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Libyan Writer Ghoma
الكاتب الليبي غومة

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Wednesday, 31 December, 2008

SHOES AND SHOEING: A Pair of Shoes for a Tattered Country!

By: Ghoma

"The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state of terrorism,
   demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of the international law,"
                       Harold Pinter, in his Nobel Lecture, Stockholm, 2005

        A big fuss for a small and banal gesture! The overboard reactions to al-Zaidi’s hurling of his shoes must have some other reasons than the stated ones, for all the flaming in Arab Streets. It must have touched on and awakened s some long piled frustrations of a people, unable to defend themselves or their dignity as the Arabs are. A defeated people on their knees! The extreme emotions were equivalent to asking for mercy from a world which had long turned its back on the whole area awhile ago! Thus Arabs bereft of pride, to escape their reality, and to compensate for their impotence, they reconstitute an alternative reality out of thin air in some sort of heroic fantasies, only they are able to see. In this way, in their world, the boundaries between real and surreal, between sanity and madness, between stagnation and progress, become a blur, not so easily delineated or clearly separated.

        Libyans, and Arabs in general, the literati, never stop to amaze each other, and the rest! They try to ride the wave and plunge into it at the same time. Straddling athwart the radical and the conformist, in the same time, they end up in neither. To be different and to oppose the unjust and the status quo, say in Libya, is one thing, but, then, to suddenly turn around the face, and to act as if to conform with some existing or imagined rules of some etiquettes of correctness, whatever they may be, and to ally with those wrapped heads, cloaked minds and pajama-ed bodies, is part of the contradictions so characteristics of pseudo-intellectualized, so -called Arab ‘elites’. Real and surreal resonate with each other echoing with the fictionalized reality they seem to live in or to aspire for! The problem with all of this resides in the way spurious premises are added to specious reasoning to reach false conclusions. As the unbounded brouhaha of stretching a spontaneous act of protest to make it a symbol to something else bigger than what it really was. Hurling shoes at the President of the invading and occupying power, may have been an unusual act but was not out of the range of imagination. Thus it must be viewed first and foremost as an impotent and defiant gesture. And, second as simply an act of protest to what’s going on, and could be, in the final analysis, considered a form of resistence akin to a scream in the face of the oppressor. In the contest in which it took place, it was not and it ought never to have been seen as an ‘obscene’ gesture, but rather a form of expressing one’s as well as collective desperation: Truth to power! A desperate gesture out of a collective shame.

        What makes any form of protest effective and sticks in memory, beyond its occurrence, is the effort went into its invention, that’s its uniqueness. If protest is to be viewed as the ultimate weapon of the weak, of a defeated society -way below that of the suicide bombers when they turn themselves into moving missiles- and given its utter inability to mount more effective resistance, then it ought to be a product of ‘creative dissing’. At any rate, the throwing of shoes is not beyond the 1st Amendment Right, to protest peacefully, and is no different from hurling eggs, tomatoes, or any other rotten thingmajig.

        It appears the pundits and the holy-than-though crowd, are in search of occasions to let their stream of unconsciousness fills the cyber and otherwise spaces. They’re having a field day! From the multiplicity of the reactions, the simple act has been transformed into a Homeric epic, blown many times over, until it’s becoming a virtual mountain. Perhaps because Arabs are known to be an emotional people, and as such, prone to uncontrolled spontaneous reactions, which, end up making them take the wrong turn and to learn the wrong lesson. For instance, al-Zaidi’s hurling of his shoes at President Bush reactions were planets apart in the Arab World and in America. In the Arab World the crowd went coco and the pundits worse, both have made a big deal of it. In America people and institutions have looked at it for what it was, an individual’s anger in the face of a bad situation, maybe distasteful but not out of the range of human emotions. As to its recipient President Bush, he’d made a light of it, and considered it part of the job, it comes, as they say, with the territory.

        What to make of the frenzy of some Arab writers about the shame, dishonor, and embarrassment, the poor reporter supposedly has brought to the culture? Well, take a deep breath, if the so-called Arab culture has still some pride, then it must exist not on this planet but somewhere else in the vast universe. But certainly Arabs’ overreactions were out of whack. The idea of insulting a ‘guest’ was also out of bounds, and far ahead from the truth. President Bush, if he must be anything in Iraq, he was not a guest but rather the Lord of the place. Like it or not, a President who has 150,000 armed soldiers manning the place, must be also the one who’d appointed Mr. Maliki to his job. America still owns Iraq, as Colin Powell’s famous metaphor, of the Pottery Barn admitted: "If you break it, you own it!" Bush’s armed forces still control Iraq and are safeguarding its government inside the American-created and run havens, the Green Zone.

        So these guys without enlightening themselves or the rest of us about the artificial brouhaha, about: 1- President Bush was not a guest but rather the host; and, 2- the slighting side of the gesture would have a stronger meaning if it had the same shared meanings in both cultures. Since the throwing of a shoe doesn’t mean much in America, what the pundits thought of its impact was only out of their fevered imagination and wishful thinking. If the shoes meant anything to the Arabs, then it meant it only for them alone, not for the rest of humanity. All that the shoes have meant to Mr. Bush, were some flying objects coming his way, and which he’s dodged successfully and gracefully without much ado and had forgotten about them.

        Why then some Arab commentators made a big deal out of it as the worst insult in the "Arab culture!" and what-have-you? The unstated assumption was: Arabs, even under a penalty of annihilation, must always control themselves and be cool. What the Iraqi journalist has done showed cracks in the moral, psychological, and cultural world’s of the Arabs, in other words their weaknesses. The frenzy, if not the outrage, was directed more to the jester than the gesture. He shouldn’t have exposed our powerlessness on TV screens. He shouldn’t have shamed and embarrassed us by throwing his shoes, on a visiting President, and in the presence of his PM. In their erroneous views, no matter how low a society stands on the civilizational scale, it must hold tight to its values, mores, and manners of politeness. Thus the ‘uncivilizedness’ of the gesture has only exposed further the hollowness of Arabs systems of beliefs and the artifice of their values, culture, etc. that go with them. Al-Zaidi brought home the bitter fact: Some civilized people Arabs are not, at least by most standards of contemporary societies. As such, they should feel free to use some of the wiggling margin that leave -from civilization- has left them. Given their circumstances, of being uncivilized, that’s, they can disregard, or at least suspend, some of the codes of conduct, when are facing an invading and occupying power. The showing of some reactive discharges was a positive sign rather than of weakness. It expressed their humanity and that they’re still alive and kicking. It’d have been worse, if there was no reaction, at all. The passive acceptance of their circumstances would probably have been constituted by many as worse than the impoliteness of the gesture.

        What Arab reporters, according to some -some of them are professors and others perhaps in search of sponsors to their habitual screed!- hit hard on, was that of a reporter doing this kind of thing. According to this new breed, he should not have stained the noble culture of the Bedouins -known of its generosity by all, except of course the Americans! This childish belief, without much thought was symptomatic of the superficiality of the profession. Why don’t they stick to eyewitness accounts and leave the thinking and taking of stands to those who can? Their claim was hollow and silly. For, if the reporter was guilty of having soiled the culture and betrayed one of its pillars, that’s the confidence entrusted in him, by using other means than those allowed to him, his pen, then he these folks should put him on trial, in front of the tribunal of culture offenders, along with all the other molesters who’ve brought shame and disrespect to culture. Otherwise, keep peace. What’s the point of restricting anybody, reporters or otherwise, to express themselves only by ‘peaceful means?’: as summarizing, synthesizing, and describing what was in front of their eyes. This will only tell him/her and everybody in their ranks, to leave the expression of anger (for the 6-years of absolute and total destruction), not to mentions humiliations, to other people, the common folks. From ashes to glory! The journalist craft - or as it’s often referred to writers craft!- has been nobelized before it’s even been felt and recognized. It must be aspiring to join that other most sacred craft, that of the preachers, to be place high up on the totem-pole so it wouldn’t be soiled by the everyday mud of reality!

        How then suddenly, all this fuss about politeness and strict professional codes of conduct and the rest of the mush be taken and understood? How could be interpreted culturally and psychologically? Is politeness or submission? Is it out of respect to a visiting President or fear of he can inflict? Or, some other deeper down the well reasons difficult to reach? As, for example, that old compensation effect, which, supposedly controls the emotions and triggers their defensive mechanisms every time, there’s a deep humiliation: Maybe its role is also to give hope to the defeated that he/she can still claim some dignity, by climbing high above the moral grounds, of the invader, and thus claim and feel some moral bettering than the offender’s; and therefore, he/she should give up their high up perch, for any reason, to be on the same level of the offender(s). Anthropologists, social psychologists, and culturalists should look at these hypotheses. They may have some insights and more.

        One thing is sure, however, as long as Mr. Bush has not even recognized his mistake or apologized for his wrongly and illegally started war, nor intends to, then all the mush said remains only that. If no other alternative was left to a defeated, humiliated, and frustrated Iraqis then pursuing to denounce and protest against the hell they live in, by any means they can muster, is part of their rights as humans to be creative and invent some on their own. For, to express their anger against all that took place and what still has to come, on their land, is the least they can do. They should worry about the ends and not the means. The means by which how and what to tell the invader and his local lackeys, enough is enough, must be left to the circumstances. What about the reactions of the rest? For, all the benevolence in this world, the charity of its compassionate, the liberating mission of its freedom lovers, etc. cannot account for one bombing mission, or the devastation of a bunch of Cruise missiles. Reactions to the hell-on-earth are part and parcel of what a living and sentient people must do.


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