The Iraqi shoe thrower is guilty as charged - but let us pray for mercy

Muntazer Zaidi, the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at George Bush, is going on trial in Baghdad today, charged with assaulting a foreign leader. It is a serious charge, carrying a possible prison sentence of five to 15 years.

We already know what we are supposed to think about that: that Zaidi should not be found guilty of any crime, because what he did was an understandable protest against all the wrongs done by Bush in Iraq.

president bush

Duck: President Bush narrowly avoided Muntader Al-Zaidi's shoe at a press conference in Baghdad in December

And anyway, we all know Zaidi has already suffered badly at the hands of President Maliki's 'justice,' having been so fiercely assaulted during his arrest or later at prison that he had his arm broken.

So you say, 'not guilty.'

Though I say, not so fast. Surely the man did break the law. While – by Western standards – any further time in prison would be wrong, you have to ask if it would serve justice to send Zaidi out of court with the victory of a 'not guilty' verdict. The answer is No.

Justice has to separate the sheer enjoyment of watching Bush duck the size ten (and, look, I enjoyed it as much as you did) from the fact that the law rightly says the physical safety of visiting heads of state must be protected.

This is especially true when it comes to a journalist such as Zaidi. As a journalist, he had privileged access to Bush. He abused it. That kind of thing makes all his fellow journalists suspect in future, and causes extra problems for security.



What should they do with the Iraqi shoe thrower?

What should they do with the Iraqi shoe thrower?

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It must remain wrong for anyone to attempt to assault a visiting head of state, and certainly it must be unethical for a journalist to attempt to do so.

For example, I could give you a list of men who were tortured and murdered at the orders of Fidel Castro. But were the old invalid ever to travel to London I would expect the law to give him the same protection as it would give the Emperor of Japan – even though Castro deserves a shot to the gut even more than Bush deserved a shoe to the head.

The law must protect the men equally. If I were in the press pack and took a swing at Castro, I would expect to be arrested and charged.

And if you still can't see why, try to look at it this way.  The reason throwing a shoe is such an insult in the Middle East is because shoes walk through vile things in the street.

You are not so much throwing the shoe as throwing the symbolic muck and sewage of the gutters. That is the reason it is impolite in the Middle East to show the soles of your shoes when you sit down.

So you could say that to throw a shoe in the Middle East is the equivalent here of throwing a bag of excrement.

Imagine: a Muslim protestor in London throws a bag of excrement at the Queen as a protest against all the brutality committed by HM's forces in Iraq. I doubt you would you think that was such a joke as throwing a shoe at Bush.

What should the result of such an attempted assault be? I'd say arrest, charge, conviction, a fine of some hundreds - and release.

But that is the way we do things here, not the way they do things in Iraq. Odd how people who complain about Western imperialism and Western insensitivity to local culture get indignant when foreign courts do not view crime and punishment in just the same way as we do. Though crime it was, an attempt to assault a visiting head of state. Guilty as charged.

Now let us all say a Christian prayer that the court shows mercy and releases him.