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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Mixing up importance and impotence

The Arab press, and the Arab world in general, cannot stop talking about the Great Shoe Revolution. Here are only some of the articles in the past day:

Arab News:
Al-Zeidi maybe one of the bravest men on this globe because not only did he defy and humiliate the emperor but also he knew very well what to expect at the hands of those who created Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and all the other secret prisons in every dark corner of the earth.
Arab News again:
Al-Zeidi has proved to be someone who can unite all factions and ethnicities.
Al Arabiya:
The alleged maker of the shoes that an Iraqi journalist hurled at U.S. President George W. Bush has had to take on 100 extra staff to cope with a surge in demand for his footwear, he said on Monday.

"Between the day of the incident and 1:00 pm today we have received orders totaling 370,000 pairs", Istanbul-based Serkan Turk, head of sales at Baydan Shoes, told AFP.
Saudi Gazette:
Shoe: A sign of insult, not freedom
Daily News Egypt:
Journalist Montazar Al-Zaidi’s name will not only be listed alongside kings and rulers, Shajarat Al-Durr and Nikita Khrushchev, but will be part of an infinitely more important list which includes thousands of Iraqis who resist the American occupation that violates all the human and legal values which Baghdad introduced to the world long before the United States of America ever came into being ranging from the Mesopotamian civilization to Islamic Baghdad./blockquote>

There are a few media outlets that are somewhat less happy with the incident.

The National (UAE) :
One of the saddest things about the incident involving the Iraqi thug who threw his shoes at President George Bush is that sometimes he is referred to as a journalist. The name of the noblest of professions has been dragged through the ditch into a dark place indeed.
Daily News Egypt 2:
Although I completely sympathize with this view and do not in any way detract from the tragedy of what has happened in Iraq, I still believe that even though the shoe attack was symbolically momentous, it also served to bring home more starkly than ever the complete impotence of the Arab world, whether on the mass public level or on the elite diplomatic one.

Adding to the tragicomic nature of the whole sorry affair is the fact that not a single one of our revered journalists or even activists has ever had the grit to hurl a size 10 reminder of the unpopularity of his own Arab leader — many of whom have been around for close to three decades and who have likely caused just as much damage, if not more, during their respective reigns of terror.
This last editorialist gets closer to the truth. The Arab world has a massive inferiority complex, after decades of coddling terror, mismanaging trillions of petrodollars, ruling by sloganeering and human rights abuses. Their only relevance come from the disparate but related issues of happening to sit on top of huge oil reserves and supporting terror, sometimes tacitly and sometimes explicitly. Terror itself is simply a means to get attention, another puerile but deadly gesture to get the hated but admired West to sit up and take notice, like a toddler's temper tantrums.

Without oil, the Arab world would sink back into complete irrelevance. For a short blip of time, fifty or so years, this society had the chance to build themselves into something much bigger than oil - and it failed. Princes get filthy rich while average Arabs are lucky to get a tiny percentage of trickle-down wealth. They have made no great gains, neither in politics nor in science, culture or industry. Since World War II we have seen amazing gains in nations like Japan and Hong Kong, Israel and India - but the Arab world continues, to a large extent, to be mired in ignorance and seventh-century thinking.

This is why the shoe incident strikes such a chord. For a tiny moment, Arabs feel like they have won a victory over the despised West. Although they are loathe to recall this, there was a very similar visceral reaction after 9/11 in the streets of Ramallah and Beirut and Cairo (and Paterson,) of spontaneous celebration that the pre-Iraq War US got its comeuppance on the world stage by a small band of Arabs. The exact same sense of pride is exhibited here, but the extreme emotion that results is more a reflection of longstanding Arab impotence than of newfound Arab importance.