Here’s a clear example of how quick generalizations develop. In case you missed it last Sunday, an Iraqi reporter flung his two shoes at U.S. President George Bush, apparently in outrage.
What I find more interesting, is how quickly the idea of “shoes in Arab culture” has grown almost overnight. A quick google search on “Arab, Shoe, Culture” instantly calls up literally hundreds of articles covering the Bush incident and the reference to shoes in Arab culture: (just a few below say the same thing)
Telegraph: Showing the sole of your shoe has long been an insult in Arab culture.
BBC: In Arab culture it’s considered rude even to display the sole of one’s shoe to a fellow human being
Daily Star: Soles of shoes are considered a harsh insult in Arab culture.
Bloomberg: In Arab culture, throwing shoes is a grave show of disrespect.
Which was the saying? If you hear something often enough, you believe it? Or it ceases to have any meaning? Meanwhile, in addition to the above examples of split-second cultural insight, there have been some very interesting “analysis” done on the cultural reference to shoes in the whole affair.
Crikey Clarifier has an interesting piece on the cultural meanings of shoe throwing:
In more strictly cultural terms, the shoe is representative of the foot, the lowest part of the human body. It is a sign of respect in Arab culture (and, many other cultures) that one does not show the sole of one’s foot or shoe to another. To do so can be taken as a sign that you consider that person of being beneath you. This is analogous to the practice in many cultures of leaving your shoes outside before entering a home or religious/sacred place.
Online Journal even has a piece that draws parallels between the shoes thrown at Bush and those thrown at Saddam Hussein a couple of years ago:
What the two events obviously have in common is that in Arab culture, throwing shoes is a grave show of disrespect. For Hussein, it was obviously for his years of murder, torture, bullying, and stealing from the Iraqi people. For Bush, it was obviously for years of murder, torture, bullying and stealing from the Iraqi people.
All this sudden fuss about shoes and Arabs makes me think all of a sudden: is there perhaps a culture that doesn’t consider shoe throwing an insult, or even considers it a positive gesture? While the articles above do not necessarily limit the derogatory implication to Arab culture, the proliferation of shoe throwing “analysis” does focus public attention–perhaps unfairly in this particular case. Up until now, no one would fixate or associate shoe throwing with Arabs, but that may no longer be the case after last Sunday.
KABOBfest echoed these same sentiments in their own analysis of the shoe in Arab culture:
But in all seriousness, I am not trying to downplay the special place the “sole of the shoe” has or doesn’t have in the soul of the Arab or in his or her “mind,” but there are far more nefariously-regarded things throw. As such, KABOBers created a list of top ten plus “Things to throw…Worse than a shoe” (list originally composed by Fayyad-all the uncredited ones are his contributions):
1. A Rock
2. First Born
4. Falafel Sandwich
5. A Zionist
6. A Smart Bomb
7. A bucket of labne (Sunbala)
8. A stack of 3 Million Syrian Lira’s
9. man2ooshe (Emily)
10. Saeb Erekat (Diana)
11. The words “stupid” and “ihmar” (me)
12.Bacon n’ Eggs (Sunbula)
13. A #1 license plate (me)
14. A molotav cocktail (Mohammad)
Lastly, the bigger point that has been missed about these Anthropologists du jour, at the end of the day, getting a shoe thrown at you is undesirable in EVERY culture.
For me shoe throwing is an idea–and how ideas develop are forever fascinating.