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The Shoe and the Nation’s Morale - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Just a few days ago the Supreme Court in Damascus sentenced young Syrian blogger Karim Arbaji to three years in prison for “spreading false news that weakens the nation’s morale,” according to the legal text of the conviction.

Those who managed to read news of this ruling against Arbaji in a newspaper (if it was even published) would have noticed that this coincided with another news event, and in this case this coincidence is significant. The other news event was related to the owner of the world’s most famous shoes; Iraqi journalist Muntazer al Zaidi, who served nine months of his prison sentence after his three-year sentence was commuted to just one year.

It seems that the “nation’s morale” for which Arbaji will serve three years in prison, is the same “morale” that resulted in al Zaidi’s early release from prison. Al Zaidi is the man who “rejuvenated” the nation’s morale and strengthened the public’s determination after he threw his shoes at former US President George W. Bush during a press conference at his last presidential visit to Baghdad. Al Zaidi left prison to be met with song and cheer, and he has received job offers, wedding proposals, and even presents from Arab leaders, all because of his shoes.

Whilst the news of al Zaidi’s shoes was greeted warmly, the other news event was greeted miserably. The nation that was divided over al Zaidi’s shoes became even more divided after al Zaidi began making statements expressing his position on the historic moment in which he vented his anger towards Bush.

This young Iraqi was showered with job offers and invitations for interviews, and it is likely that we will soon see documentaries focusing on the incident and its implications, which have already been looked at over the past few months.

However the aim of this article is not to talk about the al Zaidi incident, his release from prison, or his character. It seems that al Zaidi carried out a certain act when there was no alternative. The absence of an alternative project is condemnation of all those celebrating al Zaidi, especially as they ignore [other] events that demonstrate the weakness of the values they adopt. The mentality that is celebrating al Zaidi is the same one that celebrated the imprisonment of the Syrian blogger and other [Arab] bloggers.

Journalists are being imprisoned everyday without anybody paying any attention to them. The court that reduced al Zaidi’s sentence by reducing his crime to the violation of a few specific laws is being targeted by the Arab mentality, and this is the same mentality that is celebrating al Zaidi.

What is the significance of al Zaidi’s brother announcing that he had been informed that Arab leaders – whose regimes are known for their oppressive practices – will offer generous gifts to his brother as a reward for what he did?

Al Zaidi has revived the same morale as that which the Syrian blogger Karim Arbaji and other Arab bloggers are accused of weakening.

There are many events and actions that we believe have allowed us to enter history; however, it will not take long for us to discover that we are still merely on its sidelines.

Diana Moukalled

Diana Moukalled

Diana Moukalled is a prominent and well-respected TV journalist in the Arab world thanks to her phenomenal show Bil Ayn Al-Mojarada (By The Naked Eye), a series of documentaries on controversial areas and topics which airs on Lebanon's leading local and satelite channel, Future Television. Diana also is a veteran war correspondent, having covered both the wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan, as well as the Israeli "Grapes of Wrath" massacre in southern Lebanon. Ms. Moukalled has gained worldwide recognition and was named one of the most influential women in a special feature that ran in Time Magazine in 2004.

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