Tuesday, December 16, 2008

When In Baghdad...

Invariably, the world has managed to continue to get increasingly stranger than even I'd have predicted. Frankly, there are some things out there that are just plain weird. This year, we had an election which would have produced either a black President or a female Vice President. As for the Vice Presidency, if Dan Quayle could be Vice President, I'm sure Sarah Palin could have handled that office as well. However, let's just be glad things turned out the way they did.

Meanwhile, speaking of "weird," who hasn't seen the video of Muntadhar al-Zaidi. hurling his shoes at President Bush? And who among the people who have seen it didn't laugh out loud at some point either during or after Mr. al-Zaidi's footwear flinging? I can say I chuckled, although there was weirdness on several levels.

First and foremost, when I saw the video, my first thought was that, somehow, this dude was connected to Richard "The Shoe Bomber" Reid and this was his way of attacking the President. Second, after it was made clear that hurling a shoe (or two) at someone is among the highest insults in the Iraqi culture. Personally, I think whipping out a 9mm and shooting someone in the leg is a bigger insult, and of course there's the ever-popular whipping "it" out and letting 'er rip on someone's leg or another part of their anatomy -- perhaps even their shoes.

But nonetheless, Mr. al-Zaidi's actions were both odd and humorous; except that is, of course, if you're an Iraqi.

Does -- or should -- it surprise anyone that the Iraqi population not only supported al-Zaidi's actions but also came out in support thereof en masse?

When I initially discussed this incident with Kaia, she and I both agreed how unbelievable it was that the Iraqi people so proudly turned on George W. Bush, who essentially gave them freedom. And to do so in such a bold, proud way, not only shed some light on who Arabs are but about the Arab culture.

This is not the first incident which has reminded me how of the disparities between Eastern and Western culture. This isn't even an issue of Islam and Christianity; it's really just an issue of sovereignty and dignity. To Iraqis, regardless whether Bush's actions -- and his alone -- rid Iraq of a tyrant who saw fit to killing hundreds of thousands of his countrymen, the presence of American troops in Iraq was more of an insult than anything meted out by Saddam Hussein's machines of torture. It's insignificant that Saddam was the Middle Eastern answer to Stalin; Bush's actions and presence in Iraq was the deplorable, inexcusable offense.

This makes sense on some level; this mentality -- nationalism coupled with pride -- caused the resurgence of Germany and fueled Adolph Hitler's rise to power in the early 1930's. However, in this particular sense, it's a bit unclear as to why this nitwit -- al-Zaidi -- was so angry at George W. Bush for addressing troops which have risked their lives so that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis -- like al-Zaidi -- could be free from Saddam Hussein's tyranny.

There are some legitimate responses to this Western reaction. The United States' "occupation" of Iraq is insulting to Iraqis on some level; unfortunately, if the US withdrew its troops almost immediately after the initial expulsion of Saddam Hussein's government, the country would have imploded and it would have resembled Somalia or any other lawless, tribal warlord wasteland. Another response is that many Iraqis have had their lives turned upside down on Bush's "whim" -- although in the long run, Iraqis will be better off. They'll be able to represent themselves, speak without fear of oppression or death, and if they want to throw their shoes at someone, they won't be hanged on the spot.

As Kaia mentioned, and I fully agreed, I don't think al-Zaidi is stupid. However, I wonder if it occurred to him that had Bush -- the guy at whom he threw his shoes -- not decided to plant Saddam Hussein six feet under and al-Zaidi felt like throwing his shoes at Saddam Hussein, it's likely that instead of the Iraqi population chanting for his release, it's more likely that they'd be mourning him after he was hanged within five minutes of throwing his shoes.

The irony here is pretty engaging: Bush's actions led to the freedoms of Iraqis -- like Mr. al-Zaidi -- to throw shoes at people with whom he was irritated -- like George W. Bush.

This is another example of how stupidity and culture collide. I wonder how many of the nameless throngs of people demonstrating for Mr. al-Zaidi's release have stopped to consider that his actions -- and his freedom of expression -- are a direct result of Dubya.

I don't think very many, judging by the repeated examples of crowd mentality and groupthink that pervades Arab culture.

I wonder if Arabs in the Middle East know why the West thinks of them in the way they do. Although, after this particular incident, I do know one thing: they probably never bothered to wonder why.

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