Over the past several years I’ve said a lot of things about President George W. Bush, few of them publishable anywhere except online, and even by blog-standards I’ve, um, pushed the envelope. So maybe I’m the wrong person to be calling for this. But I’m going to anyhow.
Mr. President, please publicly forgive Muntadhar al-Zeidi for throwing shoes at you, and please state, unequivocally, that the Iraqi journalist should not face charges or endure official harassment for his actions. If American values mean anything at all, this is the right thing to do.
According to press reports, al-Zeidi is currently being held by the Iraqi government in an undisclosed location. He faces quite serious, if as yet unspecified charges:
An Iraqi lawyer said Zaidi risked a miminum [sic] of two years in prison if he is prosecuted for insulting a visiting head of state, but could face a 15-year term if he is charged with attempted murder.
In the United States, "insulting a visiting head of state" is not a crime. Nor should it be. Throwing a shoe could certainly be illegal, and hustling a shoe-thrower out of a press conference would certainly be understandable. But pressing charges?
We value vigorous dissent in this country. So much so, that even when objects are publicly hurled at controversial speakers, we do not necessarily prosecute, and if we do, we do not consider the "insult" the specific crime at issue. Property damage as a result of such an incident might be a felony, but never an "insult."
According to al-Zeidi’s brother, the journalist
"might serve two years in prison or pay a fine for insulting a president of foreign country unless Mr. Bush withdrew the case. “If they manage to imprison Muntader, there are millions of him all over Iraq and the Arab world,” Maythem al-Zaidi said.
There are indeed. For political reasons, forgiving this man would be nothing but beneficial. It would show that Americans can be tolerant. It would show that Americans are not vengeful. And it would show that we do not consider "insults" to be a matter for imprisonment: we do not hold one set of beliefs and values for ourselves, and another set for others. But this man, a citizen of Baghdad, makes the case better than I ever could:
Dr. Lutfi Al-Obusi, a 58-year-old political science professor, said: “I disagree with [the shoe-throwing] because that is opposite of our Muslim and Arabic traditions. Because Mr. Bush was here to say bye for Iraq and Iraqis. And in the same time Bush is president of the U.S. and he called for the liberation and freedom. So I hope Mr. Bush will forgive Mr. Muntader al-Zaidi for what happened. And if Mr. Bush will not approve for releasing Mr. Muntader al-Zaidi that will create big problem."
President Bush, you need to avoid this "big problem." Do this one thing, this one small thing, for the sake of peace. Forgive Muntadhar al-Zeidi and call for his immediate release, and call for him to be protected against all forms of official harassment.
Do this one right thing before you leave.