Thursday, May 13, 2010

Why I hit George Bush with shoe

An interview with the unrepentant Iraqi shoe thrower, Muntanzeer al- Zaidi

By Fatuma Noor in Geneva

More than two years after his size 10 shoe spun through the air towards the former United States president George W Bush, Muntanzeer al-Zaidi – the man the world now knows as “the shoe-thrower” says that if given a chance he would do it again.

The still very bitter Zaidi was spoke to me after presenting a paper on challenges facing the Iraq journalist at the ongoing Global Investigative Journalism Conference 2010 in Switzerland Geneva.

Said he, “I did it for every drop of innocent blood that has been shed through the occupation or because of it, every scream of a bereaved mother, every moan of an orphan, the sorrow of a rape victim, the teardrop of an orphan.”

Even the nine months he spent in an Iraqi prison and the torture that he went through while in prison, did not change his rebellious feeling about the invasion of his country or even the man he threw the shoe at two years ago last December.

“Despite everything that I went through, I still believe that the invasion of my country was wrong because the Americans turned us against each other and they killed a lot of people to what they believed was right,” he said.

Zaidi criticised the war in Iraq, calling on the international community to bring those responsible for the war "led by George Bush" to justice.

Zaidi says that the Iraq journalist have been reporting on nothing positive but killings of its citizens and everyday more than 150 deaths are reported and a number of journalists have been killed covering on this same issues.

“We have lost lots of colleagues who were brave reporters against what the Americans are doing and those that portray what’s really happening in the ground but they never live long because they are target which makes it not a very easy place for any journalists to work.”

Zaidi said that in recent years more than a million victims have fallen by the bullets of the occupation and Iraq is now filled with more than five million orphans, a million widows and hundreds of thousands of maimed. Many millions are homeless inside and outside the country.

Speaking of the traumatic effect of covering the war, he said, “Every day as soon as I finished my professional duties in reporting the daily tragedies, while I washed away the remains of the wreckage of the ruined Iraqi houses, or the blood that stained my clothes, the horror remained with me.”

He says that on the day he was sent to cover President Bush’s press conference, he saw an American soldier killing an innocent seven-year-old girl in a school playground and it was this incident that tipped him over the boiling point.

“Once I got there and this criminal called Bush started telling more lies about how his soldiers would do this and that, I could not hide my anger anymore and my shoe was my closest weapon so I seized the opportunity.”

He says that he did not do it to become famous and he denies that he is a hero. He says he was motivated by feelings of humiliation. It humiliated him to see Iraq humiliated and to see Baghdad burned, people killed. “Thousands of tragic pictures remained in my head, pushing me towards the path of confrontation” he added.

“I travelled through my burning land and saw with my own eyes the pain of the victims, and heard with my own ears the screams of the orphans and the bereaved. And a feeling of shame haunted me like an ugly name because I was powerless and the opportunity came and I took it” he said.

Speaking to Zaidi more that two years after the world famous incident one can hear the bitterness in his voice, his anger towards the former president and all the soldiers that killed thousands of Iraqi people during the invasion.

“I say to those who reproach me: Do you know how many broken homes that shoe which I threw had entered? How many times it had trodden over the blood of innocent victims? Maybe that shoe was the appropriate response when all rights were violated.”

He however says that despite his bitterness against the Americans then, not all of them are bad people as most of the American people were against the war but the person in power was too arrogant to listen to anyone.

“Bush was ignorant, he didn’t even know what he was doing, his mission was to wipe Islam out of this planet and he wanted my country under his boot, I could not take that and I did what I had to do.”

After throwing the shoe at Bush, Zaidi was arrested and had to spend nine months in jail and it is this time that he says that was tortured by the US army and his own government for his actions.

“I was tortured, they did all they could think just so they could punish me for what I did, but not at one time did I say I was sorry and thats what the Iraq government had said” he claims.

Across Iraq and in every corner of the Arab world, Zaidi was feted for his action. The 20 words or so he spat at Bush – "This is your farewell kiss, you dog. This is for the widows and orphans of Iraq" – have been immortalized on YouTube, and in many cases memorised.

After Zaidi, a correspondent for the Cairo-based al-Baghdadiya TV threw the shoe Promises of money, gold, camels and virgin brides for a Muslim hero were never kept.

"I blame the media because they said I would become rich for doing what I did, that I would become a multi-millionaire, something that never was, am still the same young man I was then and trying to meet ends meet just like any other journalists and the small gifts I got I used for the foundation” he continued.

In Geneva Zaidi announced the launch of a foundation to help the Iraqi widows and orphans who were the major victims of the war in Iraq and he says that this is in part the gift that he had received for his act.

“I’m making an appeal on behalf of my people and I announce the launch of a humanitarian foundation for my people," Muntazer al-Zaidi said during the interview with the Star.

“Al Zaidy foundation is meant to help with the thousands of widows whom their husbands were killed and the children whom their parents were killed defending what’s rightfully theirs” he said

He said that his life is still in danger in some part of the Iraq and despite the many countries approaching him for asylum he says he is not ready to leave his country and he will continue to fight for what he believes in.

“ I’m not leaving my country, I will continue working as a journalist because that’s one way to bring all the rights violated in his country to light”

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