The shoe-throwing phenomenon

When Muntadhar al-Zaidi threw his size-10 shoes at outgoing US President George Bush he could have had no idea that his rather courageous demonstration would have such an international impact, and that he would be elevated to hero status – near god-like even. Nor could he know that his actions would inspire emulation by thousands across the world.

Demonstrators in the UK, who were protesting against the Israeli bombing in Gaze and Britain’s apparent lack of action against it, threw shoes at the gates of Downing Street. Protestors threw more than 1000 pairs of shoes while chanting the catchy slogan, “Shame on you, have my shoe”.

Protestors throw shoes at Downing Street

Protestors throw shoes at Downing Street

Shoes litter Downing Street

Shoes litter Downing Street

In Beirut, Lebanese and Palestinian youths threw shoes at the fences surrounding the Egyptian embassy, also in protest against the Israeli attacks on Gaza. And in Iran, around 70 protestors threw their shoes at caricatures of George Bush in support of al-Zaidi. The event was sponsored by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, and attracted passers by who were on their way to Friday prayers.

An Iran woman lets her feelings be known

An Iran woman lets her feelings be known

Canada has also been in on the action, with shoe throwing protests in Montreal and Toronto. Canadian journalist and activist, Stephan Christoff commented on the event, “Today is an act of humour in a sense but it’s also a profound situation and context. We’re talking about a situation where hundreds of thousands of people have lost their lives in Iraq. It is George Bush who holds a direct responsibility for the devastating, horrific situation of occupation and imperialism in Iraq.”

Artists, who are generally pretty good at seizing on a good trend, have also adapted the phenomenon to suit their industries. Artist, Eric Navickas, opened an exhibit in Oregon with a “shoe throw” piece. He painted the soles of various shoes a bright red colour and invited guests to have a go at an 8-ft image of President Bush. The exhibition was a “statement of solidarity” with al-Zaidi. And on the 19th Jan 09, San Francisco will hold the first “Potrero Hill Shoe Throwing Carnival” in support of al Zaidi, to cleanse American souls of 8 years of “carnage and stupidity.

Maine activist, Jamilla El-Shafei, is on a shoe drive to collect shoes from all over the States to shoo Bush out of the White House, which will culminate in a massive shoe-toss near the white house closer to Barack Obama’s inauguration. The shoes will then be donated to homeless shelters in Washington D.C.

Meanwhile, al-Zaidi’s trial has been plagued with scandals and set backs. There have been allegations of torture and abuse at the hands of Iraqi authorities and it’s been alleged that he was initially denied legal representation. His brothers have also claimed that his apology to Iraqi the Prime Minister was written under duress, as al-Zaidi would never have apologised for his act. The trial, which was to have started on the 31st Dec 08, has been postponed while his lawyer tries to reduce the charges from assault against a foreign head of state – with a 15-year prison term – to insulting a visting head of state – which carries a maximum sentence of 2 years. The attorneys claim that the shoes didn’t place Bush in actual danger. Dhiaa al-Saadi, al-Zaidi’s lawyer, says, “Have you ever heard of anyone being killed by a shoe? In Europe, they throw eggs and rotten tomatoes to insult. In Iraq, throwing a shoe is a symbol of disrespect.”

As for the shoes themselves, a Turkish shoe firm has claimed credit for their creation and has had to hire an extra 100 people to cope with a surge in demand. The shoe has been renamed the Bush Shoe, or the Bye-Bye Bush Shoe and is achieving international notoriety as orders come in from all over the world. Once again, al-Zaidi’s brothers are not keeping their silence and claim that the shoes were actually made in Iraq. One of the brothers has lashed at out at all those who are flying on al-Zaidi’s famous coat tails.

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