An Iraqi court handed down a sentence today for Muntadhar al-Zeidi, the Iraqi journalist who became instantly famous worldwide for throwing his shoes at then-President George W. Bush back in January. Three years in prison. Three years to sit with his pejorative from that day ringing in his ears: "This is your farewell kiss, you dog! This is from the widows, the orphans, and those who were killed in Iraq." Al-Zeidi can sit in his cell for all that time knowing that his actions were not lost on his fellow Iraqis nor on the millions of Americans who only wish they'd received a similar opportunity.
It's been less than two months since Barack Obama took the Oath of Office and formally ended Bush's eight-year reign of shock and terror. It seems like a distant nightmare now — or it would if we weren't still quaking from the aftershocks of an administration predicated almost solely upon failure, war, and deceit. Bush's tenure in office may conceivably have set us back twenty years, and if this truth had come at the hands of honest policy mistakes or overly hostile partisanship perhaps he could be forgiven. But it didn't, and he can't.
George W. Bush was, first and foremost, a criminal. Forget the DUI charges from his younger days and his curious absences from the Texas National Guard. These things make no difference any longer. They are footnotes of footnotes from the unrepentantly savage introduction he wrote to begin twenty-first century. The massive burn he ran on the world during his eight years in office should [and will] go down in history as one of the most destructive in this country's history in which he helped destabilize the national economy if not the global one1, trampled on Geneva Conventions by illegally invading a country and torturing political prisoners as well as prisoners of "war", and refused any sort of accountability for his actions ranging from his administration's failure to prevent the 9/11 attacks to major intelligence errors throughout both of his terms in office. The handling of his own illegal war brought even further unnecessary strife to a people who, honestly, were probably more secure under the watch of Saddam Hussein than they were running around in an American-sponsored war zone. When one does the math, it is difficult to say that Bush won't have to wash the blood of a hundred thousand people off his hands...maybe more.
In truth, the list of his transgressions is far too long to include in this article, and what would be the point? Anyone that hasn't accepted the massive failure of the Bush Administration and the danger which it has brought upon us likely never will. And besides, all the bitching has worn on the subject. He will never be brought up on the charges he would face in a just world standing before an international court. But Muntadhar al-Zeidi will have to face punishment for the lofting of two shoes at the same man that perpetrated such inconceivable horror.
Let's not simply stop at an argument of comparisons, though. It wouldn't be fair to jail a serial killer and let a rapist off the hook, but we're not dealing with a crime of peril in the case of al-Zeidi. We're dealing with an extremely minor assault made even milder when considering the cultural implications of his actions. (And let's not forget al-Zeidi himself was beaten very harshly directly following the incident, something not mentioned loudly considering simple detainment would have sufficed.)
Throwing a shoe in Iraqi society is an insult. It was never Al-Zeidi's intent to do anything more than levy his sentiment of disgust toward George W. Bush, who himself said he believed in the gesture as a form of expression that should be available to the people of Iraq. Whether or not Bush truly believed this — after all, one can argue he did not welcome the same sort of expression from his critics in the United States — not even he seemed put off after having dodged the attack. Bush met the incident with the condescending half-smirk that became a hallmark of his press conferences as well as his universal response to criticism.
The fact that al-Zeidi will be serving any time at all is nothing more than an attempt on the part of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to present an image of control, and one must think the court's decision had to have been in some way informed by al-Maliki's own wishes. Three years for throwing shoes? Granted, the full penalty could've been closer to the maximum sentence of fifteen years, but there is a reason al-Zeidi has become a folk hero in his own country. We saw a similar thing happen when Cindy Sheehan essentially became the voice of the American anti-war movement. By publicly denouncing Bush's policies in the Middle East as the mother of a slain soldier, she provided a face and a disposition that was relatively rare up to that point. Her dogged attempts to meet with the President face-to-face — once by camping outside his ranch — not only garnered a great deal of sympathy for her cause but it made Bush seem that much more removed from the public will when he repeatedly rebuffed her efforts.
For the face of dissent in Iraq to have come from an educated, well-established journalist instead of a sectarian militant had a galvanizing effect among the swaths of Iraqis looking for a voice, so much so that the next day, people emerged in droves and marched through the streets of Baghdad professing their support for al-Zeidi and levying demands for his immediate release. The act was seen as a courageous challenge to the Leader of the Free World, a strident message that Iraqis of all stripes would not abide their being ground into the dirt by a bully with an army.
Al-Zeidi isn't just some nut who decided to disrupt a press conference. He isn't a shock jock who was just trying to make waves. He is a citizen of Iraq who had spent much of his time covering the war and national politics on the ground with a great deal of reason and insight, and when he found himself in the same room with George W. Bush, perhaps he simply acted in the only way he thought the American President might understand.
After all, nothing else had worked up to that point.
1Granted, the reasons for the current recession go far deeper than blaming the whole thing on Bush, but it's fair to call him and his policies major catalysts in the run-up to this whole sordid affair.