Saturday, December 20, 2008

Ayatollahs and the Hurling Shoes

Yesterday Ayatollah Jennati, on his Friday prayer sermon, praised the Iraqi journalist who had thrown his shoes at President Bush and said, “Those shoes should be retrieved and be placed in a museum.”

In my life time, I recall many political leaders who were not popular with their own people, leaders who were in power and then left office in disgrace. Some were overthrown by military coup, some by popular revolution, some were put on trial in an international tribunal, some were assassinated, some were even voted out of office, some were forced to resign, and some lasted until their term was over. Each of these leaders met their ends with a degree of disgrace, though most of them gradually found a way to live in peace in oblivion.

Among all the these unpopular leaders, President Bush stands out because he is the president of the largest democracy on earth (next to India) and because many events happened during his two terms of presidency which affected the world immensely. When in our recent election he was not even invited to address the crowed in the nomination of his own party, when he did not dare to appear in public to endorse his own party’s standard bearer, when his popularity was ranked the lowest in history and when he was comforted that maybe in the future history would judge him more favorably than his contemporaries (of course if the historian happened to be a neo-con!), still I thought he did not receive what he deserved, until that memorable night when the journalist threw his shoes at him. Honestly, my first reaction was, “I wish he would have thrown his socks.” My sister disagreed, “They would not have reached him.” “They would if they were heavy socks smeared with a little oil or tar or mud.” I was worried that my joy would be ruined if the journalist had to pay a high price for his creativity. I would have felt better if they had been ballet shoes.

What was the intention of the journalist? No one even asked. The motive was crystal clear. Frustration, anger, dismay, and hopelessness were all fit into that famous pair of shoes. Oddly enough, none of us (at least those I talked to, and those people around me) saw any violence in the action and we were all happy that the shoes did not hit the president, and were relieved to find him agile enough to dodge well, and more so that he managed to keep his sense of humor afterward. He placed the action in the category of freedom of expression!

Soon we heard that someone from Saudi Arabia offered ten million dollars for that pair of shoes, and Ayatollah Jennati appraised it as a museum quality piece. I happen to agree with both verdicts though I keep myself arms and legs apart from both of them. I think the Ayatollah would have made the same verdict if the journalist would have thrown a hand grenade, a knife, or a rock at the president; he would have made the same verdict if he would have hurt the president. Obviously the assault charge was not his concern at all, and this kind of violence is immaterial to him and his other fellow-ayatollahs so far as it served their political agenda.

However, my excitement over the shoes was different. I admired the act’s creativity and spontaneity. It was very new and refreshing. When leaders throw garbage at us, I think they deserve to receive something in return.

I also liked the universality of the expression. Though throwing shoes at the president of the United States was something innovative, still throwing something as a mode of expression is very universal, something we all do when we are angry, frustrated, or abused, when we find ourselves in a hopeless situation. However very rarely one receives such an overwhelming positive response by expressing his- or herself in such fashion. Most of the time we are shunned in response.

It was obviously not just a simple universal expression of anger or frustration or disappointment, it was not even the creativity of it, and it was not even the courage which cause so much of ado. There must have been something hidden in this extraction, something else was spat out from the shoes, some wit, some humor or something else. Indeed it was that “something else” which was neither rage nor hate nor despair, wit, humor or any combination thereof which excited so many of us in spite of the hint of violence and rudeness. It was that “something else” which made even the politest, most genteel, most educated, most fair-minded applaud. Really, what was that ‘something else”?

Years ago in an exhibit, along with an ex-boyfriend who had no talent or eyes for the arts, I was dazzled at the famous painting of Chagall’s I and My Village. As it was his habit of challenging me, my ex called it crazy. “Any child can paint like this. What is this green face? Why not all yellow or blue? ” he added. “True," I countered, "Now this is done, anyone could do it as well. But in reality, only one person could have done it, and that was Chagall. He was the only one who did it. As for the color, I’m afraid it cannot be any other color but the one that is there, because he did so. Yes, it could have been yellow or blue if and, only if, he would have made it yellow or blue. The truth of the matter is he made it green.”

Luckily the world is constituted in such a way that our disagreements and our agreements amount to nothing when it comes to the truth. Chagall’s I and My Village withstands the challenges even if the whole world is united against it. His face would stay green and the piece would stay in a museum since it belongs to the museum. It is such an undeniable reality and expresses such truth that no one can dispute it.

The complex phenomenon of “hurling shoes”, unidentified as it is yet, stands as the “intellectual property” of its creator, quite unique to itself. The clip of film is viewed thousands of times all over the world. The president of the United States, dodging twice to avoid the hit, with disbelief in his face, wondering what to make of it all, probably thinking about the bouquet of flowers promised to him by Kanaan Makiya, will go down in history. If the journalist had a weapon and would have assaulted the president, if the journalist have had a chance to ask the most significant question or to make the most disturbing comments, it would not have had that effect of tossing his shoes at him. And, even if in a most democratic fashion the entire people of Iraq would have condemned President Bush for all the destruction he brought to the people of Iraq, it would not have had such an effect. As a matter of fact, those shoes thrown at the President Bush at this stage of the game, when he was leaving office in such disgrace, was such an indispensable closing statement to his presidency that nothing else could have taken its place. The journalist in question could not possibly have done it otherwise, he could not have written more dramatically with his pen, or taken a more dazzling picture with his camera, or have spoken more eloquently into his microphone. That “something else” was there in his shoes, the lowest part of his body, full of dust and dirt, smeared with others’ dirt, covered with the worthless of the worthless, that was the real true color of his feelings, that was the color he chose to paint his canvas; there could not have been any other color, but the color of “hurling shoes.”

And yes it belongs to a museum, just next to I and My Village, if I may dare to suggest. It was as unique, though not as attractive.

P.S. As for Ayatollah Jennati and his generous appraisal, he does not need to trouble himself to retrieve the shoes. Very soon the whole phenomenon, like most of the masterpieces in the world, will be reproduced and fill the markets; he and other ayatollahs, if they wait patiently, will receive their share of “hurling shoes.” Though none will make it into a museum since neither of them is original, the shoes or their targets. Forgeries do not impress anyone.


Ander said...

Chagall did so many amazing works. A Marc Chagall lithograph is possibly in my future.

Thanks for this post!

Ander said...

Here is the Marc Chagall lithograph link for above.

Mina said...

Thank you, Ander. I looked at your fine web page and invite my readers to visit it at

armin kardashian said...

My Lady-in-waiting,

In an curious manner of behavior, you dearly beloved fellow Zoroastrian Persian, you intend to judge the whole episode in a same pattern of – action, reaction – just like the Grande imbecile Ayatollah Jennati, and imbecile to the power of X (mathematical) that Saudi Arabian person – persona non grata.

With you highly talented argumental discourse, intend to clarify and surely justify the primitive act of courage. (when we are angry, frustrated, or abused, when we find ourselves in a hopeless situation.)

It’s the perfect scenario of “Schadenfreude”

May you live to be 100, and may the last voice you hear be Zarathustra.

armin kardashian said...

dear editor-in-chief,
my deep appreciation for the permission to publish my comment.

you are islamic republic master of censorship.
capo di tuti capi

best regards

Mina said...

Armin jan, we posted your comment December 29, 2008. Please, before insulting me, check the facts.
Have a happy and prosperous and sane 2009.