Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Arab Sole

Tunku Varadarajan 12.22.08, 12:00 AM ET

OK, so I'm coming to the shoe-throwing party a tad tardily; but I've been driven to comment on Muntader-al-Zaidi--the discalced disgrace to journalism, whose aim wasn't half as hot as his subsequent fame--by some absolute drivel I've just read on Facebook.

On a thread of comments that somehow found its way onto my home page, I read the following opinions on the man who hurled his shoes at George W. Bush at a press conference in Baghdad:. "Muntadar will be remembered as a man of courage who stood up for millions around the world at great personal risk and peril."

"… courageous, protest against perceived global bully gangster, revenge against rape of his proud nation, symbolic act to humble US President."

"I would do it for my country."

"In his mind, he holds Bush responsible for thousands of women on the street, whose only source of living is selling their flesh for sustenance; this man who threw his shoes may have witnessed the humility of such women who lost their husbands, fathers, brothers or cousins who took care of them."

And on and on they went, lauding Muntader, excoriating Bush, in a relentless stream of righteous indignation. Unable to allow such tripe to go unchallenged, I threw in my two dinars' worth by posting this to the thread, entirely against the current: "Puerile, pathetic act. His celebration across the Arab world shows how low that region has sunk, how bereft of inspiration and pride it is."

To which I received this immediate response from someone in the Arab world, dripping with dismissive and sanctimonious omniscience: "I don't think you've ever experienced a tragedy in your life EVER, Mr. Tunku."

It goes without saying that I have experienced tragedy in my life, but none as great as the tragedy that has befallen the Arab world--and I'm not referring to the "rape" of a proud people by Bush and his cohorts, aided and abetted (of course!) by the Jews. The tragedy I'm referring to is the intellectual and spiritual poverty of the Arab (and wider Muslim) world (for Muntader has been lauded also in Turkey, whose largely madrassa-free people ought to know better).

The Arabs, who once upon a time boasted Averroes and Avicenna, are now reduced to eulogizing a boorish act of agitprop as a heroic achievement. America gave us Martin Luther King; South Africa gave us Mandela; India gave us Gandhi; the Arab world gives us ... Muntader-al-Zaidi. A people who invented the zero are now reduced, themselves, to zero. Only a people who live under the boots of their rulers celebrate the throwing of a shoe at a guest.

Muntader's Arab celebrants have fellow-travelers in the West, of course--chiefly among the anti-Bush mass on the left; but the latter's reaction to the shoe-throwing has been one of vitriolic glee, not self-congratulatory jubilation. The Western liberal's hatred of Bush is an ideological hatred; it may be as potent as the hatred of Bush in Arab breasts, but at least it is a hatred that has its origins in the mind, in differences of opinion. The Arab reaction, by contrast, has been damningly, disturbingly emotional and visceral. A vast swath of people, from Morocco to Iraq, have found cultural and tribal, even civilizational, catharsis in a 20-second display of theater comprising the hurling of shoes--and of that most beloved of Arab epithets, "dog."

It makes one want to yelp: Is this the best they can do? Is this how their heroism is now defined? To me--to many--this is alarming proof of the depth of Arab impotence, of the Lilliputian self-image that drives Muslim Arabs to take to terrorism, to assault that which they cannot comprehend. The irony that has been lost on them is the fact that in the entire Arab world, only in Bushified Iraq could such an act of protest be possible. As Ralph Peters wrote on Dec. 16, "If an Arab journalist had thrown his shoes at Saddam Hussein or one of his guests, the tosser would've been beaten, then tortured, then killed. Today's Iraqi government is considering whether the man should be charged under the state's democratically validated Constitution."

In the meantime, offers are being made by proud Arabs for Muntader's shoes, offers running to millions of dollars. Various shoemakers in Turkey, in Lebanon, in Egypt, are claiming they cobbled together the pair that was hurled into the history books. All of this would be rather funny if it weren't so completely pathetic ... so utterly, ineffably sad. The people who lionize Muntader do not deserve our contempt. They are too childlike for our scorn. What they deserve, instead, is our pity, as we wait--perhaps for an eternity--for them to ask themselves: Is this the best we can do?

Tunku Varadarajan, a professor at the Stern Business School at NYU and research fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution, is opinions editor at, where he writes a weekly column.

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