If we have days dedicated to observing the shadow of a rodent (Groundhog Day) and dumping sticky rice into the river to keep fish from nipping away the body of a beloved poet (Tuen Ng Festival 端午節), then surely we can afford to have another one dedicated to hurling objects at unpopular politicians or their effigies.
On 14 December 2008, while he was still frolicking in his presidential la-la-land, George W. Bush thought he would give Iraq a surprise valedictory visit and draw the world’s attention to the progress his military top brass had made in Iraq. Then “BAM!” and “BAM!” again, flew the shoes across the press room. The startled Bush ducked and ducked again, while his entourage froze as if the show were too good to interrupt.
We all watched the clip on television and YouTube over and over again. It didn’t seem to get old. This was no laughing matter of course. The shoe hurler, 28-year-old Iraqi journalist Muntader al-Zaidi, risked serious jail time to make a point: get the hell out of my country. After the incident, Bush told an NBC reporter that he found the whole hoopla rather “amusing.” Al-Zaidi said he did it for the widows, orphans and those who were killed in his country. Most people don’t find that sort of things very amusing.
The media was quick to praise Bush’s reaction and called him “calm” and “composed.” Americans are just thankful that their president didn’t blurt out some callous repartee that would further enrage the Arab world and send oil prices through the roof. The shoe-throwing incident was a fitting finale to Bush’s presidency. The story was easy to understand and hard to forget. From now on, no discussion over Bush’s legacy would be complete without mentioning September 11, the two failed wars, Katrina, the financial meltdown, and now, the shoe toss. History books would not be kind to America’s 43rd President.
Al-Zaidi’s act has soon inspired copycats across the globe. Three months after the original shoe toss, while Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) was addressing a presumably friendly audience at Cambridge University, a German student threw a shoe at the Premier and called him a dictator in front of a stunned crowd. Here in Hong Kong, lawmakers from the firebrand League of Social Democrats (社民連) are known for their penchant for throwing objects at unpopular politicians. Their weapon of choice is more palatable: fresh bananas. These days there is so much social injustice and frustration to go around and people everywhere are looking for ways to let off steam. If there is a U.N. petition to make 14 December an international holiday, then tell me where to sign. I can name a few politicians I wouldn’t mind tossing a shoe at.