Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Civil Disobedience in Size Ten

by Pa Rock
Cultural Commentator

George Bush was making his Grand Farewell Tour of the Middle East on December 14th of the year just past, when the relevancy of his entire presidency and foreign policy was knocked into a cocked hat by a couple of flying shoes. He was in the middle of a large press conference in Iraq when an angry Iraqi journalist named Muntadir al-Zaidi loosed a barrage of hostile Iraqi verbiage that declared Mr. Bush to be a dog, and then he let fly with one of his shoes - and then the other. Our President, surprisingly agile - possibly due to his cheerleader training at Yale - managed to successfully duck the flying footwear. In an effort to recover some of his dignity, the President joked that he thought the shoes were a size ten.

The incident resulted in al-Zaidi becoming a hero throughout the Middle East in general and Iraq in particular (with shoe sales of that particular model going through the roof!), quickly disproving the CIA and Blackwater claims that we are generally seen as liberators by the people of Iraq. The famous shoe-thrower has been in jail since the incident where reports indicate that he may be recovering from broken bones and cigarette burns. A trial date is pending which could result in him being subjected to some serious punishment. Clearly Iraqi officials do not view al-Zaidi with the same adulation as do the common folk of their country!

Jump forward a couple of weeks to an orphanage in Tikrit, Iraq, the hometown of Sadam Hussein. The reason the orphanage exists is due to the abundance of war orphans. It is understandable that the city might be somewhat hostile to the country that they view as responsible for the deaths of their favorite son and the parents of the orphans.

An Iraqi sculptor by the name of Laith al-Amiri managed to raise $5,000 to build an outdoor sculpture at the orphanage. Some of the orphans even helped with the project. The result was a giant shoe sculpture on a large concrete base. The statue measured over 11 feet in height, over 8 feet in length, and was nearly 5 feet wide. The shoe itself (sitting atop the concrete base) was the size of an Iraqi sofa. It was made of fiberglass covered in copper. In a nod to the environment, not a hot George Bush priority, the giant shoe doubled as a planter for a big green bush. Iraqi government officials quickly ordered the big shoe's removal - the will of the people be damned! So much for freedom of speech - and all that jazz!

Jump across Europe and the English Channel to Great Britain. Chinese Premier Wen Jiaboa was speaking at Cambridge University last week when an audience member blew a whistle and shouted: "How can the university prostitute itself with this dictator? How can you listen to him unchallenged?" Whereupon, he took aim and threw his shoe at the premier, missing his mark. He, too, was arrested and remains in jail.

So where do fair-minded people come down on this particular type of protest? Do we label it assault or attempted assault and demand a criminal penalty? Or do we go to the other extreme and declare it a harmless act of civil disobedience? Never mind Jesus - what would Henry David Thoreau do?

My thoughts on the subject are evolving, but I feel the need to give fair warning that the older I get, the meaner I get - and I wear a size ten!