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Page last updated at 11:33 GMT, Monday, 15 December 2008

Bush shoe-ing worst Arab insult

Shoe attack against President Bush
Zaidi's attack was launched with the words "this is a farewell kiss, you dog"

By Martin Asser
BBC News

Around the Arab world, if you want to escalate a situation, by saying for example "I'm going to thump you", add the words "with a shoe" and you're adding serious insult to the threat of possible injury.

It's that cultural significance that added real sting to the assault by an Iraqi journalist against US President George W Bush at a Baghdad news conference on 15 December.

In Arab culture it's considered rude even to display the sole of one's shoe to a fellow human being.

Certainly, crossing one's legs ankle-on-knee style should never be done in a public place for fear of offending the person next to you.

The sensitivity is related to the fact shoes are considered ritually unclean in the Muslim faith.

In addition to ritual ablutions before prayer, Muslims must take off their shoes to pray, and wearing shoes inside a mosque is forbidden.

Shoes should either be left at the door of the mosque, or carried (preferably in the left hand with the soles pressed together).

But beyond the Islamic significance, the dirty and degrading implication of the sole of a shoe crosses all religious boundaries in the Middle East.

Following in the footsteps

There has been plenty of droll reaction in the wake of Sunday's shoe attack to experts who have informed the public that "throwing a shoe at someone's face is considered an insult in Islam".

History will record Mr Bush's last trip to Iraq, a country his government has left such an indelible mark upon, was greeted with a volley of shoes and a cry of 'dog'

The blog reaction (to articles not unlike the one you are reading) has been a sarcastic, "and in all other religions... it is a sign of affection, friendship, fellowship, and good feeling(!)" to quote chookie on democraticunderground.com.

But it is worth mentioning that there is quite a rich history when it comes to shoe-ing incidents involving Iraq and the Bushes.

The first was the floor mosaic at the front door to Baghdad's Rashid Hotel depicting the first President Bush.

Its location meant visitors to the hotel - frequented by top Baath regime officials and visiting VIPs - had to step on George Bush Snr's likeness, in revenge for alleged "war crimes" committed during the 1991 liberation of Kuwait.

The mosaic was reportedly dug up after the US military took over the hotel, following their overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

In that year the Iraqi shoe was much in evidence during popular protests against the fallen Iraqi ruler, being used to hit the posters and statues dedicated to him around the country.

Boot on the other foot

As anger over Washington's policies in the Middle East has grown in some Arab circles, it has been posters of George W Bush that have received the shoe treatment.

Bush poster in Khiam, south Lebanon, adorned with shoes and toy gun (Photo by Martin Asser, August 2006)
Bush's image has been associated with shoes across the Arab world
His national security adviser and subsequent secretary of state has been given the particularly insulting first name Kundara - meaning shoe - instead of Condoleezza Rice.

Now history will record that Mr Bush's last presidential trip to Iraq, a country his government has left such an indelible mark upon, was greeted with a volley of shoes and cries of "dog" (another extreme insult in Arabic) from Iraqi cameraman Muntadar al-Zaidi.

Fortunately for Mr Bush, he was able to duck out of the way of the two shoes Mr Zaidi threw at him - presumably the only weapon the assailant was able to smuggle through the tight security cordon at Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's office.

Many of Mr Bush's supporters will see it as a mean-spirited gesture against a man whose policies liberated the country from a vicious dictator.

To illustrate the point, in a previous age, the perpetrator would be facing a summary, and probably agonising, death if he had dared confront Saddam Hussein's regime in such a way. Instead Mr Bush has been praised for his dignified response.

But others have hailed Mr Zaidi as a hero, for striking a symbolic blow against someone they hold responsible for devastating wars in the Muslim world that have cost hundreds of thousands of lives.

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