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In Iraq, a shoe is not just footwear

By Jane ArrafCorrespondent / February 20, 2009

Reporters on the Job: If you’re trying to understand the story of Muntathar Zaidi (you can read it here), it really is all about the shoes. For a lot of Westerners that image of Mr. Zaidi throwing his shoe at President Bush was either horrifying or comical. In Iraqi culture it’s one of the most insulting things you can do.

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“We have a saying – shoot me with bullets but don’t hit me with a shoe,” says one defense lawyer. The distaste of something so unclean being used to strike someone is so ingrained that even Iraqis who agree with Zaidi’s sentiments say he should be punished for such a rude gesture.

“This was not good behavior for an Iraqi or a journalist,” says Haider Ahmed, as he slices grilled lamb at his shawarma stand.

Another defense lawyer tried to convince me otherwise. “This is completely normal. It’s what Iraqis do at home when they are angry,” says Ahlam Alami, the only female lawyer on the defense team.

Zaidi’s own relatives though beg to differ. “No, never,” says his sister Zainab, when asked if there were any shoe-throwing at home. “If we disagreed with each other we would speak to each other respectfully.”

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