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Commentary Last Updated: Dec 17th, 2008 - 01:52:22

Size 10 will never be the same
By Linda S. Heard
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Dec 17, 2008, 00:19

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I received quite a few calls and e-mails on Sunday night, mostly from gleeful Bush-despising friends and acquaintances telling me to switch on the television. So, a Baghdad TV reporter threw size-10 shoes at the US president and showered him with insults. I�m sure that many in his own country and around the world experienced a sense of satisfaction watching replays of the incident in light of George W. Bush�s blood-soaked legacy in Iraq.

Already thousands of Iraqis have gathered in the street in support of the angry journalist, Muntazer Al-Zaidi, while his network, Al-Baghdadia, airs repeated appeals for his release from custody �in line with the freedom of expression and democracy that the American authorities promised the Iraqi people.� An AFP report is headlined �Arab world hails shoe attack as Bush�s farewell gift.�

However, in my view, violence of any kind should never be admired. And the fact that the White House Press Secretary Dana Perino suffered an eye injury during the ensuing fracas is no laughing matter. Moreover, the hurler�s act of frustration only served to cast suspicion on all members of the media, who will, presumably, from now on, be even more stringently vetted before they are allowed in the same room with America�s commander-in-chief.

Yet, in spite of my own negative views concerning Bush, I couldn�t help admiring his sang-froid and the way that he coolly waved away his Secret Service contingent. Even though representatives of the media that attend his press conferences are usually carefully cherry-picked to reduce the occurrence of heckling, it surely comes with the territory that politicians sometimes have to dodge projectiles.

When US Ambassador William R. Brownfield was bombarded with fruit and eggs during a public ceremony in Venezuela, it caused a diplomatic incident. Even Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice couldn�t escape over-reaching hecklers when apparent bloodstained hands were thrust near to her face last year amid calls of �war criminal.�

No one can please everyone all the time as a succession of British and European politicians have found to their cost. When former British Education Secretary Ruth Kelly was hit by a protester�s flying egg, she told reporters somewhat philosophically, �This is just one of those things that comes with being a politician.�

When the country�s deputy prime minister, John Prescott, became up close and personal with a runny yolk, however, he reacted by swinging a left hook at the perpetrator�s jaw and forever more became the butt of associated jokes. Neither Prescott nor his attacker was prosecuted.

In 2004, the UK�s prime minister, Tony Blair, was pelted by purple flour by members of a group known as Fathers 4 Justice during a House of Commons session, resulting in the evacuation of Parliament and a revision of security procedures.

His controversial spin doctor, Alastair Campbell, similarly dodged a barrage of eggs thrown by anti-war student demonstrators while a shaken Commons leader, Peter Hain, was led out of Oxford University dripping with egg yolk thrown by pro-hunt protesters, who had earlier besieged his home and cut off his water supply.

Avoiding eggs, tomatoes and bottles is a natural hazard of being an Italian politician as many have learned. Then French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin wasn�t immune, either. He couldn�t escape the ire of beef farmers demanding government aid while attending an annual agricultural fair.

Bush handled Sunday�s affair with admirable aplomb and humor. Speaking to reporters on Air Force One, he was later to say, �I don�t know what the guy said but I saw his sole,� as opposed to his first meeting with then Russian President Vladimir Putin when he saw his �soul.� �I�m going to be thinking of shoe jokes for a long time. I haven�t heard any good ones yet.�

However, kudos to Bush should end there. Incredibly, during a post-incident interview, he said he had no idea what the man�s beef was. And, even more incredibly, on this occasion he didn�t appear to be joking. Did no one translate Al-Zaidi�s message, �This is for the widows and orphans and all those killed in Iraq�?

The man was a witness to 10 years of US-led sanctions that robbed the lives of half-a-million Iraqi children, followed by a bloody invasion of his country and more than five years of a particularly ruthless foreign occupation during which he was arrested twice. And Bush has no inkling as to �his beef�? Al-Zaidi has every right to feel hostility and resentfulness toward the face of his nation�s ruination, although the way that he expressed his feelings is not acceptable. In any event, the Iraqi authorities would be well advised to heed calls from Iraqis to let him go, else he will be perceived as a true patriot, a hero, even a martyr.

Finally, I don�t have a shoe joke to offer Bush but perhaps he would benefit from this quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi: �Three quarters of the miseries and misunderstandings in the world would finish if people were to put on the shoes of their adversaries and understood their points of view.� What size fits you, Mr. Bush? How about a size 10?

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

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