Monday, December 15, 2008

In Defense of Throwing Shoes at One's Oppressor

It is a sign of the raging dementia of American political culture that I have to write this. In a half-way sane or civilized country, the spectacle of a journalist throwing his shoe at the man who orchestrated the butchery or dislocation of five million of the former's fellow citizens would not prompt ponderous ruminations on "free speech." It would be seen as one small expression of the loathing felt for that butcher all around the world.

Sad as it is to say, the eructations on free speech are preferable to the flatulence emitted by the right wing press. Ever quick on the uptake, the right wingnutosphere has hastily assembled itself under the banner of "This Could Never Have Happened Under Saddam!" Don't you understand? This is a sign of the freedom Iraq now has! Freedom from their homes, from their possessions, from their family members killed, and most important of all, free to throw shoes.

That the latter is not worth the price of the former is stunningly obvious to all except the kind of people who read Michelle Malkin's blog and think "well, she has a point." Yet it is worth recounting once again, if only briefly, the price Iraqis have paid for the spurious freedom they now enjoy. In all liklihood, over a million Iraqis have died because of the war. Between four and five million are displaced, and 50% of those are under age 12. The Pentagon sponsored sectarian warfare between Shi'as and Sunnis, and when such warfare burned itself out it declared victory.

Let us proceed by analogy. Suppose some civilization more advanced than our own, say Greece, invaded the United States, in the process killing 12 million Americans and making some 60 million into refugees. Suppose also that the Greeks extended to us their health care system, social safety net, and labor laws. Undoubtedly these would be tremendous advancements over the rights America workers currently have in any of these areas. However, I for one would not spend my time celebrating my new ability to get all my shots on time. I'd probably be doing something like this.

The Americans have given Iraqis nothing resembling this. Instead, we have given them a 50% unemployment rate. This is one part of Zaidi's story that I think is being overlooked. This man is an employed journalist. A dangerous job, yes, but a significantly better one than those available to most Iraqis. If the right wing thinks this guy is ungrateful, they should try talking to those who've been without work for five years.

That's enough about the right. More important to dispel, I think, is the liberal nausea at this act of violence. "There are more effective ways to make your point." "Two wrongs don't make a right." "It was irresponsible."

Of course there are more effective ways to fight the occupation. To my knowledge, no one has come out and said Zaidi's shoes struck a decisive blow for Iraqi freedom. However, as a symbolic gesture, it's worth pointing out that the shoes have aroused considerable support from Iraqis. Protests occurred today in demanding Zaidi's release in Sadr City, Najaf, and Basra. Al-Jazeera (Arabic) has reported that up to 100 Arab lawyers have already volunteered to defend him. The Iraqi government can issue all the shamefaced apologies it wants, but Zaidi's gesture was an expression of the contempt felt by millions.