Yesterday, Iraqi journalist Muntader al-Zaidi threw his shoes at President Bush and shouted, “This is a farewell kiss, you dog. This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq.” Bush said that he was unfazed by the incident.
Afterward, Bush continued to dismiss the incident to reporters aboard Air Force One. He said that Zaidi’s actions were “bizarre” and had no larger significance:
Q Well, not to belabor the point too much, on this man, but I have a serious question about it. Obviously he’s expressing a vein of anger that exists in Iraq, and —
BUSH: How do you know? I mean, how do we know what he’s expressing? Who — [...] I’ve heard all kinds of stories. I heard he was representing a Baathist TV station. I don’t know the facts, but let’s find out the facts. All I’m telling you, it was a bizarre moment. [...]
I don’t think you can take one guy throwing shoes and say this represents a broad movement in Iraq. You can try to do that if you want to. I don’t think it would be accurate. … That’s exactly what he wanted you to do. Like I answered on your question, what he wanted you to do was to pay attention to him. And sure enough, you did.
Similarly, in an interview with ABC’s Martha Raddatz yesterday, Bush laughed off Zaidi’s actions as “amusing.” “I don’t know what his beef is,” said Bush. “But whatever it is I’m sure somebody will hear it.” Watch it:
Zaidi’s actions were not “bizarre” or “amusing.” In fact, they were “[t]wo of the worst insults in Islam.” Additionally, Zaidi is not a lone protester with his own radical “Baathist” agenda. Since the incident, thousands of Iraqis have taken to the streets to demand the release of Zaidi, who is now being interrogated by Iraqi authorities. These protesters include Shiites in Sadr City, who “are fed up with U.S. policy in the region” and calling Zaidi a “hero.” NPR reported that every single person they interviewed in Baghdad had “nothing but praise” for Zaidi.
Bush is still unable to grasp the “beef” that the Iraqi people have with him: their extreme frustration and unhappiness with the U.S. invasion and its subsequent mismanagement and occupation. Tellingly, one of the last high-profile shoe-throwing incidents occurred in April 2003, when Iraqis took their shoes and hit Saddam Hussein’s falling statue.
The New York Times reports that Zaidi’s future may rest in Bush’s hands: “Maythem al-Zaidi contacted a judge to ask him if what his brother did is a crime under Iraqi law. The judge told him that he might serve two years in prison or pay a fine for insulting a president of foreign country unless Mr. Bush withdrew the case. ‘If they manage to imprison Muntader, there are millions of him all over Iraq and the Arab world,’ Maythem al-Zaidi said.”