Friday, Mar. 19, 2010

December 2008
Shoe Stopper

"This is a gift from the Iraqis; this is the farewell kiss, you dog!"

Iraqi journalist Muntazer al-Zaidi, as he throws his shoes at President Bush

For President Bush's legions of critics, it was a fitting end to his turbulent time in office. At a press conference during his final visit to Baghdad on Dec. 14, Bush is targeted by by an Iraqi journalist loudly denouncing the U.S. presence in the country and hurling his two black dress shoes at the lectern. Bush manages to duck both flying shoes, and the assailant, television correspondent Muntazer al-Zaidi, 29, is hustled from the room and reportedly beaten by Iraqi security officials. Bush laughs off the event, later joking he saw the man's "sole" and even going so far as to cite the incident as a sign of progress in a democratic Iraq. First Lady Laura Bush, by contrast, calls the incident "an assault." Al-Zaidi is hailed as a hero by opponents of the U.S. invasion throughout the Arab world, where throwing shoes is a sign of deep disrespect, and thousands gather in Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood to demand his release. Al-Zaidi's lawyers maintain his protest was protected free speech, but prosecutors disagree, charging him with assaulting a foreign leader on an official visit, which can carry a 15-year prison sentence. "I am innocent. It was a natural reaction to the crime of occupation," Al-Zaidi says in his defense during a brief trial at Baghdad's Central Criminal Court in March of 2009, claiming he could not control his emotions as Bush flashed "that icy smile" during the press conference. However, on March 12, he is sentenced to three years in jail, a punishment that many Iraqis view as unduly harsh and his lawyers vow to appeal.