A Philosopher's Blog

Throwing Shoes

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on December 16, 2008

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.


7 Responses

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  1. Dave said, on December 16, 2008 at 4:50 pm

    Hi Mike. I’m thinking that for an act of protest to be defensible, it should be non-violent. Like a demonstration or exhibition of some kind. I know this is a different culture, but this is an assault (albeit with no intent to cause serious harm), and should be treated as a crime.

    Now if he had done something non-violent, and perhaps funny . . . . then hey! Go for it!

  2. magus71 said, on December 17, 2008 at 11:29 am

    Saddam Husein was taken to task for what he did to Iraq. He should have played by the rules that the UN set up. especially after 911–messing with a wounded lion is dumb.

  3. kernunos said, on December 19, 2008 at 2:13 pm

    Try throwing shoes at Putin and see what happens.

  4. magus71 said, on December 20, 2008 at 5:18 am

    Putin has a black belt in Judo (really) and a large contigent of professional assassins. The shoe-chucker would now be begging for America’s intervention on his behalf.

  5. munyukmentel said, on December 22, 2008 at 3:24 am

    I admire what Muntadhar al-Zaidi did.. For me, it was a heroic thing. Shoe throwing perhaps seems like an immature way of expressing one’s views, but it is the most effective way of drawing world’s attention that Iraqis greatly suffer from America invasion as well as the best way of disgracing a head of the country in the eyes of the world.

  6. magus71 said, on December 22, 2008 at 4:36 am


    Bush was not disgraced except to those who already found him disgraceful. The act of shoe-throwing was theatrical, committed by a member of the Iraqi media, whom through his own intimate affiliation with drama, produced an act he knew the news would love. It’s not like he was Luther nailing his 95 Theses to a church door. The man who threw the shoe did something he could never have done under the Saddam’s regime, and only enemies of Bush think it was something heroic. It wasn’t heroic, it was theatric. Heroism involves great risk.

    Do you really think the man wants the Baathist Party back? As had been said before, people may burn the images of American presidents in efigy when times are good, but the world will never stop trusting the American soldier when their world collapses and attrocities are committed. . I’ve seen it time and again. The world runs to America–always.

  7. kernunos said, on December 22, 2008 at 2:11 pm

    America should just broadcast an Ice Cream Truck jingle over FM radio to the world.

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