The other day GWBush made another of his whirlwind trips to Iraq to revisit the scene of his crime, the greatest ever made by anyone using the tools that can be found lying around in the President's office. Thinking himself secure from all highly justified remonstrance by being deep in the Baghdad Green Zone, he gave one of his rare press conferences. Maybe he thought that the Iraqi reporters, though presumably thoroughly screened, would not notice how slurred his speech has become lately, as if he has been taking any one of a number of controlled substances, or maybe all
of them. But one attendee, named Muntada al-Zaidi, a reporter for an Iraqi-owned but Egyptian-based TV station, made himself an instant hero not only in Iraq but throughout the Arab world by taking off both of his shoes and hurling them straight at Bush, along with some choice remarks, and apparently with good enough aim that his first shoe and maybe the second, too, might have hit the man, had Bush not heard the accompanying shouts, grasped the attitude, and seen the objects coming, and dodged appropriately.
Later somewhere in the Middle East, some American tourists were asked what Americans would think of that act, because apparently in the Arab parts of the world, to associate someone with shoes in certain ways, especially throwing them, is a supreme insult.
The news report didn't say what those particular Americans answered. In their place I would've said that Americans would have been merely puzzled and bemused at best, because such an act is as far out of the fully loaded and time-tested arsenal of American insults as it is possible to get, and from the lack of fuss that the incident seems to have stirred up on these shores, that seems to be the case, though there could be a pocket of rabid rightwingers here or there who might want to bomb and invade Iraq forthwith, provided that they don't have the presence of mind to realize a moment after the curses leave their mouths that GWBush had already done that, and for equally flimsy reasons, so bringing about the hurling of the leather -- which in no conceivable way compares to the myriad disasters that his actions have wrought on all aspects of Iraq.
But in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq, the incident has been a big thing, to the point where the Iraq Parliament nearly closed down because of brawls over what should be done about the shoe-flinging newsman.
The falling flat on the U.S. side of the world of those two shoes reminds me of a remark that Colin Powell made when he was the commanding general of the U.S. forces that drove Saddam Hussein's army out of Kuwait during the First Gulf War. Powell promised the American public that "We are going to kick Saddam's ass."
Far from being insulted and feeling threatened, the dictator of Iraq and many others in the Middle East instead just kept scratching their heads as they vainly tried to figure out what Powell had said.
"What! He's going to kick my donkey?" Saddam is reputed to have said. "That's the American idea of a big insult, a terrible threat? Kicking my donkey
? ...Mercy! What curious people!"
When you're shooting across two cultures, it seems that you have to study really hard beforehand to come up with something whose effect is fully felt in both places, else your jolly insult, no matter how justified and happily delivered, in the end only turns out to be ...er ...half-assed.