Many Americans suffer from the cancer of ethnocentrism. An extreme “love of God and country” that breeds feelings of superiority and entitlement and arrogance, and has accommodated and blessed horrible war crimes committed by political leaders in our name. Mainstream media and religious leaders are also implicated here. Instead of confronting the ethnocentric-energized imperialism undermining the moral and democratic fabric of our country, they have, more often than not, redefined this cancer to justify, and protect, their own positions as guardians and chaplains of the status quo. Journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi, who threw his shoes at former President Bush, provides a powerful commentary on the “spreading of freedom and democracy”-laced imperialism that Bush could not dodge. The shoe thrower also graphically expressed the world-wide condemnation of and anger at the “God bless America”-camouflaged sickness, personified by Bush, endangering the soul and security of America.
It was last December at a news conference in Iraq. President Bush was making his final “unannounced” visit to Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone—the American-made “bubble of democracy” in the heart of the city. This special secretive trip was to be a crowning moment for the self-proclaimed “war president.” He had “stayed the course” of a falsely based, UN-condemned “illegal” pre-emptive war against non-threatening Iraq for six years. In spite of millions of Iraqi, and tens of thousands of American lives lost and ruined and uprooted in the wake of his administration’s war crimes. Bush was there for vindication. Standing next to American-vetted Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. About to celebrate his war trophy of a “free and democratic Iraq.” And televised for the world to see. But instead of being hailed with a war trophy, shoes were hurled at his face. He ducked the shoes but not their impact.
Journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi gave air to the smothered feelings of most people throughout Iraq and the world. He threw the first shoe, shouting, “This is a gift form the Iraqis; this is the farewell kiss, you dog!” Then the other shoe: “This is for the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq.” (The New York Times, Dec. 15, 2008). At long last a journalist who dared to speak truth to power about America’s imperialistic war crimes committed against Iraq.
At his recent trial, journalist al-Zaidi testified very clearly that the shoe fit former President Bush. Quoted as being “provoked” by “the former American leader’s ‘bloodless and soulless smile’ and his joking banter (italics added),” al Zaidi stated,
I could only see Bush and feel the blood of the innocents flow under his feet, as he was smiling that smile—as if he had come to bid farewell to Iraq and with the last support and more than 1 million martyrs. . . . At that moment, I felt this is the man who killed our nation . . . the main murderer and the main person responsible for killing our nation. . . . I was expressing my inner feelings and those of all the Iraqi people from east to west and north to south and the feelings of hatred they hold for him.
Journalist al-Zaidi continued to bear witness to the shoes fitting President Bush. His reported courtroom testimony continued: “As Bush listed the gains made in Iraq during the mid-December news conference, al-Zaidi said he was thinking about the millions of civilians who had been killed, widowed or displaced. He talked about the sanctitiy of mosques being violated, the rape of women and daily humiliations.” The report them quoted him again:
I don’t know what accomplishments he was talking about. The accomplishments I could see were the more than 1 million martyrs and a sea of blood . . . There are more than 5 million Iraqi orphans because of the occupation. . . . More than a million widows and more than 3 million displaced because of the occupation. (“Iraqi shoe thrower: Bush’s ‘soulless smile’ set me off,” CNN.com/world, Feb. 19, 2009)
“The greatest nation in the world’s” ethnocentric-driven war crimes are read between the lines of an Associated Press story on journalist al-Zaidi’s trial:
On Thursday, a court sentenced him to three years in prison on an assault conviction. Zaidi had pleaded not guilty and said his action was prompted by anger over Bush’s claims of victory in a war that has devastated this country. (“Shoe hurler’s release urged,” Los Angeles Times, Baghdad, Mar. 14, 2009)
President Bush is not the only one who dodged journalist al-Zaidi’s shoes. Many in America’s mainstream media bobbed and weaved in distancing themselves from the powerful commentary being acted out by one of their own. A Washington Post story evidently could not bring itself to give voice to the real outrage screaming to be heard. The story reported, “A court convicted an Iraqi-journalist who hurled his shoes at President George W. Bush of assaulting a foreign leader and sentenced him to three years in prison.” (“Iraqi Shoe-Thrower Gets Three Years,” by Anthony Shadid, Mar. 13, 2009) The real story gasping for air: the “foreign leader” had assaulted the Iraqi journalist’s country with weapons of mass destruction.
Continuing their role as guardians of America’s ethnocentric-dominated status quo, many in mainstream media dodged the real story of pursuing whether the shoe fits. While numerous news stories on journalist al-Zaidi’s trial appeared, few, if any, opinion writers took the opportunity offered by this uniquely defining moment to notice the Republican elephant in that Iraqi courtroom: the “foreign leader” with the “ ‘bloodless and soulless smile’ and his joking banter,” who “had come to bid farewell to Iraq. . . . talk[ing] about . . . accomplishments. . . the main murderer of the millions of civilians who had been killed, widowed or displaced.”
Instead of focusing on “the main person responsible for killing Iraq,” The New York Times, America’s newspaper of record, trivialized this historic confrontation in a story titled, “One Good Way to Make Female Hearts Flutter in Iraq: Throw a Shoe.” It begins, “What does it take for an Iraqi woman to fall in love with a man?” The story line continues: “In parks and dress shops, in university halls and on picnics Iraqi women are still smitten—three months and one new American president later—by the shoe thrower, Muntader al-Zaidi” (By Abeer Mohammed and Alissa J. Rubin, Mar. 14, 2009). The story was about hearts “flutter[ing]” not stopping or grieving or failing or hardening.
Another New York Times story elicited and devoted several paragraphs to what journalists thought about the sentencing of one of their own. “Among journalists,” the piece reported, “opinion was divided about whether the sentencing was fair.” (“Iraqi Shoe Thrower Gets Three Years,” by Riyadh Mohammed and Anwar J. Ali, Mar. 12, 2009). Where were these journalists from? Not from The New York Times or the Washington Post or The Boston Globe. They were Iraqi journalists. Two of whom “asked that their names not be used because of the delicacy of the case with the government.” (Ibid.) “The delicacy of the case with the [US] government” is believed to be the very reason no names and opinions of any prominent American journalists appeared in the survey.
An ABC story dodged the moral force of journalist al-Zaidi’s soleful act in a story called “Iraq Shoe-Thrower Sentence and Other Public Figures Punked, Egged and Handcuffed.” The story asked, “Shoe-Throwing a New Trend?” It answered with examples, including that of “Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao” who “was the target of a similar offense during a visit to Britain geared toward improving trade between Britain and China.” (By Lindsey Ellerson, Aadel Rashid and Brian Canova, Mar. 12, 2009) The story did not include the application of an obvious implication: the many times America’s most recognized print and electronic journalists sat through all those news conferences, and kept their shoes on, as President Bush repeatedly lied America into and continued to justify his administration’s ongoing criminal war.
Mainstream media also dodged America’s devastation of Iraq by touting the “new direction” in which it is “headed.” ABC World News ducked America’s war crimes by presenting “a weeklong series ‘Iraq: Where Things Stand,’ . . . in a progress report on the six-year anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom’s beginning.” (“ABC’s McCarthy Begins Series for Iraq Invasion Anniversary, Sees ‘Optimism,’” by Brad Wilmouth, NewsBusters.com, Mar. 16, 2009) According to ABC’s report, “Things stand” very well: “Markets without bombs. Hummers without guns. Ice cream after dark. Busy streets without fear. Six years after the war started, more Iraqis say the economy, rather than security, is the biggest concern in their lives.” More televised veneer is presented to hide America’s war crimes: “Snapshots of a city reborn. Speed. Light. Style. This is Baghdad today. Where car bombs have given way to car racing. Where a once looted museum has been restored and reopened. And where young women, who were forced to cover their heads, can again wear the clothes that they like.” (Mar. 15 and Mar. 17, 2009).
It is not about “women, who were forced to cover their heads,” but about American “shock and awe” bombs that reigned down on the heads of women—and children and men and schools and mosques and life-sustaining infrastructure. It is about “an estimated 740,000 widows in Iraq,” who, according to an Oxfam International survey, “are the forgotten victims of Iraq.” (“Study: Iraqi widows struggle in new roles as breadwinners,” Baghdad, Iraq, CNN.com/world, Mar. 7, 2009). It is not about “ice cream after dark” but about orphans being afraid of the dark. It is about widowed mothers who “are being forced to make tough choices, such as whether to pay for their children to go to school and receive health care, or to pay for private power and water services.” (Ibid.) It is about the self-image of children, and the role models of their fathers and mothers and others being undermined by the armed and overpowering presence of American soldiers in their midst.
It is not about “markets without bombs,” but about beggars at the markets. A New York Times story reports, “As the number of widows has swelled during six years of war, their presence on city streets begging for food or as potential recruits by insurgents has been a vexing symbol of the breakdown of Iraqi’s self-sufficiency.” (“Iraq’s War Widows Face Dire Need With Little Aid,” by Timothy Williams, Feb. 22, 2009).
Former President Bush’s final “unannounced” visit to the American-made “bubble of democracy” in Baghdad’s Green Zone is so telling about the shoe fitting. Every one of his trips to Iraq was “unannounced” secretive, a “surprise” visit. The reason is obvious to any editor or journalist who really wants to get the real story of American imperialism first and straight. If Bush showed his face anywhere unprotected outside of the Green Zone’s “democratic bubble,” his babble about “spreading freedom and democracy,” and his life, would be punctured. It is not about “spreading democracy” but about spreading America’s domination and corporate interests, such as those of big oil companies and the military industrial complex. “Spreading freedom and democracy” in the name of “God and country” is the tried and true ethnocentric way to manipulate mothers and fathers into offering up their sons and daughters on the altar of American imperialism.
A revealing commentary on America’s dominant press is that one has to read the real story of if the shoe fits in foreign media. One would rarely find the following editorial opinions (published in BBC NEWS, Dec. 16, 2008) echoed inAmerica’s so-called major free press:
Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi’s shoes have made history. The shoe he threw at Bush will always haunt [the president] even after he leaves the White House, and will upset him whenever he remembers the incident. This is the end of all tyrants who shed the people’s blood and despise human rights in order to achieve their arrogant aspirations. (MUSIB NUAIMI IN IRAN’S ARABIC-LANGUAGE AL-VEFAGH)
This is a farewell suitable for a war criminal and terrorist who led the world towards moral degeneration, terrorism and violence for eight years. The scene of the shoe being thrown is the only one that is suitable for US President George Bush. This is a free Iraqi expressing the feelings of the Iraqi people. (MUSTAFA AL-SAWWAF IN GAZA’S FILASTIN)
Muntadar al-Zaidi’s pair of shoes is the symbol of infinite hatred, of not only Iraqi people but also the people of the whole world against America’s president because of his arrogant atrocities. (EDITORIAL IN IRAN’S IRAN)
This terrible insult, which was richly deserved fully deserved by the lying war-criminal president, puts more pressure on the US president-elect to extricate his country from its entanglement in world affairs. (GEORGE HADDAD IN JORDAN’S AL-DUSTUR)
The overwhelming Arab solidarity with the journalist and the fact that he was turned into a hero overnight have proved the extent of the misleading advertising carried out by the US media and the Iraqi officials, who have always been presenting a false picture of the “New Iraq.” (EDITORIAL IN UK-BASED AL-QUDS AL-ARABI)
Like the dominant press, most mainline American religious leaders have also dodged if the shoe fits. Many bought into the religious card President Bush played in carrying out and covering up his administration’s war crimes. He robed himself in prayer and piety to justify his illegal invasion of Iraq: “I pray daily,” he said at his news conference two weeks before beginning his war of choice. “I pray for guidance and wisdom and strength. . . . I pray for peace. I pray for peace.” (The New York Times, Mar. 7, 2003). He continued to hide his hideous crimes against humanity by repeatedly declaring, “Freedom is not America’s gift to the world, it is God’s gift to every man and woman in the world.” (“Acceptance Speech to Republican Convention Delegates,” The New York Times, Sept. 3, 2004)
It would seem that religious leaders especially would be more than outraged for allowing former President Bush to prostitute their beliefs in love of neighbor and peace, to spread war and death and misery and hatred of America. America’s religious leaders should at last step forward and demand the prosecution of Bush and former Vice-President Cheney, and their accomplices for committing war crimes in the name of their “God and country.” And United Methodists should lead the way as Bush and Cheney are professing Methodists.
How morally outrageous! And dangerous! A journalist gets 3 years in prison for throwing his shoes at a war criminal. And the war criminal goes free, is harbored in America, and receives a $7 million dollar book contract.
America’s ethnocentric-fueled war crimes will not go away, no matter what “new direction” Iraq may take. The crimes will continue to fester and foster hatred of America, and produce more horrible 9/11’s until political, journalistic and religious leaders help Americans to engage in long overdue national soul-searching.
America’s future lies in a free press, committed to pursuing the real story wherever the shoe may fit. America’s future lies not in “God bless America” but in America being a blessing to all of its citizens. The future lies not in America being “the greatest nation in the world,” but in the world being the greatest place for everyone to live.
Free journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi! Prosecute former President George W. Bush! Create “a more perfect union!”
Rev. WILLIAM E. ALBERTS, Ph.D. is a hospital chaplain, and a diplomate in the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy. Both a Unitarian Universalist and a United Methodist minister, he has written research reports, essays and articles on racism, war, politics and religion. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.