Iraqi journalist Muntazar al-Zaidi, the man who did what millions of people would have liked to have done, was sentenced to three years in prison. His lawyers plan to appeal. After all
Zaidi’s relatives accused the Iraqi government of hypocrisy. They asked why American security contractors and Iraqi politicians had yet to be tried for alleged crimes while Zaidi faced charges.
“Nobody summoned [guards with the U.S. security firm] Blackwater for what they did to Iraqis. [Parliament member] Mohammed Daini, who is suspected of killing dozens of Iraqis, is in Baghdad now. Why are they not able to detain him? Why do they do this with Muntather Zaidi,” demanded his uncle, Haidar abu Karra.
What I like about this story is that it is clear that Iraqis have a national identity, contrary to what many politicians and most of the media have been trying to tell us since we went in and busted up the place.
Reporting from Baghdad — “Long live Iraq,” Muntather Zaidi declared in court today, according to his lawyers, after a judge sentenced the improbable hero of Iraqi nationalists to three years in prison for hurling his shoes at former President George W. Bush.
“This is an American court. Those are their agents,” family members and supporters chanted. “Down, down to Iraqi judiciary. Down, down [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri] Maliki. Zaidi is a hero.”
Sobbing relatives and his lawyers vowed to appeal the ruling, which appeared to tap patriotic fervor in Iraq six years after the U.S.-led invasion. Many lived vicariously through the oft-televised footage of Zaidi’s deed at a Dec. 14 news conference held by Maliki with Bush, in his last visit as president.
“There is an honorable motive behind what he has done,” Saadi said. “This is a shoe [thrown] toward the president of the occupying state and not the tons of rockets and bombs that the Americans hit the Iraqis with!”
People rallied to Zaidi after the verdict. Iraq’s journalist union called on Maliki to pardon the reporter. Two lawmakers with Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr’s nationalist political movement attended the trial in a show of solidarity.
Sort of along those lines, this Los Angeles Times article reports that some Iraqis are deciding not to try to go to the US, after all.
The local news, meanwhile, reports on America’s economic woes, of foreclosed homes being auctioned off for a pittance. Word filters back from Iraqis in the U.S. who are unable to find work, struggling to afford medical care, and devouring savings that once seemed everlasting.
“It used to be that going to America was a dream. No more,” said Raheem, 56, a former teacher and experienced reporter who is one of the local cast of journalists, interpreters, drivers, guards, technicians and general fix-it men and women who have kept The Times running here since the war began.
Now the economic aspect invariably creeps into the conversation. One rumor making the rounds is that things in the United States are so bad, new refugees could be sent to Guam.
“Life here has been difficult. We did not arrive at the perfect time,” one former Times staffer wrote last month from his new home on the icy East Coast.
By the time most applicants had gone through the requisite Department of Homeland Security checks, interviews and medical exams, the U.S. stock market had begun to tank. Iraq’s government, meanwhile, had begun making life here more attractive by giving pay raises to civil servants, many of whom juggle their state jobs with work for American news and nongovernmental organizations.
Even with unemployment in Iraq officially at 18% — far higher than in America — Iraqis are eligible for monthly food rations no matter what their income. In a society where bank loans and credit cards are virtually unheard of, most people own their homes outright. And many Iraqis are flush with cash after years of having little to spend money on.
And Muntazar al-Zaidi is up to 47,162 fans on Facebook today.