Shoe-Throwing Iraqi Journalist Showered With Gifts: “I Feel Like Michael Jackson”

September 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Martin Chulov and Rory McCarthy, The Guardian

shoes-thrown-at-bush As his size 10s spun through the air towards George W Bush, Muntazer al-Zaidi — the man the world now knows as the shoe-thrower — was bracing for an American bullet.

“He thought the secret service was going to shoot him,” says Zaidi’s younger brother, Maitham. “He expected that, and he was not afraid to die.”

Zaidi’s actions during the former U.S. president’s swansong visit to Iraq last December have not stopped reverberating in the nine months since.

Next Monday, when the journalist walks out of prison, his 10 raging seconds, which came to define his country’s last six miserable years, are set to take on a new life even more dramatic than the opening act.

Across Iraq and in every corner of the Arab world, Zaidi is being feted. The 20 words or so he spat at Bush — “This is your farewell kiss, you dog. This is for the widows and orphans of Iraq” – have been immortalized, and in many cases memorized.

Pictures of the president ducking have been etched onto walls across Baghdad, made into T-shirts in Egypt, and appeared in children’s games in Turkey.

Zaidi has won the adulation of millions, who believe his act of defiance did what their leaders had been too cowed to do.

Iraq has been short of heroes since the dark days of Saddam Hussein, and many civilians are bestowing greatness on the figure that finally took the fight to an overlord.

“He is a David and Goliath figure,” said Salah al-Janabi, a white goods salesman in downtown Baghdad. “When the history books are written, they will look back on this episode with great acclaim. Al-Zaidi’s shoes were his slingshot.”

From his prison cell, Zaidi has a sense of the gathering fuss, but not the full extent of the benefactors and patrons preparing for his release.
A new four-bedroom home has been built by his former boss. A new car — and the promise of many more — awaits.

Pledges of harems, money and healthcare are pouring in to his employers, the al-Baghdadia television channel.

“One Iraqi who lived in Morocco called to offer to send his daughter to be Muntazer’s wife,” said editor Abdul Hamid al-Saij.

“Another called from Saudi offering $10m for his shoes, and another called from Morocco offering a gold-saddled horse.

“After the event, we had callers from Palestine and many women asking to marry him, but we didn’t take their names. Many of their reactions were emotional. We will see what happens when he is freed.”

From the West Bank town of Nablus, Ahmed Jouda saw the incident on television news and felt so moved that he called together his relatives for a meeting in a nearby reception hall.

Jouda, 75, a farmer and head of a large extended family, convinced his relatives to contribute tens of thousands of dollars to support Zaidi’s legal case.

Jouda himself decided to sell half his herd of goats; another man asked if he might offer a young woman from his family as a bride. Jouda said he would, if Zaidi was interested.

“I said we are willing to present him with a bride loaded with gold,” said Jouda. “We are people of our word. If he decided to marry one of our daughters we would respect what we said.

“We are compassionate and supportive to the Iraqi people for what they have gone through.

“We are people who have tasted the bitterness, sorrow and agony of occupation too. What he did, he did for all the Arabs, not just the Iraqis, because Bush was the reason behind the problems of all the Arab world.”

Zaidi’s brother insists that no one put Muntazer up to such an act. But he revealed that Muntazer had told him he had pre-scripted at least one line ahead of the fateful press conference.

From the roof of his brother’s new home, Maitham al-Zaidi said: “He always thought he would die as a martyr, either by al-Qaida or the Americans. More than once he was kidnapped by insurgents. He was surprised that Bush’s guards didn’t shoot him on the spot.”

Muntazer al-Zaidi has told Maitham, and another brother, Vergam, that he is planning to open an orphanage when he leaves prison and will not work again as a journalist.

“He doesn’t want his work to be a circus,” said Vergam. “Every time he asked someone a difficult question they would have responded by asking whether he was going to throw his shoes at them.”

Muntazer has alleged that after his actions he was tortured by government officials. Medical reports say he has lost at least one tooth and has two broken ribs and a broken foot that have not healed properly.

“He will stay in Iraq, but first he has to leave the country to get his health fixed,” said Vergam.

In the run-up to his release, Maitham has a sense of the reception awaiting his brother.

“I feel like Michael Jackson at the moment. Everywhere I go, people are taking pictures of me and asking for my photo. If they do that for me, what will they do for Muntazer himself?”

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Muslims Count Michael Jackson as One of Our Own

July 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Iftekhar Hai, San Mateo County Times

THE UNTIMELY death of Michael Jackson became international news, and it has affected many people, including my children and grandchildren.

I dedicate this column to the philosophical and spiritual turmoil I felt when I heard Jackson died June 25 of an apparent cardiac arrest.

He had an extraordinary charisma, absolute innocence and a childlike charm that never left him.

As his music spread all over the world, bringing him wealth and recognition, he slowly transformed his God-given African texture and features into something else.

I could never explain this part of his life to my children.

He appeared to have a genuine concern for children and wanted to offer them a world that was denied to him as a child because of the abuses he claimed to have suffered.

I was very happy for him last year when he reportedly became a Muslim in Bahrain. He had apparently followed the footsteps of his brother Jermaine Jackson, who converted to Islam 20 years ago and found peace when he gave up drinking, drugs and womanizing. Michael Jackson admired this kind of change in him.

So in search of peace, he lived in Bahrain.

For some time, Jackson thought of making an album in Bahrain to promote spirituality and signed a contract. However, when he returned to America, he was too afraid of the consequences of aligning with the Islamic faith.

Islamophobia is a curse in America. He was advised by close associates and sincere friends not to go public with his new found spirituality.

He remained in his own closet of spirituality that few outside his close circle knew.

American pop culture is not about religion but about a world of fantasy — a flamboyant facade. And he sunk deeper and maintained a lifestyle that increased his dependency on drugs.

He lost all peace of mind and self-control to such an extent that his personal doctor said, “I had to wake him up with medication and had to put him to sleep with the help of medication.”

Michael Jackson is a trivial pursuit of American popular culture.

In my culture we say, “this was a bud that was cut before it could fully blossom.”

Practically, we have powerful people who worship money and power and who are constantly defeating any new ideas that challenge the status quo. Jackson — who was sweet, innocent and talented — fell victim.

I am obsessed with the question, “Why couldn’t Elvis and Michael Jackson remain famous, rich and on a musical pedestal and still live a drug-free and spiritual life?”

Ali Akbar Khan of Berkeley was such a musician, who gained great wealth, fame and popularity and left more than 1,000 students who are spiritually elevated musicians.

Michael Jackson’s death to all of us is one that is sobering. One can climb to fame, acquire great wealth and riches, but death comes knocking without much fanfare.

Nevertheless, Jackson’s very public death is a powerful reminder that no matter how famous, talented or wealthy one is, death comes sometimes sooner than later.

He has now entered a world of extraordinary perception, a world that makes his “Thriller” video seem mundane.

Given Michael’s r eported conversion to Islam last year, Muslims count him as one of our own, and we pray that he can finally find the peace he never found in this world and that he is in a place, God willing, of mercy, forgiveness and solace.

Iftekhar Hai is president of United Muslims of America Interfaith Alliance and a resident of South San Francisco.

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At Peace at Last

July 2, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Hamza Yusuf

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As a little boy, Michael Jackson had an extraordinary charisma — as well as an absolute innocence — that was disarmingly charming. It captivated millions of Americans and eventually people around the world.

As the years went by, his career took strange turns and he slowly turned white, transforming his face eerily into a pale and ghastly masque, perhaps to conceal the pain of alienation from his own self and family. He was also rumored to have unsavory predilections that would never have been suggested if one used the rigorous criteria of Islam before hurling an accusation. Despite the rumors, he appeared to have had a genuine concern for children, wanting to provide them with a world that was denied to him as a child due to the abuses he claimed to have suffered.

I was very happy for him last year when he reportedly became a Muslim. He had apparently followed the footsteps of his dignified and intelligent brother, Jermaine, who converted to Islam 20 years ago and found peace. It seemed befitting that Michael sought refuge from a society that thrives on putting people on pedestals and then knocking them down. He was accused of many terrible things, but was guilty of perhaps being far too sensitive for an extremely cruel world. Such is the fate of many artistic people in our culture of nihilistic art, where the dominant outlet for their talents is in singing hollow pop songs or dancing half-naked in front of ogling onlookers who often leave them as quickly as they clung to them for the next latest sensation.

In the manner of Elvis or the Beatles, Michael is unwittingly both a cause and a symptom of America’s national obsession with celebrity, currently on display in the American Idol mania. Celebrity trumps catastrophe every time. Far too few of us make any attempt to understand why jobs are drying up, why mortgages are collapsing, why we spend half-a-trillion dollars to service the interest on the national debt, why our government’s administration, despite being elected on an anti-war platform, is still committed to two unnecessary and unjust wars waged by the earlier administration, wars that continue to involve civilians casualties on an almost daily basis. Instead, we drown in trivia, especially trivia related to celebrity. And the response to Michael’s death is part of the trivial pursuits of American popular culture. The real news about death in America is that twenty Iraq and Afghan war veterans are committing suicide every day. But that does not make the front page nor is it discussed as seriously as the King of Pop’s cardiac arrest.

Nevertheless, Michael’s very public death notice is a powerful reminder that no matter how famous or talented or wealthy one is, death comes knocking, sometimes sooner than later. Michael has now entered a world of extraordinary perception, a world that makes his “Thriller” video seem mundane. It is a world of angels and demons, and questions in the grave, a world where fame is based upon piety and charity. Given Michael’s reported conversion to Islam last year, Muslims count him as one of our own, and we pray that he can finally find the peace he never found in this world and that he is in a place, God willing, of mercy, forgiveness, and solace.

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