Remember the shoe-hurling Iraqi reporter, Muntazer al-Zaidi, who threw his shoes at then U.S. President George W. Bush? Today he was released from prison and received a hero’s welcome from supporters, friends, and family members.
"Today I am free again but my home [Iraq] is still a prison. The occupation invaded our country under the pretext of liberation. It divided brothers and neighbors, it turned our homes into endless funeral tents and our streets into cemeteries,” he told reporters shortly after his release.
He was supposed to be released on Monday but legal red tape delayed his homecoming.
Speaking at a press conference hosted by Al Baghdadiya, the television station he worked for as a reporter, al-Zaidi spoke about torture and abuse by prison guards:
"At the time that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said on television that he could not sleep without being reassured of my fate, I was being tortured in the worst ways; I was beaten with electric cables and iron bars."
Al-Baghdadiya television showed footage of him arriving at the station wrapped in an Iraqi flag and wearing sunglasses. The staff slaughtered at least three sheep in his honor.
Earlier, his eldest brother, Uday, told reporters that medics in Greece were expecting the reporter’s arrival after his visa was recently approved.
“We decided as a family for him to go for physical and psychological treatment in Greece,” Uday said at his brother’s flat in central Baghdad. One of Mr. al-Zaidi’s three brothers will accompany him.
Uday alleged that his brother was given injections by prison staff against his will. He said that doctors told his brother that they were treating him for migraines and stress.
“They injected him with substances but he had no idea what they were,” he said. “Every time he tried to refuse to have the injections, the doctors would say, ‘You don’t know how to do our job better than we do.’”
Al-Zaidi has become a hero to many Arabs. Some have even called him “the father of the shoe revolution.” Fathers from prominent families in several Arab nations have offered al-Zaidi their daughters as brides. A Saudi business man offered him his limousine as a gift. A Libyan group headed by Gaddafi's daughter gave him an award, and poets wrote hundreds of verses about his “heroic” act. Yesterday I tweeted about an interesting series of photographs by BBC, “How shoe throwing became fashionable.”
While throwing his shoes at Bush at a news conference in Baghdad in December 2008, al-Zaidi shouted: "This is a farewell kiss, you dog." Bush managed to duck the flying size 10 shoes, but he will he ever be able to duck from historical embarrassment?