Muntadhar al-Zaidi embracing his sister upon his release from prison
Muntadhar al-Zaidi, December 14th, 2008
But you might recognize him better from behind.
“The criminal murder is standing here expecting us to throw flowers at him; this was my flower to the occupier.”
Muntadhar al-Zaidi (also transliterated as “Muntazar” because the letter ظ in Arabic can be pronounced “Dhaal” or “zaal” depending on your dialect) was born January 15th, 1979. He grew up in the suburban district of al-Thawra (Revolution), just north of Baghdad. This district was also known as “Saddam City” until the US invasion in 2003. A majority Shia area, hayth al-Thawra was unofficially renamed “Sadr City” after the Shia opposition leader Muqtada al-Sadr. Al-Zaidi, a Shia himself, opposed both the US invasion in 2003 and the regime of Saddam Hussein, who kidnapped and tortured more than one of his family members.
As the US struggled to consolidate its military control over Iraq, al-Zaidi began working as a TV journalist. He was kidnapped on November 16th, 2007, which was a fairly common occurrence in occupied Iraq. However, his unknown assailants, who beat him unconscious and questioned him about his activities as a journalist, never sought ransom and made no other demands. He was released in the middle of the night, blindfolded and badly beaten, three days after his capture.
In addition to the kidnapping he was twice arrested by occupation forces. Probably his most well-known news report was a story of a young Iraqi girl named Zahra who was murdered by occupation soldiers on her way to school one morning. He also covered the trail of destruction left by Apache attack helicopters and their countless victims. In January of 2008, he was again detained by US soldiers as they ransacked his home. (The occupation forces later offered him an apology for this humiliation.)
All of that brings us to December 14th, 2008. Nine years ago today, 29-year old al-Zaidi hurled his shoes at President Bush during his final press conference as US president with Nouri al-Maliki. As he removed and tossed the first shoe, he shouted,
With the second shoe, he added,
He was then dragged to the ground by his fellow journalists and swiftly manhandled out of the room by Maliki’s personal security detail. When handed over to the Iraqi provisional government forces, he was given a 90 minute trial and sentenced to three years in prison. Al-Zaidi says he was brutally tortured while in captivity. He was released nine months later for “good behavior.”
It’s rather telling that al-Zaidi’s story is relatively unknown in the US, and the “shoe throwing incident” has been reduced to a mostly comic spectacle. Of course, it isquite funny. Watching the video of the incident again, I don’t think even the most hardened anti-imperialist can suppress a rueful grin. But it’s extremely important that we also understand the events that convinced al-Zaidi to risk his life just in order to humiliate George W. Bush.
Here’s Muntadhar al-Zaidi in his own words:
I am not a hero. But I have a point of view. I have a stance. It humiliated me to see my country humiliated; and to see my Baghdad burned, my people killed. Thousands of tragic pictures remained in my head, pushing me towards the path of confrontation. …
The opportunity came, and I took it.
I took it out of loyalty to every drop of innocent blood that has been shed through the occupation or because of it, every scream of a bereaved mother, every moan of an orphan, the sorrow of a rape victim, the teardrop of an orphan.
I say to those who reproach me: do you know how many broken homes that shoe which I threw had entered? How many times it had trodden over the blood of innocent victims? Maybe that shoe was the appropriate response when all values were violated.
You can read his full account of the story, “Why I threw the shoe,” which was published in The Guardian in September 2009.
Muntadhar al-Zaidi now works for a television news station in Lebanon.