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A cult is forming around the journalist in Iraq and elsewhere.
Published Sep. 16, 2009

A day after a little-known Iraqi television journalist threw his shoes at President Bush in Baghdad, his act of defiance toward the American commander-in-chief continued to resonate throughout Iraq and beyond.

In Sadr City, the sprawling Baghdad suburb that has seen some of the most intensive fighting between insurgents and American soldiers, thousands of marchers called for his release. In Syria, he was being hailed as a hero. In Libya, he was given an award for courage.

Across much of the Arab world, many saw the act as heroic, expressing the deep contempt many feel for the U.S. leader they blame for years of bloodshed, chaos and the suffering of civilians.

As the incident generated continuing TV news coverage, a thinly veiled glee could be discerned in much of the reporting.

Muntadhar al-Zeidi, 28, the correspondent for an independent Iraqi television station who threw his black dress shoes at Bush, remained in Iraqi custody on Monday. He could face charges of insulting a foreign leader and the Iraqi prime minister, who was standing next to Bush.

Conviction carries a sentence of up to two years in prison or a small fine, although it's unlikely he would face the maximum penalty given his newfound cult status.

What made Zeidi's defiance particularly resonant for many in the Arab world was their anger at autocratic Arab leaders whom they have considered slavish followers of Bush's policies in the Middle East.

"Bush wanted to end his bloody term hearing compliments and welcoming words from his collaborators in the Arab and Islamic world. But a shoe from a real Arab man summed up Bush's black history and told the entire world that the Arabs hold their head high," said Abdel-Sattar Qassem, a Palestinian political science professor at the West Bank's An Najah University,

The incident has been a source of embarrassment for the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who, in a statement on Monday, called the shoe throwing a "shameful, savage act" and demanded a public apology from Al-Baghdadia, the independent satellite channel that employs Zeidi.

As of Monday night, no apology from the station was forthcoming. Instead, the network posted an image of Zeidi in the corner of the screen for much of the day.

Telephone callers were invited to phone in their opinions, and the vast majority said they approved of his actions.

The shoe tosser

The Iraqi TV reporter who hurled his shoes at President Bush was kidnapped by militants for three days while on assignment in 2007 and, this year, was detained briefly by the U.S. military during a search of his apartment building. Over time, Muntadhar al-Zeidi, a 28-year-old unmarried Shiite, came to hate both the U.S. military occupation and Iran's interference in Iraq, his family said Monday. He may have also been motivated by what a Al-Baghdadia television colleague described as a boastful, showoff personality. Family members expressed bewilderment over Zeidi's action but also said they were proud he defied the U.S. president who many Iraqis believe has destroyed their country. A geography teacher at a Baghdad elementary school told her students, "All Iraqis should be proud of this Iraqi brave man, Muntadhar. History will remember him forever."