If the shoe (bomb?) fits… Patriotism, professionalism, military intervention, and journalistic integrity

Did Muntader az-Zaidi cross the line between professionalism and activism, or was he acting in the journalistic spirit?
Did Muntader az-Zaidi cross the line between professionalism and activism, or was he acting in the journalistic spirit?

Hopefully this will be my last post on “shoe-gate,” or, the “shoe intifada.” I’m heading off for South Africa in a few days and I need to concentrate on preparations.  So, as you can see from my extended subtitle, I intend to kill a lot of birds with one (shoe).

Ali the Translator, an Iraqi blogger, on the day of Muntader az-Zaidi gave his now famed send-off for his dearly beloved Bush, remarks, “No matter how funny it was, it was kinda disappointing at the same time cuz ‘Journalists’ are supposed to be professional and neutral.”

Consider also American blogger Rick Perlstein, who waves his finger at liberals:

Liberals should not make light of or license the physical assault on the leader of a sovereign state, no matter how much he’s deservedly hated. This is not how we do politics, unless we’re in favor something tending toward anarchy, or fascism.  This seems open and shut to me: the Iraqi journalist should go to jail for a rather long time.

And indeed, Perlstein may very well get his wish.  The BBC reports that az-Zaidi is getting a warm reception in Iraqi jail, and by “warm” I mean a broken hand, broken ribs and internal bleeding. Which leads me to a troubling phenomenon: the defamation of Iraqis as “ungrateful” by American bloggers.

Take for example some of the comments on my earlier post.  (Truth be told, I feel sorry for the reader who wrote, “Eat your sand and your oil. If your world is the “Cradle of Civilization”, then we are all doomed. I hope you are doomed before me. You deserve it.”  Seems to me that he has as much a dismal view of America’s future as of Iraq’s.)

In his sarcastic but intellectually thorough way, the blogger behind Heaven, Hell & Humor remarks,

[The] press communicated that this is the ultimate sign of disrespect in the Iraqi culture. I refuse to believe this is worse than: being voted in as President of Iraq in  free and open election;  receiving any award given by Spike TV; being buried in the ground and stoned because you are gay.

[…] As a young journalist in 2001, al-Zaidi considered throwing his shoes at Saddam Hussein’s son, Uday. However, al-Zaidi was unwilling to have his feet caned, be dragged through gravel and made to sit in a tank of urine; a favorited tactic of Uday with Iraqi Olympians who failed to win medals.

[…] Apparently al-Zaidi was not angry about Iraqi independence: [he] was actually infuriated that his $6 million dollar bid to Gov. Blagojevich of Illinois for the open Senate Seat was turned down because it was in Iraqi Dinars.

Of course, little of this is factually accurate, but the general point is clear: Iraq is better off for the American invention, hence az-Zaidi (and by extension, all like-minded Iraqis) are ingrates.  (On a less serious note, check out Heaven, Hell & Humor‘s “What would you throw at political leaders?” poll.  I chose a frisbee.)

Is Iraq really better off?  We’ve all seen the economic statistics for the country, which aren’t good (reconstruction has largely been a flop, and the supposed Iraqi budgetary “surplus” is pretty much being wasted on nepotism).  Let’s not forget the fatality and injury rates (check out: icasualties.org and the Iraq Veterans Against the War Winter Soldier testimonies).

And what about journalism, the fourth estate of liberty?  Reporters Without Borders reports that 222 journalists and media assistants have been killed since the start of fighting in Iraq in March 2003;  two are still missing, 14 are currently kidnapped.  And for those who refuse to believe the truth, I offer up this: take careful note of the way in which this CNN correspondent trails off when discussing the fate of az-Zaidi in prison.  When it is common knowledge that a person will probably be tortured in Iraqi jail, where is the democracy we’ve supposedly brought to Iraq?

Ian Welsh writes about how many Americans believe that az-Zaidi should go to jail for his actions.   Responding to Perlstein (quoted above), he gasps: “Wow.  Just… wow.  Yes, as a formal matter, it’s clearly a crime, and yes, if the person in question has no sense of humor, you’ll probably do time, and I’ve got no problem with that.  But a ‘rather long time’?  Please, it’s not a serious crime.”  He goes on:

Bush is a mass murderer, a war criminal, and people are outraged someone from the country he destroyed threw a shoe at him? That reporter has probably seen thousands of dead bodies, many with signs of torture and rape. Dead kids and women. Certainly some of them were his friends, probably his family. Sure, I think the guy should be tried for assault and given a few days in jail. Perhaps the court, the next day, can start George Bush’s war crimes trial for mass murder, torture and illegal war.

Welsh is reminding us to think in terms of scale.  Simply, what az-Zaidi did was the not the same as al-Qaeda terrorists posing as videographers and blowing Shah Masood sky-high.  However, we should push our thinking further to reflect upon the relationship of patriotism to  journalistic professionalism.

American journalists tend to make a lot of hoopla about “objectivity,” but they forget that they are citizens, too.   We are all citizens, and our ties to nation and neighborhood are just as strong, if not stronger, than any ties to ideology.  If an invasion force of Iraqis landed in downtown Manhattan tomorrow, I assure you reporters would not remain emotionally neutral and distant for long.

I’m not saying we toss the baby of Truth out with the bathwater of ill-conceived idealism; instead, reporters and editors everywhere should take this moment to reflect upon the bonds of their own hearts, and to see whether our profession’s pursuit of justice necessarily requires the diminishment of our fellowship with our neighbors.


2 Replies to “If the shoe (bomb?) fits… Patriotism, professionalism, military intervention, and journalistic integrity”

  1. Freedom of speech and footwear for al-Z . .
    but better taste in shoes.

    He was tossing at a world leader!

    When shoes were thrown at Putin, Kim Jong Il and
    Robert Mugabe. . . oh, that’s right, throwing shoes at any of them results in a siberian vacation, Pyongyang prison or a burning tire necklace. Nevermind! All you can throw at them is “hail our father and leader.”

  2. The shoe has had a very useful place in the world since WWII. Always it has made it’s point and often trodden heavily to do so.

    Kruschev and Russia achieved world prominence (even if it was mistaken in its claims). The entire Iraqi society expressed with great eloquence how they had felt for many years prior tothe felling of the Hussein statue. And the most recent incident of shoe throwing — welll …

    We once said the pen is mightier than the sword. The assumption was that the person with the pen told truth and the audience would be moved. It has been many years since we have had the opportunity to read a truthful, unbiased writer who deserved this accolade. Writing truth in this country or elsewhere, is more likely to lead to exclusion or expulsion. So where are we left?

    I think the entire UN much preferred the shoe to the missile. I think G. W. much preferred the shoe to the bomb. And Sadam … well better the statue than himself.

    I welcome the truth of the shoe. I admire the readiness and the accuracy of a man who could fire off two shoes of thanks within seconds. Maybe soon — we can start throwing our pens.

    Thanks for the post!!!

    Openness to criticism is not learned once you get to the top. Openness to “foreign” ideas is not taught with a sword. The gash he might have gotten … would have come from across the globe!!

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