“Upon Bush I Cast My Shoe”

As “Turmoil Continues Over Shoe-Throwing Incident” (as the media puts it), let us turn to Biblical scholar Kenneth Bailey for a bit of background:

Rengstorf also uses Ps. 60:8; “Upon Edom I cast my shoe,” as evidence of asserting ownership. Rather it is a very strong insult. At Assiut College in Egypt in the early sixties a young American teacher, inexperienced in Oriental attitudes towards shoes, woke a sleeping student one morning by throwing a shoe across the room at him. A thousand students rioted that day in protest over the “insult”. In public speech the speaker apologizes before using the word “shoes” in deference to its being nearly a four-letter word”. (1)

Lynne Long’s Translation and Religion adds (p. 164):

The shoe connotative meaning [of disrespect] is also used in the Iraqi Arabic expression ibn al-qundarah (son of a shoe) which is the cultural equivalent in English to ‘son of a bitch’.

As well as the famous shoe-beating of Saddam’s statue, a biography of Yasser Arafat by Barry and Judith Colp Rubin includes the detail that

The West Bank bureau of al-Jazira television was closed down for a time after a preview of a program on Lebanon’s civil war showed a demonstrator holding a pair of shoes over Arafat’s picture… (2)

President Qahtan Muhammad al-Shaabi of South Yemen was on the receiving end of a shoe-throwing crowd in Aden in 1968 (3), and in Bangladesh in 2006 lawyers threw shoes at a pair of Islamic militants who had been accused of killing two judges. According to Ibn Taymiyyah (1263-1328), followers of al-Arabi’s pantheist theology ought to be “beaten with shoes” (4); Islamist theorist Sayyid Qutb recommends the same treatment for homosexuals (5).

Meanwhile, the Iraqi ambassador to the US has been keen to point out that the shoe-thrower is enjoying far better treatment than he would have done under Saddam Hussein; however, if it true that he has been beaten and is likely to be banged up for 15 years that is going to ring somewhat hollow. My view is that if you break the law to make a political protest you have to face consequences, but these surely have to be proportionate and civilised. Needless to say, you also have to be willing to be publicly associated with your political act forever after.


(1) Poet & Peasant ; And, Through Peasant Eyes, p. 186n.
(2) Yasir Arafat, p. 235.
(3) Ivor Lucas, A Road to Damascus, p. 91.
(4) Rafiq Zakaria, Discovery of God, pp. 182-3.
(6) Lamia Rustum Shehadeh, The Idea of Women in Fundamentalist Islam, p. 66.

Robert Spencer Clutches at Straws Over Obama Inauguration

From Christian news-site OneNewsNow:

In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, the president-elect said he will follow the tradition and use his full name — Barack Hussein Obama — when he takes the oath of office. “I think the tradition is that they [previous presidents] use all three names, and I will follow the tradition,” he said. “I’m not trying to make a statement one way or another. I’ll do what everybody else does.”

But best-selling author Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch thinks Obama’s statement is ironic in that throughout the campaign it was considered taboo to mention the Democratic candidate’s middle name.

“Because it was suggesting that he had some connection to Islam and to the Islamic world,” says Spencer. [And] now he’s exploiting the same thing. Although he says that it’s only because every president uses his full name when being sworn in and he’s simply going to follow that tradition, it does seem as if there’s a signal being given here that there’s more to it than that.”

I try to resist simply chronicling the utterances of demagogues, but sometimes one sees something so stupid and so lacking in good faith that it cannot pass unremarked.

We all remember the anti-Obama right’s election campaign efforts to create fear of Obama based on his middle name. The likes of Spencer and Walid Shoebat  insisted on either always giving Obama’s full name or writing formulations such as “B. Hussein Obama”. The claim of a “taboo” also appears on Politico; but just how many times did we hear about “John Sidney McCain”? Shoebat was typically dishonest  (and absurd) when he complained about the injustice that saying “Barack Hussein Obama” is not received the same way as “Hilary Rodham Clinton”, but we all know that “Rodham” is a surname rather than a middle name, and that it is a long-established part of of Clinton’s professional and public identity. Most people recognised that those who chose to emphasise “Hussein” were either crackpot obsessives or opportunists playing on prejudice and fear as a substitute for proper political argument. Even McCain understood that, which was why he scolded Bill Cunningham. If the name became a “taboo” – which is arguable – it was because anyone serious did not want to be associated with such a low tactic.

So what exactly is the “signal being given here” that Spencer believes follows from the fact that Obama is going to follow usual practice at the swearing-in ceremony? He doesn’t say, and the good Christians who run OneNewsNow don’t feel the need to ask. Spencer’s comment is vacuous, but presumably he’s now so surrounded by fawning anti-Muslim keyboard warriors that any old rubbish will do.