At a recent press conference journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi threw his shoes at President George Bush. Bush adroitly dodged the projectiles and the shoe thrower was promptly wrestled to the ground and arrested. Given Bush’s lack of popularity at home and abroad, it is hardly surprising that there is considerable support for Muntadhar al-Zaidi and many Iraqis are calling for his release.
To me, shoe throwing seems like an immature way of expressing one’s views-a tantrum more than anything else. However, it is important to consider the cultural context: in Arab culture the throwing of a shoe is a form of insult. The intent is, apparently, not to do damage (though that would presumably be a bonus) but to express contempt. Perhaps it is on par with throwing rotten fruit at people to show dislike. Whatever the case, what is more important is whether Muntadhar al-Zaidi acted rightly or wrongly.
On one hand, Muntadhar al-Zaidi did attempt to give a “farewell kiss” to a “dog” by hurling his shoes at Bush. In addition to being an attempt at a physical attack, this action was also unprofessional. Muntadhar al-Zaidi is a journalist and presumably is subject to the professional ethics of journalism. These ethics certainly seem to include acting in a professional manner and keeping one’s own views in check. As such, Muntadhar al-Zaidi seems to have clearly violated the standards of his profession. These facts would certainly seem to support the claim that Muntadhar al-Zaidi acted wrongly.
On the other hand, the shoe throwing can be defended. First, the Bush administration bears a great deal of responsibility for the horrors that have occurred in Iraq since the American invasion. In reply to the obvious counterpoint: yes, Saddam was a very bad man and did very bad things. It is good that he is dead. But, the fact that the invasion got rid of him does not serve to offset all the evil that has followed for the people of Iraq. As such, it could be argued that Muntadhar al-Zaidi showed remarkable restraint in merely throwing shoes at Bush. Bush, many would argue, deserves much worse.
Second, there is a point when professional ethics and the requirements of professional behavior can rightly be set aside. Typically, this is when a more significant moral concern overrides a specific aspect of the professional ethics or requirements for professional behavior. In this case, it could be argued that Muntadhar al-Zaidi was right to set aside the restraints imposed as professional and act as an individual who believes that Bush has done a great wrong to his country and his people.
While Muntadhar al-Zaidi did commit a crime, I think it should be treated as an act of protest rather than an attempt to actually harm Bush. After all, a shoe is hardly a lethal weapon and Muntadhar al-Zaidi’s intent seems quite clear. Of course, it can be argued that attacking someone with an ineffective weapon is still an attack and hence Muntadhar al-Zaidi should be taken to task for this. Obviously enough, George Bush should also be taken to task for what his administration did to Iraq.