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Written on January 5, 2009, and categorized as Flip side, Politics.
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Sometimes entire populations get it right. In the face of political leaders pouring out reality-warping, truth-defying Orwellian language, popular symbols arise which effectively puncture these evil thought balloons.

Enter Muntadar al-Zaidi, the Iraqi shoe thrower, whose patience finally snapped when faced with the smug conceit and arrogance of the man who had destroyed his country. George W. Bush, the most loathed US president ever, despite the presence of heavily armed security, had to duck to avoid Mr al-Zaidi’s well-aimed footware. Mr al-Zaidi was badly beaten up for this act of protest, but his act took on great significance, beyond the cultural context in which it was born, beyond the multiple hundreds of thousands of lives smashed to bloody pieces in Iraq, and beyond the war-torn middle east.

As populations around the world protested in the past few days about the slaughter of women and children in Gaza, the one heart-warming moment – aside from the scale of the turnout, which was large – was seeing how the people of London, like people everywhere, had adopted his symbol of protest.

It is no surprise that his act of defiance has become a symbol. Americans started to send shoes to the Whitehouse. An angry Stephen A. Millies protested at New York transport cuts in a similar fashion. And this weekend, as the marchers in London passed Downing Street, shoes began to rain down on Thatcher’s Gates.

Now it seems that Mr al-Zaidi will be elevated to the status of iconic popular hero, whether he likes it or not. An Egyptian man has offered his 20 year old daughter, Amal Saad Gumaa, in marriage, and she seems to think it would be a great idea:

“This is something that would honour me. I would like to live in Iraq, especially if I were attached to this hero,” she told Reuters by telephone.

Despite its amusement value, this marriage offer sums up both the gulf between east and west, and the immense value that al-Zaidi’s protest has achieved. He is noble, brave and honest, where Bush is corrupt, cowardly and a liar. As old fashioned as the gift of a daughter seems to us in the west, there is something human, comforting and direct in the possibility of marital embrace. Mr al-Zaidi it is to be hoped will be rewarded in this life for risking his life and his health and speaking on behalf of the millions of us worldwide who are equally disgusted.

Our leaders currently seem to be either hapless, or monsters, or both. Their instant, incessant rewrites of contemporary events are designed to create a history which elevates their politically expedient acts to the status of necessity. Their permanent propaganda attempts to persuade us into believing that the slaughter they organised has saved lives, that the destruction of children is merely collateral, that the ghastly, ongoing carnage is a price worth paying, and that our democratic freedoms are worth tearing into shreds in the name of democracy.

This has lifted me because it shows the heart of human decency which still survives even in battered, demoralised and disenfranchised populations. Say what you like, politicians, twist it any way you can, but, thank God, we the people know better. We don’t live double-speak lives – we see murder, and we call it what it is. You may control the media, the police and the school curriculum, but you don’t control our ability to take back our reality and re-shape it with simple, effective, popular gestures.

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  1. Posted 1 February, 2009 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    Shoe, shoe, shame on you!…

    A feature of the London demo on Saturday were the shoes that people "threw" at Downing Street in symbolic protest. I spotted this one in Parliament Road near Downing Street after the protest, when the others had been cleared away, so perhaps …

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