Iraqi who threw shoes at Bush hailed as Arab hero

"I hope that all the Arab presidents will see what happened and draw conclusions."

muntadar al zeidi 248.88 (photo credit: )
muntadar al zeidi 248.88
(photo credit: )
Muntadar al-Zeidi, the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at US President George W. Bush during a press conference in Baghdad on Sunday, is being hailed throughout the Arab world as a hero, with many calling on other journalists to use the same method against the Arab heads of state. The overwhelming majority of comments posted on various Arabic Web sites also heaped praise on the Iraqi journalist. Many described him as a "lion" and prayed to God that he would be released unharmed. Dozens of Arab lawyers expressed their readiness to defend al-Zeidi, while many Arab journalists protested against his arrest and praised him as one of the most respected newsmen in the Arab world. Bush ducked a pair of shoes hurled at his head - one shoe after the other - in the middle of a news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Both shoes narrowly missed their target and thumped loudly against the wall behind the leaders. "Don't worry about it," the president said as the room erupted into chaos. Iraqi reporters started shouting what Bush later explained were apologies for the incident. "So what if the guy threw a shoe at me?" Bush said, comparing the action to political protests in the United States. "If you want the facts, it was a size 10," he joked. The shoe attack came as Bush and al-Maliki were about to shake hands. At that point al-Zeidi leaped from his chair and hurled his footwear at the president, who was about 20 feet away. "This is a farewell kiss, you dog," he yelled in Arabic. "This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq." The crowd descended on al-Zeidi, who works for Al-Baghdadia television, an Iraqi-owned station based in Cairo. He was wrestled to the ground by security officials and then hauled away, moaning as they departed the room. Later, a trail of fresh blood could be seen on the carpet, although the source was not known. In Iraqi culture, throwing shoes at someone is a sign of contempt. When US Marines toppled Saddam Hussein's statue on Firdos Square in 2003, the assembled crowd whacked it with their shoes. When Bush met with reporters later aboard Air Force One, he had a joke prepared: "I didn't know what the guy said but I saw his 'sole.'" Later, he said: "I'm going to be thinking of shoe jokes for a long time. I haven't heard any good ones yet." Many Arab reporters are now worried that they will be asked to take off their shoes before attending press conferences with US officials. A Palestinian journalist joked that the Palestinian Authority security forces in the West Bank have begun confiscating all shoes from the local markets as a precautionary measure ahead of a scheduled visit by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Abdel Bari Atwan, the Palestinian editor of the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi daily, defended the Iraqi journalist's action, saying he must have felt frustrated because of the deterioration in his country. "The new Iraq that Bush is boasting about has become a mass grave and a battlefield," he said in an editorial entitled, "An Appropriate Farewell for a War Criminal." "One million Iraqis have died and another five million have fled the new democracy of Iraq," he added. Atwan, who is known for his anti-American sentiments, said that while he disagreed with the journalist over the method he used to express his opinion, "he was only expressing the opinion of the silent majority of Iraqis who are suffering. There is no water, no electricity and no work opportunities in a country that is supposed to be one of the richest in the Arab world." Atwan also criticized the Iraqi journalist's colleagues who were quick to apologize to Bush following the embarrassing incident. "We don't agree with the Iraqi journalists who apologized to Bush," he said. "This Iraqi colleague was only practicing his right of expression. It's Bush who has to apologize to the Iraqis for shedding their blood. This journalist represents the true face of the Iraqis." The Al-Jazeera Web site, one of the most popular in the Arab world, said it received a record of 3,500 talkbacks in response to the incident. Over 90% of the Arabs who posted comments expressed full support for al-Zeidi and condemned Bush as a war criminal who deserved to die. Some of the comments hailed the journalist for "degrading the American president who has killed many Muslims and Arabs," while others described him as "national hero" and as the man who brought honor to all Muslims and Arabs. Mohammed Gandi, one of the readers who posted a comment, said that the Iraqi journalist represented the wish of the majority of the Arabs who hate Bush and those who are conspiring with him - a reference to US-supported Arab dictators. Ahmed Osman, another reader, advised the Arab rulers to hold their press conferences only in mosques to avoid being attacked with shoes, since Muslims are required to take off their shoes before entering a mosque. Fadi Tahan called on journalists who attend press conferences with Arab leaders "to wear bigger shoes so that they could help us get rid of these dictators." Rashid Ramadani prayed to God that he would "bless the hands of the Iraqi journalist. One billion thanks to this Iraqi hero. We are very proud of you; you made us cry out of joy." Ahmed al-Kadry expressed hope that the Arab dictators would be punished in a similar manner. "This journalist is one of the greatest men in the Arab world," he said. "I hope that all the Arab presidents will see what happened and draw conclusions. I think it's time to say to all the criminals of the world to go away." Hussein al-Bassoumi predicted that the Iraqi journalist would become a "legendary" hero for the Arabs and Muslims and that future generations would be taught about his "legend." He urged the Arab masses to name streets and public squares after the journalist. He also urged the Iraqis to place the shoes that were used in the attacks in a museum in Baghdad. Huda Azzam wrote: "Thank you to this brave journalist who has taught the Arab leaders a lesson in bravery. We hope Arab lawyers will form a special committee to defend this hero." Addressing the journalist, Mahmoud al-Arabi said, "We salute the symbol of the Arabs and Islam. Please allow us on this day to kiss your hand on behalf of all the Arabs and Muslims." Mohammed Ghaleb said that the Iraqi journalist will be defended not only by 100 lawyers, "but by millions of Arabs and billions of Muslims. He is a bright light in our dark day, God bless him. This is a beautiful day." AP contributed to this report.