Here’s the thing. Back in December, the world pretty much laughed and cheered as Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi threw his shoes at former US President, George W. Bush. And since then, shoe-throwing as a form of political protest seems to have come back in to fashion. It’s being referred to as “shoeing”.
According to it’s Wiki page, shoeing is:
…throwing shoes, showing the sole of one’s shoe or using shoes to insult are forms of protest primarily associated with the Arab world.
A few days later, a reporter threw his shoe at a Ukranian official over “sexist” remarks, and less than two months after the Bush incident, a protester threw a shoe at Wen Jiabao, the Chinese Premier, during a speech at Cambridge University.
Lately, India has been dealing with its own shoeing problems during its elections.
What’s interesting about this whole thing is that in any article written by western media that is “shoeing” related, there is always one sentence that goes something like this:
“Though many are amused by the whole thing, there’s a deeper message here. Shoes and shoe throwing are serious insults in much of Asia.” [source]
“Shoe hurling is a grave insult in Arab culture“ [source]
“…experts who have informed the public that “throwing a shoe at someone’s face is considered an insult in Islam“.” [source]
“Shoe Throwing: It’s an Arab thing” [source]
“In the Arab world, throwing shoes at somebody is considered a serious insult, as is even showing them the soles of one’s footwear, as demonstrated by jubilant Iraqis towards the statue of Saddam Hussein as it was toppled in Baghdad during the 2003 invasion. [source]
And so on and so forth.
These are all constant attempts by a western media looking to describe to its “western” audiences what this act supposedly “symbolizes”, and that’s something I find interesting.
The trouble I have with all this is the language that looks to emphasize this act as a solely “Arab” or “Islamic” or even “Asian” thing. I mean, is “shoeing” really an act designated to a particular culture or people? Doesn’t it go without saying that if someone throws a shoe at you, you’re probably going to take it as an insult? I mean, is there a group of people some where in the western hemisphere that consider it a compliment to have a shoe flung at them, or to be pleased at the sight of someone’s heels overtly directed at them?
This seems to be purely orientalist thinking to me. Does the western media really need to explain to its so-called “western” audiences (despite readership now being largely global) what the significance of a shoe being thrown at someone is? To label it as a cultural act?
Matthew Cassel wrote an interesting piece after Bush’s shoeing, stating:
…why did Western media constantly explain that shoe throwing is considered offensive in Arab culture?
I would’ve liked an explanation then of the significance of eggs in American culture and what it meant when one was hurled at Bush’s motorcade during his inauguration in 2001. Many hungry Palestinians or Iraqis might view an egg as too valuable a resource to waste by throwing at a despised politician. Or what about an explanation for the pie-in-the-face tactic commonly used by activists to humiliate someone they do not agree with? Or what about vegetables? I remember as a kid always watching cartoons or films in which performers would have vegetables, especially big juicy tomatoes hurled at them if they did a poor job. So why is it so hard for a culture that brings rotten vegetables to a theater in order to throw them in the event that the singer was off key, to need an explanation about why someone would remove his shoes and throw them at Bush?
In any case, Zaidi will be released in September.