Ahmadinejad Ducks a Shoe Thrower

The Iranian government celebrated the shoe thrower's attack on George Bush. But when Ahmadinejad became the target, it was a different story. Telmah Parsa on the incident that never officially occurred.

A few weeks ago, the host of a popular Iranian children’s program, which broadcasts live on state TV, interviewed a child by phone about her new toy monkey. “I don’t have any special name for him,” the girl sweetly explained. “But my dad calls him Ahmadinejad.”

The program’s producer announced this week that for the first time in seven years, the show would no longer air live. That comes in the wake of another public assault on Iran’s president – a shoe-throwing attack on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during a motorcade procession last week – which has been vigorously denied by the regime after it caused seismic waves on underground websites and then rippled to the rest of the world.

In a country where simply portraying the president in a caricature results in jail time, no major Iranian news outlet has yet dared to cover the incident.

For young Iranians, the shoe toss at Ahmadinejad offers an ironic example of how his regime, built on crude propaganda, has become a victim of its own tactics. The ongoing scandal is also a reminder that new Iranian social media sites are breaking stories for international audiences; there could also have been a shoe tossed at Kim Jong-Il in Pyongyang last week, but we would never know.

A media war is now underway in Iran over an incident that never officially took place.

The seeds were sown as early as last December, when Iran’s state-run TV aired a surreal segment in which people were handed a shoe and asked to imagine a nearby tree as George Bush. “What would you do?” the reporter asked. The shoe-pitchers included one chador-clad woman who – to throw vigorously with both her hands and yet not reveal anything beneath her large black cloth – hurled the shoe while sinking her teeth into the chador.

But it turns out the state’s devout supporters were not the only ones impressed by the “Bushoe” incident – which may now have become a model for expressing political dissent.

The latest incident surfaced last Wednesday, when the blog Uroumieh News (blocked inside Iran and only readable via special software) first reported that a shoe was thrown at Ahmadinejad during a populist visit to address the masses in this Azeri-dominated northwest province. Thousands of young Iranians quickly learned the news via local social-networking sites, like Donbaleh and Balatarin.

Within a few hours, several posts relating to the Uroumieh News story were elevated to the “hot news” section, with new details: Ahmadinejad had been “shoed” during his motorcade’s procession from the airport to the stadium for a major speech.

Apparently Ahmadinejad was standing in his processional car, waving to the crowds from the open sunroof. An old man approached the motorcade to hand a letter to the president, and an official vehicle knocked him down. While the presidential guards let him writhe in pain on the pavement, people came to help him up. When the motorcade’s official ambulance refused to take the injured man to the hospital, the crowd began booing and tussling with the guards. Eventually the guards relented and loaded him onto the ambulance.

Ahmadinejad continued to wave, until the shoe flew toward him as the motorcade passed near a bank. Police quickly stormed the crowd in search of the hurler. Someone else then threw a black hat at Ahmadinejad, prompting his handlers to panic and rush the leader to the stadium.

In a country where simply portraying the president in a caricature results in jail time, no major Iranian news outlet has yet dared to cover the incident. Still, thanks to the blogosphere, the news traveled quickly abroad, generating coverage in the Guardian, United Press, and even Israel’s leading daily Haaretz.

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The president’s spokesperson dismissed the incident as a rumor fabricated by “anti-revolutionaries.” Yet in an amusing coincidence, Ahmadinejad’s executive deputy announced that “due to the fears that these trips might be misconstrued as the president’s stumping for re-election, there will be no more provincial trips until the June presidential election.”

One Iranian blogger explained this Orwellian reaction with a syllogism: “There are political leaders everywhere. All political leaders have dissidents. All dissidents wear shoes. Conclusion: Every political leader who expresses his delight in witnessing another leader get attacked by a shoe, inevitably puts similar ideas in the heads of his own dissidents.”

Other underground news commentators on the web were less thoughtful. Some suggested other objects that might strike other parts of the president’s body. Others wondered if the Basij paramilitary guard would again organize mock shoe-throwing rallies, just as they had after the December assault on Bush. Still another observed: “Ahmadinejad is so crazy that even if the shoe did hit him, he would have kissed it as a gift from God.”

The regime’s crude propaganda – celebrating shoe throwing as a noble form of political dissent – has boomeranged back in its face. Many young Iranians are disgusted by the state’s force-fed demonization of our supposed American ‘enemies.’ At last we have seen the other shoe drop.

Telmah Parsa is a student based in Iran who writes under a pseudonym.