Muntadhar al-Zeidi, the journalist who threw his shoes at President Bush yesterday is being lauded as a hero throughout the Middle East while he remains under arrest. This is progress if Arabs are willing to make a hero out of someone who didn't kill anyone. Maybe this kind of slapstick humiliation will be the form of nonviolent protest that finally catches on in the Arab world. What would it look like, for instance, if Palestinian kids threw shoes instead of rocks at Israeli soldiers? Would anyone dare fire even a rubber bullet in retaliation for that? The intrepid reporter could well become a "model for emulation," to borrow from Shiite hierarchical terminology, not only in Arab lands but around the world, as I suggested yesterday.
I haven't heard any yet, but I'm sure there are bound to be killjoys who'll grumble that "he wouldn't have dared do that to Saddam," or "he's lucky that Bush has a sense of humor." We should probably take such people somewhat seriously if they want to argue that yesterday's scene was proof of progress for the American agenda in Iraq -- presuming that the reporter will get away reasonably unscathed. The only thing you might want to suggest if you hear anything along those lines is, that if it's a good thing that an Iraqi can throw a shoe at a leader and not get executed, then they shouldn't complain about their poor president having to duck the free expression of an Iraqi citizen.
Update: NBC has found some Iraqis to deplore the incident, and that shouldn't surprise us. From one point of view, al-Zeidi's act was "undignified," and liberal Iraqis are just as likely as Americans to insist on "dignity" and "respect" under all circumstances. Other Iraqi critics raise the point of hospitality to a guest, but I imagine that other Iraqis would dispute Bush's entitlement to "guest" status. Scroll down the link page and you'll see a sample of American opinion from the indignant to the amused. Speaking for myself, I don't think al-Zeidi needed to hit Bush to make his point. The point is to embarrass the man, not hurt him.