Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Not all shoe throwers get the same treatment

International shoe-throwing coverage was on overdrive today, with stories out of both India and Iraq.

In New Delhi today, a Sikh journalist named Jarnail Singh threw his sneaker at India's Home Minister in order to protest the acquittal of a lawmaker who allegedly incited violence against Sikhs following the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984. Singh's family had been victimized in the violence, which claimed over 3,000 Sikhs.

Unlike the treatment of Muntadhar al-Zaidi who threw his shoes at President George Bush at a press conference in Baghdad, Singh was released by the police without charge today. Al-Zaidi, also a journalist, was arrested, allegedly beaten by guards, and last month sentenced to three years in jail.

Today, however, al-Zaidi's sentence was reduced from three years to one year. The reduction in al-Zaidi's sentence came after extensive public criticism aimed at the Iraqi judicial system. The journalist has been considered a folk hero in Iraq for standing up to President Bush, and for doing what many Iraqis dreamed of doing.

Shoes are considered unclean in much of the world, with etiquette throughout most of Asia requiring that shoes be removed before entering a home. So throwing a shoe at someone, or hitting someone or something with the sole of one's shoe (as Iraqi protesters did to the statue of Saddam Hussein after the American occupation of Iraq began), demonstrates a great insult, especially in Muslim countries.

While Westerners typically don't share this concern with shoes, the trend of shoe throwing as a form of political protest has spread into Western countries anyway. In February, a British student threw a shoe at Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao when the lawmaker was visiting London.

And finally, a fourteen year old girl is facing a felony charge of battery on an officer after throwing her shoe (and a bag of pretzels) at a police officer in Florida last week.

It seems that the shoe's symbolic power as a defiling agent transcends national and cultural borders.

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