Talk to the shoe
Desperate times call for desperate measures. So what do people resort to doing when they have been rendered politically impotent? They opt for symbolic, emotionally charged protests like name-calling, flag-burning, and most recently, shoe-throwing. Shoe-throwing has been the way to get your voice heard since 2008, when Muntader al Zaidi tossed two shoes at George W Bush in Iraq. In a slightly less famous incident, Chinese prime minister Wen Jiabao was the victim of a shoe-attack in the UK in 2009.
In the instances mentioned above, both shoe-tossers chose to accessorise their flying footwear with a string of invective. Zaidi suggested that Bush resembled a certain household pet while Wen’s attacker called his target a liar.
Most recently, a policeman chucked his shoes at Indian Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah, and accompanied his attempt with the slightly more neutral “we want freedom” slogan.
Personally, my favourite shoe-throwing strategy is the ‘silent-shoe,’ – an attack which is totally open to interpretation. This was the weapon of choice an older gentleman used against President Zardari in Birmingham with great effect.
It was only after the gentleman hurled his size-ten loafers at the President that he revealed his motive – he said he was so disgusted by the leader’s speech that he couldn’t contain his emotions.
As you can tell, where protests are concerned, I prefer the figurative over the literal, the impressionistic to the explicit.
Jokes aside though, symbolic gestures, whether they are intended to hurt, coerce or praise, are less materially damaging and in many cases, more psychologically effective than hard action.
Finally – often symbolic gestures are the only recourse of the oppressed. These protestors have provided us with some of the twentieth century’s most poignant moments: A lone man halting a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square, activists acting as human shields barring the path of Israeli bulldozers in Gaza, Kashmiri youth pelting soldiers with stones.
So let us not dismiss flying shoes as random acts of madness. They are indicative of a deeper helplessness and originate from a place that is left with nothing more to appeal to than a community’s sense of shame.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 19th, 2010.