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Those are some pretty big shoes to throw

As a decent, patriotic American, you are no doubt aware that in December 2008 an Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at then-President George W. Bush while Bush was giving a press conference in Baghdad. Like me, I’m sure you were outraged by the journalist’s attack, which is considered a great insult in Muslim nations.

And perhaps you’ve heard that the very next month, on Bush’s last day in office, roughly 100 people stood on Pennsylvania Avenue and gave the outgoing president an Iraqi-style sendoff by lobbing their shoes in the direction of the White House, to the cheers of passers-by and even a handful of security guards.

What you may not be aware of, however, is the way shoe throwing as a form of protest has taken on a life of its own since those two episodes. It has become an international sensation every bit as big as the Macarena, and there is even talk of adding a shoe-throwing event to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

The veneration of the shoe thrower started, appropriately enough, in Iraq in January 2009 when a bronze statue of a giant shoe was unveiled in the city of Tikrit to honor Muntadar al-Zaidi, the journalist who begat the whole phenomenon by winging his loafers at Bush. With this as a precedent, shoe throwers have started to come out of the woodwork, hoping to be similarly immortalized.

The first noteworthy shoe assault following the two Bush incidents and the statue’s unveiling occurred in February 2009 when a 27-year-old British man fired his footwear at Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao as Wen was giving a speech on the global economy at Cambridge University.

The shoes never made it anywhere near the stage, and Wen’s speech was barely disrupted, but that didn’t stop China from threatening to stop making shoes for the rest of the world unless England promised to repeatedly violate the man’s human rights.

Close on the heels, so to speak, of that incident, there was an episode in India in April 2009 wherein a Sikh reporter hucked his sneakers at an Indian minister to protest the killing of hundreds of Sikhs during rioting in Delhi in 1984. The enraged Sikh claimed it took 25 years for him to finally throw his shoes because prior to that he hadn’t owned any.

That incident was followed by a relative lull in high-profile shoe assaults until this past November when Australian Prime Minister John Howard had shoes hurled at him by an angry student and a member of Serbia’s Radical Party interrupted a meeting of Parliament by throwing her shoes at the deputy speaker.

Then, just last month, al-Zaidi himself was attacked by a pro-U.S. shoe thrower while giving a speech in Paris. The original footwear flinger managed to dodge the hurled shoes and even got the last laugh when his brother, Maithan, chased the attacker from the room and pelted him with — you guessed it — a shoe.

Things have really started to heat up in the last week, though. On Tuesday, a shoe was thrown at Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir while he was making a public speech in Khartoum. The shoe thrower, who reportedly suffers from severe psychological problems, missed al-Bashir and was immediately arrested. Authorities in Sudan claim he will be handed over to his family after he undergoes psychological treatment. And if you believe that, I’ve got a million people in Darfur who’d love to tell you about how merciful the Sudanese government is.

Like everything of this ilk, however, shoe throwing is all fun and games until somebody gets hurt, which is exactly what happened on Wednesday in Israel. While presiding over a court session, Israel’s highest judge, Dorit Beinish, was struck in the face by a shoe hurled at her by a protester who called her “corrupt” and “traitor.” The blow knocked Beinish off her seat, broke her glasses and left her with bruises on her face.

The attacker, whose name was not released, was arrested but will be released from prison in time to join Israel’s Olympic shoe-throwing team in 2016.

So where does that leave us? Well, now that someone has actually been injured by a thrown shoe, I think it’s time for us to put this particular fad to rest. After all, with the way things are going right now, it’s only a matter of time before a Dutch protester kills someone with a wooden clog. Trust me, there will be no statues to celebrate that.

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Todd Hartley

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01 2010

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