Muntadhar al-Zaidi is the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at President Bush at a Baghdad press conference on December 14th, 2008. I recently interviewed him in Beirut.
I asked him why he did it. He said “I was exposing the occupation with my pen, however I didn’t think my pen was reaching the world, I don’t think the world read my writings, or saw what was happening in Iraq. But when I threw the shoe at Bush, the world became aware of what was going “.
His act of defiance became an instant sensation throughout the world. Virtually every newspaper and television news show led with the story. But for al-Zaidi, it was more than a decision to make a statement. He revealed that he thought it would lead to his death.
“It was a difficult decision because I was expecting to be killed at the moment of throwing the shoe at Bush. All those protecting the President were armed and scattered around the hall. However, my dignity was in my hands, a choice between death and the return of part of dignity, and to tell the world that Iraqis are objecting to the presence of Bush and his army in Iraq, that Iraqis did not welcome Bush with flowers, nor did they welcome his army.”
al-Zaidi told me he had left a will and a videotape explaining his action with his younger brother.
“He who thinks facing death is easy does not know the taste of death. I faced and sensed death was near when I was at the press conference. I was stuck between the comfortable life I was living: having a car, being a head of my department, my home, my dear friends and beloved, and to go face this person and do what I had decided upon by returning the favor [to Bush], for the widows, the orphans, in exchange for my life”.
al-Zaidi wasn’t killed; instead he was arrested and viciously tortured for three months and jailed for nine. He’s now living in Beirut but plans to return to Iraq soon to carry out charitable work for widows and orphans.
Of course it doesn’t take such acts of protest to put journalists in danger. Many around the world face prison and death for courageous reporting. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 812 journalists around the world have been killed since 1992. In 2009 alone, 71 were murdered for their work as journalists.
Most journalists have it comparatively easy in North America. When faced with the decision al-Zaidi faced, to opt for a comfortable life or risk career for the sake of our dignity as journalists . . . what do we choose?
Mark Twain ridiculed the warmongers of his day “There have been lies; yes, but they were told in a good cause”.
How often do we journalists go along with “lies in a good cause”?