Shoe’s next? Flying footwear is the new trend
London -- Eggs, custard pies and rotten tomatoes used to be the missile of choice for pelting a politician, but it seems shoes are quickly catching on as the new weapon of humiliation.
After a battered sports shoe was hurled at Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in Britain last week, some politicians around the world must surely be thinking: am I next?
A 27-year-old German national, Martin Jahnke, who has been charged with the incident, pleaded not guilty to a public order offence on Tuesday.
If found guilty, he could face six months in prison and a 5,000-pound (7,400 dollar, 5,730 euro) fine.
The soles of shoes are considered the ultimate insult in Arab culture, which many in the West may have first noticed when Iraqis pounded the toppled statue of dictator Saddam Hussein with shoes in 2003.
But it took the efforts of Iraqi journalist Muntazer al-Zaidi to give the insult instant worldwide fame on December 14 last year.
Zaidi, 29, threw his shoes at then American president George W. Bush during his farewell visit to Baghdad.
Since then, in Britain, shoes have been chucked at the United States consulate in Edinburgh and at the gates of Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s Downing Street office in various anti-war protests.
But last Monday’s hurling of a shoe at Wen during a speech at Britain’s Cambridge University took the insult well out of the anti-war, anti-American sphere.
Later that week, a shoe was thrown at Israel’s ambassador to Sweden as he gave a speech at Stockholm University – an event which cranked up the ratio to one “shoeing” of a dignitary every third day.
It begs the question of what will happen next if the practice continues to spread.
With the American president and the Chinese premier having already been “shoed,” will other statesmen, and then progressively less interesting people, come under a hail of reeking footwear before the fad gets boring?
Certainly Benny Dagan, Israel’s ambassador to Sweden, is nowhere near the Bush-Wen league.
Moreover, shoes can be expensive items. So, perhaps as the global financial downturn kicks in, the standard of the shoe being hurled will drop. Battered old sneakers that were going in the bin anyway could get a more memorable send-off as flying insult devices.
Or, if it’s meant to be an insult, is it a case of the worse the footwear, the better?
Then there’s the act of actually throwing it.
Neither Bush nor Wen were hit and seemed unruffled by the incidents.
Bush, with a seemingly amused look on his face, ducked both shoes, which were thrown with menace from close quarters. He then shrugged off the incident, joking about the shoe size.
He even compared it to the April 2006 press conference with himself and Chinese President Hu Jintao, which was disrupted by a Falun Gong demonstrator.
Wen initially carried on with his speech despite a whistle sounding, but then simply stood back from the lectern slightly, smiled as he watched a man being escorted away and glanced sharply to his right as the shoe hit the stage.
Wen responded by saying: "Students, this despicable behavior cannot stand in the way of friendship between China and the UK," to applause, before carrying on with the end of his speech.
The obvious next question is: how can security officials prevent further incidents of flying footwear?
After Briton Richard Reid attempted to blow up an airliner in 2001 using explosives in his shoes, it is now commonplace at some airports for passengers to have to take their shoes off for a security scan.
Will all footwear have to be removed and left outside big name events?
Certainly, major league shoe throwing does not guarantee a warm reception.
In Cambridge, the largely ethnic Chinese audience booed, shouting "get out of here" and "shame on you."
Jahnke, a post-graduate pathology student, was charged with a public order offence under section four, which covers fear or provocation of violence.
In Iraq, ashamed fellow journalists helped wrestle Zaidi to the ground and apologized to Bush, feeling he had embarrassed the Iraqi press corps in front of the world’s most important leader.
Zaidi, a journalist for the Al-Baghdadia television faces charges of aggression against a foreign head of state during an official visit. If convicted he faces up to 15 years in jail.
However, he has been offered a bride, a new car and a job on Lebanese television.