On The Art Of Shoeing

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.


  • I think western media especially German which i have to suffer here;; almost always stumble when covering news from the mideast,,, still stuck in the orientalist way of thinking and whether deliberately or not they perpetuate the idea of a virtual line between ‘orient’ and ‘occident’ ,,, German stations magazines and newspapers have normally none who could read arabic chinese or persian media and present them appropriately. thats probably why they seem to analyse what they are presented with of news from the east depending on the inherited orientalists way of thinking and analysis… that is view the picture and release your fantacy ,,, something I could never avoid noticing in German media for instance.
    (a personal view)

  • Well, yeah, I’d say it’s a particularly Arab insult. When we began Bush’s adventure in the Middle East, I remember the video of people (probably Shiites) taking their shoes and hitting portraits and statues of Saddam with them. Here in Amurika we’d moon him, or flip him off.

  • Well as a person who’s living in the UK currently. I talked to a couple of people here. They say that throwing a shoe at someone is no more insulting that throwing a toaster or a book. But in the Arab world, you would agree it is quite different. throwing a shoe rather than a book at someone.

    It is generally an Arabic thing, and it’s true. I can’t see the problem here.
    It’s like showing the sole of your shoe to someone, it would not be take into consideration here. But it’s very insulting in the Arab world. Cultures are different, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

  • best criticized by Jay Leno:

    “Well, here’s my favorite part. Cable news just over-thinks this. On CNN, they brought in an expert on Iraqi culture. And he said, ‘Let me clarify what happened here.’ He said, ‘In the Arab world, throwing your shoes at someone’s head is considered an insult.’ Oh, really? As opposed to here in America, where it’s a huge compliment.” –Jay Leno


  • Nas, this is the first post by anyone in a long time that made me laugh out loud. Literally. Although, there are cultural differences (my first thought on seeing the shoe hurling event was “too bad he didn’t have a rotten egg handy”), there is nowhere that this would be a complimet, as far as I am aware. Although, the showin of the soles of your shoes thing is something that needs to be explained to Americans. I still don’t quite get that, but try to remember to keep my feet firmly planted on the floor.

  • I have to agree with Yazan on this one. The shoe, and especially the soal of the shoe, is considered much more insulting in the Arabic world. I remember my teacher telling a story of a poor asian guest worker who was sitting in an Iraqi police station for hours, waiting for the officer in charge to deal with his case and not understanding why he was being ignored completely by the officer. Unfortunately that same guest worker had his legs crossed and his soal pointing straight at the disgruntled officer.

    This is just not a story you’d see repeated many places outside the Arab world.

    Remember the picture of a dog with a Danish flag wrapped around it? In the Middle East that’s a great insult, while in Denmark it means nothing or might even be considered cute. It’s these small differences that make the world interesting and a lot more laughable at times.

  • I wonder how they’d tie in Khruschev’s shoe-banging…

    Here’s an interesting cross-cultural story – my boyfriend is the biggest slob in the world. OK, maybe I’m exaggerating, but I am obsessed with neatness and order and he just ruins my life every time he comes home and throws stuff everywhere. I find his scarves behind the washing machine, his socks are ALWAYS on the floor (I practically get hives just seeing that), if I am gone for a few weeks I come back to find that our tupperware has been turned into a bacterial petri dish, etc.

    HOWEVER – he will never leave his shoes lying around with their soles up. NEVER. It’s like a sign of disrespect and a bad omen.

    Granted, he’s only one person, but I see this attitude about shoes and their soles in others as well.

    This is why I’ve come to view this as something cultural.

  • are u familiar with asad abukhalil’s blog (the angry arab) .. anyway he is constantly having fun with the “shoes are offensive in arab culture” statement 😀

  • thats a very interesting remark indeed.

    i am surprised i missed it.

    all what you are saying makes sense, but i still cant decide why would the media say that whats the message there?

    * over exaggeration by opponents of both and all the other victims of shoeing to maximize the significance of throwing the shoe, possibly?!

    becuase honestly i cant seem to come up with any other reason why would anyone ever mention that shoing is particulary insulting here or in Asia.

  • Don’t miss the obvious. If you go to a press meeting with a high level political leader, you can’t bring any thing in to throw. A shoe is heavy and easy to throw and you have two with you at any given time. He did reload after he missed, didn’t he. The explanation is because to the culturally illiterate, the shoe was simply a convenient object to hurl.

    That is the sole explanation.

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