Shoe Throwing: it means what you think it means

By now we’ve all seen the clips of the Iraqi journalist throwing his shoes at President Bush during a presser over the weekend. And in the aftermath, of course, the media started asking if we should apply some deeper symbolic meaning to the act, as if it were committed with some non-Western kind of anger, a super-duper Arab kind of anger and frustration. Well, U.S. News and World Report sought insight from Arab and Muslim scholars, including Omid Safi, author of The Politics of Knowledge in Premodern Islam: Negotiating Ideology and Religious Inquiry. Was USN&WR hoping to uncover some sinister terroristic message? Confirmation that we should treat the shoe toss like a terrorist attack? An ancient curse we should really start to fear? Fortunately, Safi offers a reality check: sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

Omid Safi, an Islamic studies professor at the University of North Carolina, says that the meaning of the recent shoe incident is probably more universal than has been acknowledged. “We saw on CNN and BBC a ton of articles offering instant ‘anthropological insights’ on how the shoe touches the earth, and is the lowest part of the body,” he wrote in an E-mail message. “What if in an American context someone had thrown a shoe at Bush? Would we see that as a sign of great love for the President?”

I realize there are still between 24 and 30% of Americans who still might wonder why an Iraqi citizen could be so unhappy with George W. Bush. But some of us took note of the journalist’s fine aim as well as the President’s quick double dodge! If you’re ready to get a chuckle out of this shoe incident (sadly, the Secret Service is not), go check out the collection of animated gifs of the shoe-tossing guy over at BoingBoing!