“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.

3 Responses

  1. Why is it that people try to find a meaning for shoe throwing in Arabic culture? does it have any other meaning anywhere? throwing a shoe is just fucken throwing a shoe! It means what it exactly means in all cultures I guess!

  2. And in Essex, any lady worth her salt uses her stillies as weapons and its not because they are Arabs.

  3. Iyad “Al-Ba’athi” Allawi was shoe’d out of a mosque in Najaf in 2005 or thereabouts.

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