar al-Zeidi” a name in households around the world. If “Muntadhar al-Zeidi” is now a name that trips off the tongue the way I hope that Little Bush and Dark Lord Cheney trip off a cliff on K2 in Pakistan, I do not mind. If Bush and Cheney fall on Osama bin Laden, that will be good too. Two birds or more with one stone, as you Americans say it.
Of course, however, if you kill bin Laden, the poster boy for Little Bush’s “war on terror” is gone. Little Bush is gone now, yes, but the Dark Lord Cheney will never go away. After he dies, his ghost spirit will possess a new politician or overmedicated news-channel chat-show host. Evil never dies — it just changes its name to patriotism and starts over again. President Obama, watch out for yourself — the Cheney specter haunts your house! (Do not be afraid of the Arlen Specter, however, unless he switches parties again.)
In prison we watched W., the movie about Little Bush. Movie director Oliver Stone, was I meant to laugh or cry? Take the S off your surname and you have my main problem with your movie. You are like American military forces in the Middle East — all over the map!
I kid, I kid. But seriously, W. has major tonal inconsistencies. (Four stars, film critic Roger Ebert? I shall lightly brush you with baby shoes if we ever meet.)
I must say, and will say, I was unprepared for Little Bush’s relationship with Big Bush. Little Bush never felt the feeling of encouragement or acceptance from his father, the president who first raped my homeland in 1991, even after Little Bush became the governor of Texas, which is not a worthless little state like New Jersey, yes?
I too know the feeling of not feeling these things. My father hated Big Bush, who never liberated us from Saddam (another evil “patriot”) like he promised. My father hoped to one day throw a pair of metal cleats at Big Bush. Sadly, that opportunity never knocked.
When I threw my shoes at Little Bush, I did it for my people, but I cannot lie — I also did it to impress my father. When he wrote to me in prison on my 30th birthday, do you know what he said? “You missed.” When Little Bush and Big Bush talk about both being president, do you think Big Bush reminds Little Bush that he did not really win his election in the year 2000?
No matter where you live, you cannot please some people any of the time. I will never apologize for throwing my shoes at you, Little Bush, but maybe now perhaps, with time and reflection on my side, I can understand you a little better.
After I left prison, I read about the American politician whose name is Joe Wilson. He is lucky he is not a reporter in Iraq, do you not agree? Of course, however, if he had thrown shoes at President Obama after yelling at him, it might be a different story in your country. Freedom of speech, freedom of throwing arm — “toe-may-toe, toe-mah-toe,” yes?
You have much freedom in America. Good for you, Americans. But do not pretend everyone else in the world wants the same freedom in the same way. Do you remember the old advertisements for Nike shoes? The slogan was “Just do it.” When it comes to spreading your democracy seeds in the Middle East, ignore this advice, please. Shoes can send a strong message, but shoe slogans should never dictate foreign policy.