Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Shoe and the Truth

The Shoe/Bush incident is the talk of the town. The Sudanese I spoke to let out an involuntary peal of laughter the first time they saw or heard, but quickly assumed disapproving expressions. The Sudanese, they claim, are quieter, more restrained, particularly in the face of authority. You would never see a Sudanese throw a shoe at anyone, they tell me.

(But when I ask why it is bad or good to throw shoes I get answers like ‘its bad because then the authority will be angry and it will make your life more difficult.’ It seems when life is already of a certain degree of difficulty, morality falls away and all that’s left are practical concerns.)

To me the footage is only meaningful with the sound on. The visual image is just an angry man. But the audio of Bush being cut off in mid-sentence – proclaiming friendship and ‘parting gifts to the Iraqi people’ - with a loud thud lends an ‘emperor’s new clothes’ side to the story. A lone man standing up for truth.

Its one thing for leaders to make foreign policy mistakes or at least to watch major unintended consequences of their actions unravel. But its another thing to pretend its not happening.

The Bush incident was embarrassing to many Iraqis (and Sudanese). But not nearly as embarrassing as Bush’s State of the Middle East Speech a week earlier was to me. I keep telling my Sudanese friends that Americans are more honest than that, more down-to-earth. That you would never see a true American stand before a wounded country and say things not remotely connected to reality.

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