Basheer Qazi from IslamPerspective has an interesting insight on the Iraqi Shoethrower
Should we be cherishing freedom of expression in Iraq?
On the 14th of December 2008 an Iraqi journalist, Muntazar al-Zaidi threw his shoes, one after the other, at outgoing US president Bush during a press conference in Baghdad, in full glare of the media. This incident immediately made global headlines and the video footage has been replayed repeatedly, becoming a firm favorite to watch on the internet.
Opinion over the action of 29 year old al-Zaidi, has been sharply divided. The majority of Arabs considered this an act of herorsm and bravery, reflecting their own bitter sentiments about the US aggression in Iraq and the established impotence of their own governments. Al-Zaidi’s brother said, “Millions of Iraqis or rather millions of the people of the world wish to do what Muntadhar didâ€¦Thank God he had the guts to do it and avenge the Iraqi people and the country from those who plunder it and have killed its people.” It is noteworthy that Muslims across the world while supporting al-Zaidi’s actions didn’t show concern about whether he was a Shia or a Sunni. If one was to believe British and American propaganda, this shouldn’t have been the case, as they have tried hard to build this sectarian divide.
But likewise there was vocal condemnation from some quarters and understandably from the US-backed Iraqi government. As one local Iraqi stated, “I deem it unnecessary. This thing is unjustifiable. It is an incorrect style. We are not violent. One can voice his opinion in other ways,”
Navigating through this sharp divide, one particular theme emerged that caught my attention and which I want to focus on. This theme was echoed by Bush himself in the immediate aftermath of the shoe-attack, when asked by a reporter, he mentioned that this was freedom of expression.
This statement has been packaged by quite a few to demonstrate the ‘moral dominance’ of capitalism over other ways of life, by posing questions such as: “just imagine what would have happened to the shoe-thrower under the Saddam regime?” or, “would it have been possible in first place that someone would dare throw his shoes on dictators like Saddam, Abdullah or Musharraf in their respective countries?”
These sorts of questions need serious scrutiny as otherwise people will jump to the fallacious conclusion that western capitalism and the US-led invasion has brought some good, which is freedom of expression.
I would like to argue from three different angles, challenging this lie of the superiority of western capitalism and secular democracies.
1. The first point is that whenever Muslims want to evaluate a system it needs to be done on the basis of Islam and therefore the comparison should be between capitalism and Islam, not capitalism and dictatorship, monarchy or oligarchy. If you just try to look for something worse than what you are evaluating, you will always find it and therefore it is a futile exercise giving us no reasonable evaluation or judgment. If we were to compare the state of affairs about freedom of expression to account the ruler in Islam, we would learn that Islam in this case, as in all other domains of life, is the bench mark for justice and fairness. Just to quote one example from many to show how the prophet of Allah (saw) would react to accountability and criticism by his companions, the Sahaba (ra). In the battle of Badr, when the Prophet (saw) was straightening the ranks of the Muslim army, he was walking in front of them with a wooden stick in his hand. Sawwad bin Ghuzzaiya, one of the Sahaba was a step ahead of the others and so the Prophet (saw) pushed him in his stomach with the wooden stick. Upon this Sawwad (ra) said, “Oh Messenger of Allah, you have hurt me and I want to get even with you”. Just imagine the other Sahaba hearing that someone wants to get even with the Prophet of Allah! But the Prophet very calmly said, “Go ahead and he uncovered his stomach”. Sawwad (ra) jumped on the Prophet, hugged him and kissed his stomach. The Prophet asked Sawwad (ra) “Oh Sawwad, why did you do that?” He replied, “You see what we are going to face, and this might be the last day in my life and so I wanted the last moments in my life to be my skin touching yours”.
2. The second point is that when we compare the situation today with the one which prevailed under dictators like Saddam or still prevails under the Arab Monarchies, how can we forget the very fact that these monarchies were/are in reality the puppet regimes of the Western colonialists, be it the British or the Americans? This means that all the cruelties carried out by the dictators were at least sanctioned by their Western masters and therefore they share the blame equally.
3. The third and foremost point that needs to be understood is the deceitful cleverness which this Western capitalist system employs. It robs its subjects from their land, resources, lives, honor and deen, but still manages that they cherish the ‘freedom of expression’ which they are left with! What is the point in having the right to express all your anger, even if it is with throwing shoes at the spearhead of who brought all this evil, when you are not left with any other choice and are not able to resist their occupation and domination? All the widows and orphans of Iraq, the inmates of Abu Gharib, the young and old bereaved of their family members have the right to cry, lament and wail, so should we be cherishing that as well?
Such incidents show the deceptive but influential nature of western propaganda. It is imperative that Muslims do not allow the ‘wool to cover their eyes’ such that they become easy prey. Rather deeper scrutiny of these events, linked to the wider political landscape need to be benchmarked and evaluated within the framework of Islam.
Likewise, Muslims should feel a sense of shame â€“ that given the all the armies, weapons, and resources that we have at our disposal, all we can muster is admiration for a shoe-thrower. This speaks volumes about the impotence and treachery of the rulers that blot the Muslim lands.
Muhammad (saw) said, ‘Every traitor will have a flag on the Last Day. And his flag will be raised according to his level of treachery. The traitor of traitors is the ruler who betrays his people.’