December 15, 2008
Shoe-hurling in the Arab world
When I was in Israel in August 2007, I traveled with a group of journalists to an Arab Israeli town in the upper Galilee. The purpose was to see how money from the United Jewish Communities was improving life in poor Arab towns. When I slipped out of the community center, I didn’t exactly discover the secret to coexistence.
I wandered the neighborhood before stopping to watch young boy and two young girls playing outside their house. When they noticed me, they shouted words I didn’t understand and took a few steps toward me. One of the kids was waving at me, holding some paper in their hand. This, I thought, was my invitation to go talk with these kids about their feelings about Jews. Not sure how I was going to accomplish that in Arabic, but I walked their way nonetheless.
The paper, it turned out, was money. I guess they thought that, based on my curly hair, I would drawn to a few bucks like a mouse to cheese. I tried to brush this affront off in the most embarrassing way—by engaging the children in some dialogue—at which point the little boy, maybe 8 years old, took off his sandal and held it up like he was going to swat me.
As you can imagine, I quickly turned tail. I wasn’t afraid of being attacked. I knew what the boy meant when he lifted his sandal at me. Among Arabs, showing someone the sole of your shoe is an absolutely vile curse.
“Hitting someone with a shoe is a deep insult in the Arab world, signifying that the person being struck is as low as the dirt underneath the sole of a shoe.”
The New York Times offered that explanation today after an Iraqi journalist became an Arab folk hero for throwing his shoe at President Bush and shouting “This is a gift from the Iraqis; this is the farewell kiss, you dog!”
Well, Mr. President, I haven’t been a fan of your administration or the war in Iraq. But at least I can offer you my shared sympathy on this one.