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December 14, 2008

Those Mysterious Easterners, So Different From You and Me
Posted by Patrick at 06:49 PM *

“In Arab cultures, throwing shoes is a grave show of disrespect.” —Bloomberg.com

“The act is an Arab symbol of contempt.” —Christian Science Monitor

“Throwing shoes at somebody is a supreme insult in the Middle East.” —Reuters

“In Iraqi culture, throwing shoes at someone is a sign of contempt.” —Associated Press

It’s a good thing we have a well-informed press corps to explain these difficult nuances of a faraway alien culture, since otherwise we would surely have assumed that the Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at George W. Bush in a spontaneous outburst of fellowship and joy. It’s important to be reminded how fundamentally strange these foreigners are.

Comments on Those Mysterious Easterners, So Different From You and Me:
#1 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2008, 07:28 PM:

Patrick and I just had a brief argument. He came out and told me that at a press conference in Iraq, some journalist had thrown his shoes at George Bush.

"Shoe-throwing is a Middle Eastern thing," I observed.

"Aaaught!" said Patrick. "Every newspaper that's reported this story has felt obliged to explain that it's not a friendly act! As though it would be if a friendly gesture if we did it!"

He and I have now sorted this out. I have agreed that they're dumb for assuming it was necessary to explain that throwing stuff (hard, overhand) is not a friendly gesture.

Patrick has agreed that they should have explained that while throwing stuff* at someone is generally a hostile act, throwing your shoes at them conveys a further message of ritual contempt.

It's good to get these things sorted out.

________________________________
(*Minus the obvious exceptions: flowers, confetti, tickertape, rice if you just got married, or pigments if it's Holi and you're Hindu.)

#2 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2008, 07:31 PM:

Oh, great. Now we're going to have to take off our shoes before attending Presidential events.

#3 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2008, 07:35 PM:

In all seriousness, I think our news media sometimes goes out of its way to make Mysterious Foreigners seem a lot more mysterious than they are. How many stories have we seen that solemnly cite Arab culture's supposed "emphasis on honor" to account for the fact that when our soldiers break down people's front doors and rough up their elderly relatives, Iraqis become enraged and begin to scream about vengeance? Those darn Iraqis, so volatile, so entangled with their "honor culture." As if people in Kentucky wouldn't react exactly the same way.

Very early in the "uprising" phase of the Iraq War, Jim Henley observed that the Iraqis organizing themselves into resistance cells and setting IEDs were the precise cultural equivalent of guys in West Virginia who ride around in pickup trucks with gun racks and the Confederate flag on them. It's a point that's stuck with me.

#4 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2008, 07:55 PM:

Didn't miss by much, either, although it was kind of a smallish room, for a press conference.

(I hope the guy isn't in too much trouble for throwing the shoes.)

#5 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2008, 07:56 PM:

Funny, the first thing I thought of was Kruschev pounding his shoe on the table.

#6 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2008, 08:00 PM:

And here I thought this was just a very clever viral marketing scheme for a new brand of shoes....

#7 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2008, 08:00 PM:

The only way this could have been more insulting would have been if the reporter had had actual dog-shit in his pockets.

#8 ::: Adrian ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2008, 08:01 PM:

I realize that most reporters working today are too young to have been working as reporters in 1960. I'm certainly too young to remember 1960, but that doesn't mean I don't know about Nikita Kruschev banging his shoe on the podium while speaking to the UN. That actually needed some explanation...not so much because those exotic foreigners had such peculiar customs, as because NK was a hothead with minimal respect for custom.

#9 ::: Jeff Hentosz ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2008, 08:02 PM:

You really have to hand it to Bush, though. For a 62-year-old, that boy's got moves.

#10 ::: ginny ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2008, 08:12 PM:

He's had a lot of practice dodging stuff.

#11 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2008, 08:17 PM:

9: Yeah, all that compulsive exercising really paid off right then.

#12 ::: Matthew Daly ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2008, 08:20 PM:

I'm not sure that I agree. Without the cultural note, this guy would strike me as a pathetic assassin instead of someone who is willing to risk a memorably long jail term over an act of civil disobedience.

#13 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2008, 08:21 PM:

Is the journalist who threw the shoes still alive?

#14 ::: SeanH ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2008, 08:31 PM:

Matthew Daly @12: Without the cultural note, this guy would strike me as a pathetic assassin

An assassin? Who tries to assassinate someone with footwear? I mean the kind that doesn't flick blades out the front when you click the heels. Or explode or something. Throwing shoes seems only a step above an egg, hardly grounds for attempted murder.

#15 ::: Another Damned Medievalist ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2008, 08:33 PM:

What would they have said if the guy had mooned him, I wonder?

(although I think it's not necessarily a bad thing to tell people that it's considered extra special contempt ...)

#16 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2008, 08:59 PM:

I can't believe the putz...I mean the POTUS...could dodge that well if he didn't know it was coming. I wonder if he did? As in, the guy was a setup.

Nahhh.

Too bad he didn't end up with a heel print on his forehead.

#17 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2008, 09:00 PM:

I'm wondering about the shoes. Mass-produced commercially available, or something small and local? Because if the former, they'll probably sell a whole lot more pairs if they can get their brand associated with this incident.

And as I understand it, the Arabic world has a thing about shoes. Just sitting with the soles of your shoes pointed at someone is rude. (I think this also applies in some other parts of Asia. Maybe we're the odd ones out for not making a big deal out of it.)

#18 ::: Connie H. ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2008, 09:08 PM:

Stefan #2 -- my reaction, exactly. At least with less than 40 days to go, they won't have long to impose it.

#19 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2008, 09:13 PM:

"Deployment of the ancient and mystic sign of the Moon is reserved for moments of heartfelt intensity by the voluble masses of the inscrutable West."

#20 ::: JChance ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2008, 09:15 PM:

#17: IIRC, it applies in China as well...I've seen a story that W, early in his first term, sent Jiang Zemin a pair of boots with the US and Chinese flags on them, leading to predictable embarrassment.

#21 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2008, 09:18 PM:

I bet you could make a fortune in the Middle East selling shoes with Bush's face printed on the soles.

#22 ::: SeanH ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2008, 09:19 PM:

Most cultures seem to have some association with feet/shoes and uncleanliness, for obvious reasons; see the Korean custom of not wearing shoes indoors. European culture also has this prejudice, but weaker for whatever reason.

The BBC article on this incident is pretty detailed; it clarifies that he threw each shoe separately, the first time shouting the widely-reported "this is a goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people, dog" (I understand 'dog' to be a run-of-the-mill Arabic insult), and with his second shoe shouting "This is for the widows and orphans and all those killed in Iraq". As a possible motivation, a friend notes that the reporter, Muntadar al-Zaidi, was once beaten up by militia.

Depending on your level of paranoia, you may find this quote from the article as unsettling as I do:

"I am trying to reach Muntadar since the incident, but in vain," said Fityan Mohammed. "His phone is switched off."

#23 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2008, 09:22 PM:

Given how big a deal was made out of the "eastern elites," this past election, was I the only one who read the title's reference to Easterners to mean "people from the East Coast of North America, especially New England, the Mid-Atlantic states, and northern Virginia"?

I was? Oh. Err.

Self-centered? Well, quite possibly...

*shuffles away quietly*


(Joking aside, there is othering going on with the "eastern elites" catchphrase and its ilk, just as with the "clarification" which is the subject of this post, and I would like to know how to bridge the gap such catchphrases seem to be highlighting and/or opening.)

#24 ::: Paul Lalonde ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2008, 09:26 PM:

Kevin Riggle at 23: East vs West

#25 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2008, 09:29 PM:

Iraqi journalists need better aim.

#26 ::: Benjamin Craft-Rendon ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2008, 09:41 PM:

As someone who had his pale, blond, Pennsylvania Dutch choir director throw his shoes (leather loafers, natch) at us whenever we were clearly slacking, I have always been bemused by the apparent need to insert context into a clear insult.

As for the reporter in question, not only do you have rumours that he has been detained and beaten (the Angry Arab's blog) but a separate report that "[t]wo other Iraqi journalists were detained after one called the shoe-thrower 'courageous'”.

#27 ::: mjfgates ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2008, 09:48 PM:

#21(Xopher): If somebody in the Middle East starts making shoes with Bush's face on the soles, they could make TWO fortunes: one by selling them at home, and one by exporting to the USA.

#28 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2008, 09:49 PM:

What would happen to someone in the White House press gang, oops, I mean corps (as if they were Marines, feh, I hate that phrase, and I bet the Marines do too) if one of them, totally fed up with Bush's bullsh*t, were to throw his or her shoes at the soon-to-be-ex-President?

Arrest? Incarceration? Immediate termination from job? Enforced rest in the nearest nuthouse?

I totally sympathize with the man who threw the shoes. I want to do it too.

#29 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2008, 09:51 PM:

The example I use isn't West Virginia, but Montana.

This often puts people in a more, I won't say charitable; rather, understading frame of mind.

#30 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2008, 09:54 PM:

For what it's worth, searching the zeitgeist-o-meter I almost immediately found two strangers whose basic reaction to the media coverage was exactly the same as mine.

Just sayin'.

#31 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2008, 09:56 PM:

What amuses me is how long I have despised the man. I recall in the Fan Lounge at ConJose, Ulrika commenting that the problem with the modern military in America was our unwillingness to speak our minds when I said I was glad I'd never be physically close to him because the urge to do physical violence might be hard to resist.

I want to give the Iraqi a medal... I'd really like to find a way to award him a Presidential Freedom Medal.

#32 ::: SeanH ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2008, 10:16 PM:

Lizzy L @28: Well, I'd assume arrest and incarceration. Much as I appreciate civil disobedience and this act of it in particular, it is still assault. Possibly some special statute covers assaulting the President.

#33 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2008, 10:18 PM:

#26 above led me to the Angry Arab's blog, who had Patrick's reaction to the media's portrayal almost two years ago.

But this leads me to wonder: this is a blog filled with SF writers, editors and fans. Surely we can *imagine* a human culture in which throwing shoes was in the category of flowers, confetti & tickertape? (Preferably a culture in which shoes tended to be soft cloth (or the heads extra hard.)) C'mon, someone should write it...

#34 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2008, 10:20 PM:

#32: I have a vague memory of some such statue. But I wonder how far it goes. Is spitting on the President an assault? (Of course, with *this* President driving a car with his opponent's bumper sticker can get you evicted from a rally as a security risk, so the standards are already rather low...)

#35 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2008, 10:32 PM:

My read is more like Teresa's: You would have to be a mouth-breathing moron to not view "I am throwing my shoes at you" as an act of hostility, and you're right that pretty much every aspect of coverage of our war on Iraq has been saturated with "study shows Iraqis feel pain, mourn loss of dead", as the Onion put it.

But it's worth separately noting that showing the sole of the shoe has an aspect of ritualized contempt in Iraq (or perhaps in Arabia), and that's how the immediate news coverage I heard (NPR, WCBS/CBS radio) covered it.

#36 ::: SeanH ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2008, 10:34 PM:

#34: I'm sure I remember spitting being assault in the UK. It's certainly a crime, and assault seems like the most obvious one. Sounds like one of those common-law things.

#37 ::: Fiona ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2008, 10:38 PM:

Stephen Frug @ 33,
saliva is a body fluid, and can be classified as a biohazard.

I would strongly suggest not spitting on Bush--you could be charged with use of bioterrorist agents.

I'm not joking.

#38 ::: Ian Mason ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2008, 10:47 PM:

#34: "I have a vague memory of some such statue. But I wonder how far it goes."

About as far as the American border. Remember, this was in Iraq; they have their own laws there.

#39 ::: Jim Lund ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2008, 10:48 PM:

He has spoken Bush's epitaph:

"This is a goodbye kiss, you dog," the journalist, Muntathar al Zaidi, 29, shouted.

Or at least, the last display case in the museum history of the US's invasion and occupation of Iraq under President Bush.

#40 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2008, 10:49 PM:

I liked the way the CNN voice-over announcer kind of swallowed a giggle after the first time through the video.

As to moves: I've heard it described as "cat-like" but come on. The guy's throwing a shoe from fifteen feet away and not actually trying to hit him; anybody could duck that easily. My dog would grab that shoe out of the air from a standing start; if Bush had caught a shoe, I'd call it moves.

Bush is a wimp.

I wonder if there's any way to send that guy some kind of thank-you card. Perhaps, at this point, a get-well-soon card -- but either way, it would be a nice gesture to let him know how much some of us liked his gesture.

#41 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2008, 10:51 PM:

Ian @38 - remember, a lot of the laws were written by Paul Bremer. Maybe they do have a special statute covering attempted violence against American officials.

#42 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2008, 10:56 PM:

Ben, #26: Hi! Fancy meeting you here!

#43 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2008, 11:04 PM:

The part that stands out to me is the particularly brainless comment about the shoes being a 'size 10'. Not exactly the sort of witty repartee one might have hoped for -- nor a bit of brilliant statesmanship.

#44 ::: steve muhlberger ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2008, 11:12 PM:

I still think that throwing shoes is a bigger insult among Arabs than in the USA.

#45 ::: steve muhlberger ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2008, 11:17 PM:

PS: Read this and tell me I'm wrong:

http://www.uruknet.info/?p=m49585&hd=&size=1&l=e

Or tell me the American equivalents.

#46 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 12:23 AM:

“The act is an Arab symbol of contempt.”

I shoerely can say it's not the sole interpretation.

#47 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 01:00 AM:

JChance @ 20: "IIRC, it applies in China as well...I've seen a story that W, early in his first term, sent Jiang Zemin a pair of boots with the US and Chinese flags on them, leading to predictable embarrassment."

I'm pretty sure there's no huge shoe taboo in China. Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and maybe Vietnam on the other hand, have a very strong foot aversion. Conversely, the head is sacred and touching someone else's head is a major no-no. Thus the widely-known "Nobody's head can be higher than the king's" rule.

Stephen Frug @ 33: "Surely we can *imagine* a human culture in which throwing shoes was in the category of flowers, confetti & tickertape? (Preferably a culture in which shoes tended to be soft cloth (or the heads extra hard.)) C'mon, someone should write it..."

Neal's ankles were throbbing and he was pretty sure there was a blister forming on his left heel. The ranks and ranks of aliens gathered in the field were utterly silent.

"Ow," he whispered to Sandy.

"Shut up and keep waving," she hissed back through her manic smile. Sweat beaded her brow, and Neal was once again glad that the Entreri had to rely on reference books to decode human expressions.

"Okay, on the count of three, march." The order came from behind the two, and Neal half-turned to catch a glimpse of the agonized Ambassador behind them. A quiet groan swept through the delegation, and their waving took on a crazed intensity.

"...three, march!"

Neal gritted his teeth--under the smile--and heaved his left foot up, forward, and down. The heavy clog clanked down like, well, like twenty pounds of gold. He whimpered, and braced himself to raise his right foot.

"Good Christ." He heard Sandy mutter as she nearly toppled into him. Her hand clutched at his arm. "Remind me again why I'm wearing heels?"

"The Entreri are quite taken by the idea of sexual dismorphia. They find it charming. Also, it helps them keep their pronouns straight."

Neal's response was greeted with a furious glare. This was quite disturbing, coming as it was above a megawatt, cherry-red grin.

"Come on people, only seventeen more steps. Almost there!" The Ambassador's facade of confidence was undone by the way his voice cracked on the word "seventeen."

Seventeen more steps, though Neal. Seventeen more steps and these three kilometers of hell will be over.

It had seem like a good idea at the time. The protocol officer had explained to them the importance of the farewell ritual, and they had all seen the sartorial emphasis the Entreri placed on shoes, their only form of dress. The mock-ups the protocol officer had brought seemed comfortable enough.

It wasn't until the second half-kilometer that the inevitable downsides of solid gold footwear became undeniably apparent. One by one, they had begun to limp, hobble and strain. By the final kilometer, half the diplomatic staff was only on their feet because of the support of the other half and the sheer terror of botching an interstellar contact.

"Oh my God," Sandy breathed, fingers digging into Neal's arm. "I never thought we'd make it." Before them beckoned the inviting shade and privacy of the ship. Neal yearned to leap in and collapse, but not yet. First, they had to complete the final part of the ritual.

"Throwing back one's shoes represents the desire to return, and, in later times, became a form of farewell gift," had explained the protocol officer. "...thus the solid gold studded with precious gems." He had smiled encouragingly. "We want to leave a good impression, don't we?"

Neal had only begun to unfasten his first clog when he saw Sandy's platform heels plummeting down at the crowd below.

"I'll show you a good impression," she muttered as she watched one glitterly heel strike an Entreri dead on. The impact bent the rubbery Entreri almost inside out before it bounded back to its original shape. Its arm-equivalents began to writhe in what the humans had learned to recognize as joy.

"Don't be afraid to hit the Entreri," the protocol officer had said. "In fact, try to hit them. Being struck is considered fantastically good luck."

Neal watched his last clog fall toward the crowd. A clean miss.

He turned towards Sandy.

"Intersteller diplomacy is weird," he said.

#48 ::: meredith ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 01:01 AM:

Well, at least the shoe-thrower's time in Gitmo will be short, as Obama intends to close it as soon as he can.

#49 ::: wizardly ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 01:34 AM:

Express your solidarity. Send a shoe to the White House.

#50 ::: Zeborah ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 01:47 AM:

For me, while it's obvious that throwing stuff expresses a certain displeasure with one's target, it is interesting to know why the thrower chose shoes as his object, rather than something cheaper and more (aerodynamic|solid|sticky|stinky).

#51 ::: Lisa Padol ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 02:03 AM:

#22, Most cultures seem to have some association with feet/shoes and uncleanliness, for obvious reasons: Okay, I'll bite. What are the "obvious reasons"?

#52 ::: Pradeep ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 02:05 AM:

You guys are totally missing the point.

Sure it isn't a sign of affection in any culture to throw shoes, but in middle eastern (and asian) cultures, shoes are what you resort to when all else has failed.

The shame of it is the point.
The correct reaction from Bush would have been to either a) get angry and say "I didn't deserve that" or b) commit Hara Kiri.
(And b. is much more likely than a.)

Bush has been shamed.
You need to understand that this is how people in the east will see it.

#53 ::: james henry ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 02:08 AM:

Yeah, I remember being a bit puzzled at all those guys running up to the statue of Saddam to slap with their flip-flops. It was interesting to know it was the soles of their sandals particularly that implied such hatred.

I dunno, I get annoyed at the American media for not explaining enough of the world to its viewers, so even if this is in a 'those crazy Furriners' way, I think it's good to see that people on the other side of the world maybe have other customs and traditions.

On an unrelated note, so the bloke that threw the shoe was a journalist then? I like the idea of him going in to the press conference thinking "Be professional, this is a big job for you, don't throw a shoe, don't throw a shoe, don't throw a- ARGH BUSH YOU DOG!'

#54 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 02:14 AM:

In Janet Kagan's HellSpark, the Janisetti culture considers feet to be as taboo in public as we consider genitalia. Ordinary shoes aren't enough to wear, either; knee-high boots are required for decency. Janisetti cusswords include things like, "Toes!" and, "Barefoot!" I can barely imagine what levels of nastiness throwing a shoe might signify in that culture.

#55 ::: SeanH ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 02:33 AM:

#51: Just that the ground is dirty and feet are on the ground. A lot of East Asian cultures (Korea is the only one I have direct experience of) traditionally eat and sleep on or very near the floor, hence never wearing your shoes indoors because the floor needs to be kept clean, and generally not having bare feet. I'm no sociopsychoanalyst*, but an association between feet and uncleanliness seems to make a lot of sense across cultures.

*nor psychohistorian, metaphysico-theologo-cosmolonigologist...

#56 ::: Chaos ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 02:41 AM:

#54, I don't know that setting - but surely it could be the equivalent of throwing your underwear at the target.

That tends not to be a message of contempt.

#57 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 02:47 AM:

heresiarch @ 47

Very nice. I'd give a pretty to see the rest of the story.

I would also love to hear what when on between Bush' Chief of Security and the guards who were on duty at that press conference.

"And you call yourself Secret Service agents? The guy got off two shoes before your guns even cleared your holsters! Next time I want to see a 9 mm hole in the toes of that first shoe, or you'll spend the rest of your careers guarding the men's room in the Smithsonian!"

#58 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 02:55 AM:

Isn't there an only-mildly-rare Euro-American custom of throwing shoes at the married couple departing for their honeymoon? Which, given the other things we do then, would make it very weakly insulting.

#59 ::: Evan ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 02:55 AM:

If I lived close enough to DC to be at the inauguration next month, I'd take along a sign that said "This is a goodbye kiss, you dog."

As it is, maybe I'll just print up a bumper sticker.

#60 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 02:58 AM:

meredith #48: Well, at least the shoe-thrower's time in Gitmo will be short, as Obama intends to close it as soon as he can.

He may not make it to Gitmo: Iraqi authorities apparently still have him; the news service he works for is calling for his release. A lot of web sites are, understandably, bouncing off the walls over this incident.

#61 ::: Betty ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 03:29 AM:

IANAME, but my understanding is that it's not that shoes are filthy, but that feet are filthy, but you can't throw your foot. Barring zombification.

#62 ::: Zander ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 04:20 AM:

As another Bush so movingly sang:

"I take my shoes off
And throw them at the Prez
And I'll be
Two steps in America..."

#63 ::: Bob Rossney ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 04:39 AM:

Patrick @ #3: "Those darn Iraqis, so volatile, so entangled with their 'honor culture.' As if people in Kentucky wouldn't react exactly the same way."

It's complicated. Yes, they'd react pretty much the same way in the specific moment being photographed or taped. But over time the reaction would take very different forms. Not because Iraq has an "honor culture" per se, but because the family and social structures in Iraq function in ways that American ones do not. Honor's part of the signaling system of their social networks. And our social networks do not function like theirs, for good and ill. Honor's important to us, but dishonors done to Americans generally don't propagate very far (in the absence of media coverage, which to a first approximation is what we have in place of extended social networks).

It's difficult even for people who know what they're talking about to describe the differentness of other cultures without exoticizing them. But a lot of those differences are not subtle, and they're important.

You can't understand the act of throwing shoes at the President of the US if you look at it from purely an American perspective. Sure, obviously the man throwing the shoes is angry. But we know he was angry because he was yelling, too. Is it emphasizing the other-ness of the Arab to translate his words into English? Of course not. Well, it's not exoticizing him to translate his non-verbal communication either.

(A typical American wouldn't insult the President by calling him a dog, either. We didn't use dogs on the prisoners in Abu Ghraib by accident. We knew what we were doing.)

I'm not saying that TV and newspaper journalists don't do a clownish job of this. Ethnography is out of their pay grade. (It's in an even lower one than journalism.) My feeling about this particular bit is that well, at least they bothered to ask someone "why shoes?"

#64 ::: David S. ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 05:28 AM:

We Westerners are down with shoe symbolism - years ago my then wife threw one of her shoes at me, I certainly took it as "message of ritual contempt"!

I was in more danger than Bush too - her shoe had a stiletto heel, if that sucker had hit me I'd be sporting a glass eye today. Learning to duck was a basic survival skill both I, and I'm sure her other three husbands too, had to master. In fact, I'll bet I know who George learnt those moves from...

#65 ::: heresiarch see surreal spam ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 05:52 AM:

65 is a work of art.

#66 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 06:07 AM:

Bruce Cohen @ 57: Thanks! However, that's the story--there isn't any more.

Bob Russney @ 63: "But over time the reaction would take very different forms."

Really? The Kentuckian would learn about the foreign invaders' culture and understand that, while all of his and his family's interactions with them were purely negative, really they were good sorts with the best of intentions? I guess you're right--it's not like there are any well-known examples of Kentuckians prosecuting "blood feuds" or anything crazy like that.

#67 ::: Chris W. sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 06:09 AM:

#65 Above

Here we see the exotic spambot in it's natural environment. It's important to note that kitty cats have an important symbolic meaning in spambot culture, as they revere the mighty ceiling cat and fear his foe, basement cat.

#68 ::: bellatrys ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 06:30 AM:

(A typical American wouldn't insult the President by calling him a dog, either.

Au contraire--

S.O.B.

Q.E.D.

#69 ::: Summer Storms ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 06:54 AM:

Chris @ 68: Actually, my cats quite willingly eat Spam. Make of that what you will.

#70 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 07:18 AM:

Unfortunately, this came too late to bring W to heel.

#71 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 07:36 AM:

Fragano @ 71... Cue in Elvis Presley's "Return to Sandal".

#72 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 07:41 AM:

Serge #72: None of this would have happened in the old days, when the British relied on experienced colonial administrators such as Sir Hugh Foot.

#73 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 07:45 AM:

#44 Steve Muhlberger, #52 Pradeep, #63 Bob Rossney, others making similar points --

You're all correct. To the extent that we're having an argument, it's becoming something of a classic "lumper/splitter" back-and-forth. You're saying that it's important that the press remind Americans of this existence of cultural difference. I'm saying that it's important that we remember that some things are maybe not so exotic after all. These points aren't actually in conflict.

Kevin Maroney, #35: "Arabia" =/= "the Arab world".

heresiarch, #47: FTW!

#74 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 08:00 AM:

Fragano @ 73... Did his speechs tend to be laced with diplomacy?

#75 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 08:10 AM:

May, 2003: Saddam's felled statue is beaten with shoes by a mob as it is dragged away. On live TV.

2005: Iraqi PM Iyad "Al-Ba'athi" Allawi is chased out of a mosque in Najaf by a mob, which pelts him with...shoes. On live TV.

2008: Bush is pelted with shoes. On TV...

I'm fairly sure Chalabi got shoe'd at some point as well.

#76 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 08:12 AM:

Teresa @1: I guess what might need explaing is that it is not something the journalist came up with on the spot, but part of a language -- that the reason he threw his shoes and not, say, a newspaper, wasn't aerodynamics.

Sean H. @22: European culture also has this prejudice, but weaker for whatever reason.

Just a guess: because sitting or sleeping on the floor is not only uncommon in Europe, but has been so for a long time? If you put your shoes (or socked feet) on a seat, than you're in trouble...

#77 ::: ADM ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 08:13 AM:

Patrick @#19 -- LOL

Meredith @#48 -- Well, that's not too surprising -- I heard Condi Rice in an interview last week, and she was adamant that Bush had wanted to close Gitmo for years, but too many things were working against it.

On a totally serious note, this made me realise I'm probably a lot more patriotic than I think. Or something. Not because I'm insulted by the reporter, but because the fact that things have come to this, and that no one seems shocked or outraged. I remember a time when the American President seemed generally to be seen with at least the respect due* the office. Bush really has managed to destroy that.


*depending, of course, on whether you think offices come with a certain expected level of treatment. I do, to some extent.

#78 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 08:31 AM:

"Captain, I sense hostility."

"Thank you for that insight, counsellor."

#79 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 09:00 AM:

If I knew that throwing shoes was a sign of disrespect I would have taken it up much longer ago!

But seriously, the president was well composed. Nice move on the first one -second shoe he hardly flinched! Jedi composure!

#80 ::: Columbina ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 10:07 AM:

The comments thread at Juan Cole's writeup of the incident says that the reporter has been badly beaten and imprisoned. I can't read the al-Baghdadia site myself, seeing as how it's in Arabic, but apparently they have a petition there for his release.

#81 ::: Columbina ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 10:10 AM:

Beg pardon. al-Baghdadia is asking for his release, but the petition is apparently not their doing.

#82 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 10:55 AM:

#47: Bravo, Heresiarch! Hats off! -- or should I say, shoes off!

#37: For the sake of any secret service agents reading, I should stress that I have no intention of nor interest in spitting on Bush; it was a purely theoretical question.

#38: Again theoretical. That said, this is in the Green Zone: isn't that the U.S. Embassy? Which would make it US soil from a legal standpoint...

#83 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 10:56 AM:

"This is a good-bye kiss, you dog" may well be the defining moment of his Presidency.

Wizardly @49 - my God. That is ... that is ... brilliant.

#85 ::: Michael Adelstein ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 11:19 AM:

To think, I was just sitting here in my office thinking that the shoes were the latest weapon of mass destruction.....

#86 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 11:19 AM:

Aaand here's me wondering how I managed to avoid closing that tag. Sorry.

#87 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 11:34 AM:

[cranky]I have a pair of Chinese-made boots which I swear was intended as a return insult to the west: in line with a NYT story I once read about product specialization in China's industrial interior, apparently the right and left boots were made in different factories, with slightly different lasts and sole molds.

I haven't worn them more than thrice; perhaps I'll save them until there's a travelling politician I can throw them at. [/cranky]

And the NPR top-of-the-hour report says the reporter is being hailed as a hero (although still in custody and being investigated for drugs and/or alcohol). I'm sure Molly Ivins is writing a celestial blog about the incident, too. Too bad we can't read what she'd say about it in this dimension.

#88 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 11:39 AM:

Clew @ 58: I think the custom you are referring to is that of tying old shoes and/or other clanky objects (tin cans are common) to the back end of the "getaway" vehicle at a wedding, so that the bride and groom make a lot of noise as they drive off. Sort of a portable shivaree? It seems to have fallen into disuse, so far as I can tell, but I don't think it ever signified anything but raucous celebration (possibly with sexual connotations, though if so, I've no idea where the tin cans fit in).

#89 ::: Ailbhe ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 11:57 AM:

In "When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit" by Judith Kerr, Swiss boys throw gravel and shoes at Anna to show that they love her. Anna, mark you, is not impressed.

Just as a counterexample.

#90 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 12:12 PM:

Fragano @#71, Serge @#72, etc:

As a Making Light discussion grows longer, the probability of a pun approaches one.

#91 ::: mpe ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 12:23 PM:

clew @58, Mary Frances @89

When Anne of Green Gables got married, "the twins were ready with rice and old shoes, in the throwing of which Charlotta the Fourth and Mr Harrison bore a valiant part." (L.M. Montgomery, Anne's House of Dreams)

The offhand reference suggests to me that the custom was common in late 19th/early 20th century Canada, at least.

(Yes, I have all the books and practically know them by heart. Doesn't everyone?)

#92 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 12:30 PM:

Mary @91: I think in this case the probability of the pun has not merely approached the thread, but actually arrived.

#93 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 12:33 PM:

mpe @ 93: Really? Well, I suppose shoes aren't the weirdest thing I've ever heard of being thrown at a wedding, at that. "Never mind."

#94 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 12:36 PM:

Mary Dell @ 91... I couldn't remain silent at my President being treated in a manner so shoddy.

#95 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 12:44 PM:

I haven't commented for fear I'd be booted. It's a lasting fear, as you see, but I've buckled down and contributed to the discussion, now that I've seen the Teva clip.

Does this mean that Bush is now labeled a flip-flop? Or would that be insole-nt of me?

#96 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 12:49 PM:

W is a heel.

#97 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 01:08 PM:

I think the problem with the reportage is not that there shouldn't be some emphasis that throwing a shoe has a different insulting context in a different culture (I suspect the majority here are vociferously agreeing on this), but that "throwing shoes at someone is a sign of contempt" doesn't actually note the cultural differences and context AT ALL. It's a vaguish nod towards it, but it's beyond hamhanded and well into useless as cultural translation goes, because, as Patrick notes, it's a sign of contempt almost anywhere (Apparantly outside some weddings).

#98 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 01:14 PM:

I'm not surprised that the Iraqi government is toeing the line and has brought the shoe-thrower to heel. Fortunately for him he didn't sock Bush, or they'd have him laced up in some prison while they did painful things to his tongue.

#99 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 01:22 PM:

Serge @#95: You're not solely responsible.

#100 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 01:27 PM:

Mary Dell @ 100... Maybe not, but I initiated the sabotage.

#101 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 01:33 PM:

The last time shoes got this much ink it was when a bunch of them were floating around in the Pacific.

Does this guy get famous like Richard what's-his-name who tried to set off a bomb with his matches, thereby condemning travelers to a so-far never-ending shoe-removal process?

#102 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 01:41 PM:

Serge #75: Indubitably, even when he was down on his uppers.

#103 ::: Tom ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 01:44 PM:

Patrick: "I'm saying that it's important that we remember that some things are maybe not so exotic after all. These points aren't actually in conflict."

How so? "Throwing shoes at somebody is a supreme insult in the Middle East." that sentence doesn't look like excoticization to me. It's stating a fact. It's not CNN's responsibility to educate us on the nuance of shoe throwing and why it carries different weight in multiple cultures. I'm with you all the way: American media is full of excoticization, but this is not an instance.

#104 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 01:49 PM:

I just read a thread discussing this on an LJ community, in which the majority of people seemed to wonder "Who throws shoes?" -- as if it was completely ridiculous and unheard of. The connotation, to them, seemed more like weakness, impotence, over-emotionality.

So maybe the "Throwing shoes is a sign of contempt" message actually is needed.

#105 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 01:56 PM:

I suppose Bush beat feet out of there after?

#106 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 02:12 PM:

Pradeep, #52: Thank you for explicitly stating some of the nuances I might otherwise not have gotten. That shoe-throwing is a "statement of last resort" is a good thing to know.

Bruce, #57: While I wouldn't be at all surprised by that kind of hair-trigger reaction in this Administration, I'm quite glad the Secret Service didn't just pull guns and start blazing away. The guy wasn't close enough to Bush to do serious damage (getting hit by a shoe isn't lethal), and responding with bullets would have guaranteed innocent people being hurt, maybe killed.

Patrick, #74: Is there any gesture in American culture which you would consider to have the same connotations as shoe-throwing in the Middle East? If there is, then that is what the news coverage should be talking about, to get the point across of what was actually being expressed.

#107 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 02:30 PM:

The only Deep Thought that springs to mind is...
In yo' FACE, Dubya!
;-)

#108 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 02:31 PM:

Newsday's sidebar struck a good balance I think. It starts off: "Hurling a shoe at someone usually isn't a sign of respect, but the act carries a particularly significant blow in Arabic and Islamic culture." (Note: the paper article had the headline 'Quite disrespectful', unlike the online version.)

#109 ::: Kelly McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 02:38 PM:

I think that the fact that is being reported as "contempt" rather than "rage" or "insanity" because of the cultural connotations is actually a very important piece of reporting. The US media has a long history of spinning away the importance of the latter two by conflating them and portraying the person who feels those things about George Bush as unhinged. Contempt, on the other hand, does not play well into the Bush derangement frame that the Republicans and their media allies have built over the last eight years. I'm frankly delighted that the media has latched onto contempt. This is one of those places where subtle shading of words matter enormously in terms of the long term impact of the image. Contempt belittles Bush. Rage or madness would be used to belittle the thrower of the shoe.

#110 ::: Nangleator ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 02:45 PM:

I'm really surprised at how the SS were loafing. They need better cross trainers, and should get back to Asics.

I'd have leaped like a Puma, if I weren't so Converse to violence.

#111 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 03:02 PM:

In Russia, shoe throws you!

#112 ::: Amal El-Mohtar ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 03:10 PM:

Dear Patrick,

Bless you.

Thanks,

Amal

#113 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 03:14 PM:

Kip @112:
In Russia, shoe throws you!

True dat. Indeed, according to secret Kremlin files, Khrushchev was actually trying to restrain his shoe. It wanted to jump at Sumulong and do him violence. After deftly catching it as it was about to leap, he managed to subdue it with several sharp blows on his desk.

A weaker or slower man might have been carried away.

#114 ::: Bob Rossney ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 03:20 PM:

heresiarch @ 67: "Really? The Kentuckian would learn about the foreign invaders' culture and understand that, while all of his and his family's interactions with them were purely negative, really they were good sorts with the best of intentions?"

Did I suggest anything of the kind? Why, no, I did not. In fact, I didn't even suggest something as bizarre as, say, implying equivalence between social networks in 18th-century and 21st-century Kentucky.

One of the reasons we still remember the Hatfields and the McCoys is because by the general standards of American culture it was pretty non-normative behavior. When journalists mention it in passing, it's to use exactly the same kind of offhand exoticization that Patrick's complaining about: weird behavior by eccentric backwoodsmen who are Not Like Us. Which is pretty annoying to 21st-century urban Kentuckians.

We're at the beginning of what is already as profound a cultural conflict as the West has ever experienced. The demographic pressures that the Arab world is exerting on Europe are changing the terms of the fractious relationship between the two spheres, on a scale without precedent in the last ten centuries. (The American involvement in this conflict is really a sideshow, though we do have a fantastic capacity to make things All About Us.)

I think Patrick's perspective, one of resisting exoticization and emphasizing commonality, is the perspective of someone who doesn't have any skin in the game - which is to say, an American perspective. It's a perspective that was common in the Netherlands in the 1970s, and that has been melting away as the Dutch experience large-scale in-migrations of peoples who are not especially interested in being Dutch. This is happening all across Europe, it's happening on a very large scale, and the problems that are emerging are not being palliated by the idea that we're all jes folks.

I think that idea's essential, mind you. We're not going to get anywhere by disregarding or denying it. But we're also not going to get anywhere by pretending there's not an equally true idea that contradicts it.

#115 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 03:24 PM:

Given that some of the things the shoe-thrower was protesting were the crippling of the Iraqi industrial base, and the killing of so many Iraqi civilians, he could also have shouted, "Shoes for industry! Shoes for the dead!"

#116 ::: A.J. ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 03:27 PM:

Lee @ 107: "I'm quite glad the Secret Service didn't just pull guns and start blazing away."

IIRC, the Secret Service has a pretty good record of capturing would-be assassins uninjured. I wonder if this is not good strategy: you want to be able to ask questions.

#117 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 03:42 PM:

I understand the guy was beaten nearly senseless at the scene, before being dragged away to gods-know-what-fate.

#118 ::: Gwen ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 04:00 PM:

Mary @ 91: As a Making Light discussion grows longer, the probability of a pun approaches one.

In ascending order of requisite thread-length, replace "pun" with "reference to an old movie/Twilight Zone episode/SF novel/SF short story," "sonnet/on-topic poetry in the form of a famous poem," and "dinosaur sodomy joke," and the statement is equally true, in my experience.

Does Making Light have a bingo card yet?

#119 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 04:05 PM:

#119
Only for playing troll bingo, AFAIK.

#120 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 04:14 PM:

Bob @115:

You mention Europe and, in particular, the Netherlands.

Out of curiosity, do you/have you:
- Lived in Europe?
- Speak a European language apart from English?
- Speak Dutch, or read it well enough to read a paper?
- Regularly read the European press?

You see, I live in Europe, indeed in the Netherlands. I don't yet speak Dutch well enough to follow the national discourse, but I do work with Dutch people, and pretty much all of popular culture and politics gets batted back and forth across the lunch table. And frankly, this problem is not of the nature and proportion you seem to think it is.

The Netherlands has had difficulty with immigrants since the Romans. Like many genetically homogenous countries, their history includes a lot of grappling with notions of identity. Being Dutch, they are wrestling with these ideas in public, instead of muttering about them in private like the British would. That doesn't make those problems any more significant; it just makes them more visible*.

The idea of an inevitable cultural clash is such a commonplace among a set of the American commentariat that it's almost impossible to tackle. (It's not new, either; remember when Germany was held to be on the verge of explosion from all the Turkish guest workers?) But from here on the ground, it requires a drastic misreading of the Dutch to make it plausible—such a provincial and thorough misreading that I can't credit anything the same commenters then say about Islam.

Of course, the Dutch could be in blind ignorance about their own problems, and waiting for someone better placed to tell them that they are on an inevitable collision course with Teh Izlam. But, you know, I think that they have a pretty nuanced view of the problems within their culture. They also seem to be smart enough to react to changing circumstances. To top it off, they do have a vivid memory of how bad things can get if problems are not addressed early and with clarity.

I believe that this "clash of cultures" is not an inevitability, or even a probability. I believe it well enough to live here and raise my children here. In other words, I have skin in this game, and I don't buy it.

-----
* I've mentioned this before in other contexts. Because the Dutch in particular discuss awkward matters openly, many people trawl the Dutch discourse for evidence to support their views of the world. The conservative notion of Dhimmitude as popularized by Ron Dreher and his ilk leans heavily on this technique, for instance.

Those of us in British-derived cultures assume that what a people admits is the merest fraction of the totality of what really goes on (thus, for instance, the assumption that if Amsterdam has public prostitution, it must have other, darker secrets, too nefarious to mention but as common as, say, American prostitution). That's not the way it works here; what happens get discussed. The Dutch find our suspicions of darker depths weird and slightly unnerving.

#121 ::: Mike ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 04:15 PM:

We're only shoes-made-of-tomatoes-and-whole-eggs-away from uniting Christians and Muslims in a common symbol of contempt.

#122 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 04:15 PM:

Gwen @ 119... replace "pun" with "reference to an old movie/Twilight Zone episode/SF novel/SF short story,"

Let's not forget references to Star Trek's Evil Universe.

#123 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 04:22 PM:

Lee @ 107: That's an interesting question, what the equivalent gesture would be in America. My first thought is that spitting in someone's face is pretty much the ultimate gesture of contempt and insult here. This seems to be about equivalent to telling Bush off and then spitting in his face.

#124 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 04:46 PM:

hesiarch at 47, ooooo! shiny!!

and about the puns, y'alls are just vamping for the non-punticipants.

#125 ::: claire ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 05:06 PM:

My favorite news reporting explained with great, sinister emphasis that the reporter had shouted something in Arabic before throwing the shoe.

What other language he was supposed to have used remained unclear.

#126 ::: Sam Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 05:22 PM:

Clearly the ultimate symbol of cross-cultural contempt would be a pie-inna-face. With choux pastry.

#127 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 05:28 PM:

Sam Kelly #127: You have won one internet.

#128 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 06:06 PM:

Bob Rossney: The demographic pressures that the Arab world is exerting on Europe are changing the terms of the fractious relationship between the two spheres, on a scale without precedent in the last ten centuries.

Are you aware how much precedence for pretty much everything there has been since 1008?

#129 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 06:56 PM:

Zander @62: You are hereby awarded One (1) Win, which you may exchange for an Internet at the prize counter.

abi & Kip: In Russia, shoe throws you!

True dat. Indeed, according to secret Kremlin files, Khrushchev was actually trying to restrain his shoe. It wanted to jump at Sumulong and do him violence. After deftly catching it as it was about to leap, he managed to subdue it with several sharp blows on his desk.

A weaker or slower man might have been carried away.

I am reminded of Billy Crystal's old routine, shortly after the break-up of the USSR - this is the one with the moving "strawberries and watermelon on the same plate!" anecdote - in which he averred that it wasn't Kruschev we had to fear but rather the translator. "He wasn't saying, 'We will bury you' - the translator made that up! What Kruschev was saying was, 'Whose shoe is this? This is not my shoe! This is not my shoe!'"

#130 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 07:56 PM:

One of my teachers when I was but a lad told me once that somewhere there was an action shot of Kruschev with shoe in hand, where you could also see under the table that he still had both shoes on.

I've never heard this from anywhere else, though, and it seems like the sort of thing that would be too good not to crop up again if true. I'm beginning to suspect some sort of Cold War urban legend.

#131 ::: SeanH ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 08:13 PM:

Bob Rossney #115: The demographic pressures that the Arab world is exerting on Europe

This is a real threat. Actually, in my home in London, my living room has shrunk by six inches just in the past year from the weight of Arabs pressing against it from all sides.

But my recent inability to host a respectable shindig is only the tip of the iceberg. As is well known among certain bloggers, once the Arab population exceeds the non-Arab by the Sacred N as set forth in the Koran, they will all proceed directly to Mecca, stopping neither to pass Go nor collect $200, where their combined weight will cause the Earth's crust to split and its molten core to haemorrhage out onto the surface, effectively suicide-bombing the entire planet.

Of course, try and explain all this and they call you paranoid.

#132 ::: Zander ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 08:14 PM:

Nicole @130: thank you. :)

#133 ::: Brenda Kalt ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 08:16 PM:

Serge @ 101: True. You got your foot in the door. But you shoely had a lot of help later.

All kidding aside, I was disturbed by the fact that the journalist was able to throw the second shoe. There was a noticeable time lag between the two throws--time enough for a Secret Service agent to tackle the thrower or at least pull the President out of the line of fire.

(Usefulness of Bush as President is irrelevant.)

#134 ::: Laura ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 08:26 PM:

@56, 107, 124: Throwing a dirty diaper, maybe, seems like it expresses how bad this was meant to be. Though I do think "spitting in your face" is probably the closest custom we have.

#135 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 09:53 PM:

So shoes have become a small theme in the larger outrageous tragedy that is Iraq.

The would be shoe bomber post 9/11 trying to light his shoe on a plane and taken down by the passengers. As consequence all of us having to take off our shoes when trying to fly anywhere, though later that modified depending on -- who knows what or who? (They say Obama plans to dump these ridiculous regs at airports that do not make us more secure but do make us more angry. I hope this is true.)

The U.S. soldiers beating the Saddam statue that they pulled down with the soles of sandals and shoes -- that was revealed later to be as staged by the U.S as was the pull down of the statue itself.

Then the FlipFlop demonstrations wherever John Kerry went while campaigning for POTUS against the shrub, showing that Kerry was not only NOT a Decider, but mendacious as well, and a very silly person. Shame, yes.

And now this. It seems clear that journalist Muntadar al-Zeidi chose the shoe insult for the shrub because of that mendacious Saddam statue event broadcast over and over around the world.

Love, C.

#136 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 10:34 PM:

I don't remember when I wrote this, but the whole secret is a rather weak and apathetic delivery.

Knock, knock.
Who's there?
Weevil.
Weevil Who?
(carefully remove shoe and make as if to pound on podium)
Weevil Bury You.

#137 ::: Jonathan Haynes ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 10:53 PM:

The information about shoe-throwing is not insignificant or ethnocentric in this case. There is a notable difference in the meaning of the shoe in particular in Arab culture that makes this story not flawed in the way claimed here. Shoes are worn on carpeted floors in the west, and indoors often. The bottom of the shoe is often inadvertently or carelessly displayed when a person crosses his or her legs--whereas it would be more offensive or even taboo elsewhere. Information about the shoe-throwing was appropriate to the story, in my opinion.

#138 ::: Bob Rossney ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 10:57 PM:

abi @121: I lived in Amsterdam for a month and a half in 2007. At this very moment (like, I should seriously not be writing this post), I am helping my girlfriend with her applications to doctoral programs in anthropology: she's been studying Moroccan and Turkish immigrant communities in the Netherlands for several years now. A great deal of what I know about the Dutch reaction to Muslim immigrants comes from my girlfriend's fieldwork; a lot also comes from her work with Jeroen Dewulf of UC Berkeley's Dutch Studies department. Take a look at The Multicultural Netherlands,which she's done the lion's share of the work building - it's clear that the Dutch are hardly "waiting for someone better placed to tell them that they are on an inevitable collision course with Teh Izlam." Nobody studies themselves like the Dutch do, and they're all over this.

Now, granted, I may be according this whole issue more weight than it warrants simply because I've been hearing about it every day for the last couple of years. But it was topic one with the more-or-less ordinary Utrechters that I talked with when I was there. (Topic two was Katrina, a failure that they spoke of with the same kind of sad disbelief with which we used to talk to Bulgarians about their demand economy, with a strong undercurrent of how could you fuck something like that up?)

> The idea of an inevitable cultural clash is such a commonplace among a set of the American commentariat that it's almost impossible to tackle.

Ian Buruma, Leon de Winter, and Hafid Bouazza are not Americans.

> "But from here on the ground, it requires a drastic misreading of the Dutch to make it plausible—such a provincial and thorough misreading that I can't credit anything the same commenters then say about Islam."

Did you see Fitna? What did the people you're talking with in NL think about it? And who's voting for Geert Wilders, anyway?

#139 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 11:19 PM:

Brenda Kalt @ 134... you shoely had a lot of help later

...and the thread eventually became clogged.

#140 ::: Siun ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2008, 11:44 PM:

There are highly credible reports that Muntader al Zaida has been tortured with damage to thighs, ribs and a broken hand. Many of us are calling the Iraqi Embassy in DC to ask that his safety be protected. The phone number is (202) 742-1600.

#141 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2008, 12:59 AM:

Bod Russney @ 115: "One of the reasons we still remember the Hatfields and the McCoys is because by the general standards of American culture it was pretty non-normative behavior."

People remember the Hatfields and McCoys because they're a useful analogy to behavior we see in our own lives. Historical touchstones don't exist so that people can say, "Yeah, remember that? Never happens anymore." They stick around because they are relevant.

Late 19th-century feuding aside, the ethusiastic post-9/11 support of the invasion of Iraq tends to indicate a certain amount of grudge-holding and vengefulness among the American people.

"The demographic pressures that the Arab world is exerting on Europe are changing the terms of the fractious relationship between the two spheres, on a scale without precedent in the last ten centuries."

You might want to revisit American anti-Catholic sentiment* in the late 19th century. Good protestant Americans were terrified of hordes of un-American, undemocratic Irish immigrants destroying the culture of the United States. Worked out all right, from what I can tell.

As inge pointed out, ten centuries covers a lot of precedent. You might want to narrow your claims a bit.

***

Patrick Nielsen Hayden @ 74: "heresiarch, #47: FTW!"

Aw, thanks! But wait, what's that...

SeanH @ 132: "This is a real threat. Actually, in my home in London, my living room has shrunk by six inches just in the past year from the weight of Arabs pressing against it from all sides."

I've been robbed! Help! Police! Somebody's stolen my win!

#142 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2008, 02:42 AM:

The DC NBC station has a reporter who does weird shots with people in the street. Today he had people throwing their shoes at a Redskins target (they lost yesterday).

#143 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2008, 03:09 AM:

Caroline @ 105: This may be relevant to your lj conversation. As I was driving home from work this afternoon, I caught Dave Ross on CBS, comparing the incident to one in an Austin Powers movie. I haven't seen the movie, so I went and found the clip on YouTube. As a reminder to those who have seen the movie and to clarify for those who haven't: Austin gets clonked with a shoe and says something like, "Who throws a shoe? Honestly. You fight like a woman." Apparently, the comparison is now fairly common . . . and I find that offensive on so many different levels, I've actually typed this post more than once and then deleted it because I thought I was ranting unnecessarily (ranting to the converted, so to speak, or at least to the aware).

So maybe we--or thoughtful reporters and news commentators, anyway--do need to risk talking about "foreigners" as "exotic others" in order to keep from being complete idiots.

#144 ::: Per Chr. J. ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2008, 07:57 AM:

## 121, 139, 142

I agree that there is a lot of scaremongering in Europe (as to the parallels to American history, there are for example some that claim that Scandinavians at best will end up on rural reservations, like Native Americans, while the remainder of their countries will be provinces of a reborn caliphate).

Nevertheless, there are some troubling attitudes in academia and on parts of the European Left (please note that this is not Left-bashing as such, I belong to the Labour party of my country). One wrong-headed attitude (in my opinion) is to assume that everything that is wrong in the world is the responsibility of the outgoing US administration, so everyone in the thirld world who is anti-Western gets the status of Useful Ally. Another problematic viewpoint is the opinion that different communities should have different rights, even be governed by different laws that the majority population. This is not just limited to religion, I've also seen for example 'spokesmen for the gay community' seemingly advocate different rights for gays than for straight peoplem, and special and semi-official roles for 'community leaders', etc. I do understand that integration is not easy, and that earlier attempts to make minorities with different customs into majority members have been misguided, but I am sceptical to community rights as opposed to individual rights. For example, what about those who belong to the community but are outsiders? I grew up in my country's equivalent of the "Bible Belt", but moved away after high school (and was very happy to be able to do so). Should the society at large leave me to "my natural leaders", the preachers?

#145 ::: Per Chr. J. ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2008, 08:08 AM:

As to over-interpretation of the behaviour of people from other countries, there was a newspaper report from a training course for policemen in my country, in which it was stated that one of the lecturers, who'd lived part of his life in an African country, had stated that Africans are very afraid of visits after dark, because such visitors let evil spirits in, and that calling policemen should bear that in mind. This may of course be misrepresented, but even leaving aside the fact that there is no such thing as a pan-African culture, do really anybody, Americans and Europeans included, enjoy or welcome police calling during the night? I certainly do not.

I also remember when I was part of some field work in Russia, which included calling on a community of Old Believers. One of the other members of the party started recording the inside of their chapel with a video camera during a service, but was stopped by one of the natives. I first thought that they did not want modern technology to disturb the holiness of the situation, or some other form of over-analyzing the situation, but I later on got the explanation that they had some valuable icons, and they wanted knowledge of that fact restricted. Which left me a bit red-faced. We also generally saw that they were very much aware of the modern world, even when their lifestyle was traditional.

#146 ::: G. Jules ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2008, 08:26 AM:

The BBC has more details, and confirms that the reporter was beaten in custody.

#147 ::: Marian ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2008, 10:51 AM:

I also wouldn't call it an Arab thing...I had to look it up to remind myself, but part of the biblical ceremony that occurred when a brother refused to marry his brother's childless widow involved her removing his shoe and tossing it.
(http://www.myjewishlearning.com/lifecycle/Divorce/Issues/Agunot/Chalitzah.htm)

I had remembered it has she had to hit him with it, but this article says merely toss it away. In fact, here it states that she had to spit on the floor in front of him and toss the shoe.

#148 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2008, 11:16 AM:

98:

Yeah, the mainstream journalism accounts I've seen didn't cover the implications thoroughly, or even (mostly) adequately. It's not just that shoes are the one thing most people have with them that are heavy enough to throw as an indication of disrespect. It's that shoes (especially the soles of them) are (much moreso in other cultures than in widespread American ones) considered both physically and ritually/religiously Unclean. I don't think most Americans quite comprehend the degree of contamination, contempt, and mortal insult implied here -- throwing feces, urine, or bloody menstural pads falls far short of it. (Granted, a news article isn't the place to explain this in great detail, but a mere aside that it's a serious insult seems really inadequate.)

#149 ::: Rosa ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2008, 12:33 PM:

Siun @141, G. Jules @147 - thank you.

I was just thinking "I bet that journalist has been detained, I wonder if there's anything we can do?". So of course I checked this thread, and there is, and I can do it.

#150 ::: David Bilek ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2008, 03:02 PM:

To, unfortunately, take some of the funny out of this story and turn it into a more typical Bush era carnival of horrors, there is this quote from a NYT article:

"Mr. Zaidi was subdued by a fellow journalist and then beaten by members of the prime minister’s security detail, who hauled him out of the room in his white socks. Mr. Zaidi’s cries could be heard from a nearby room as the news conference continued."

Yeah, according to a BBC story, they dragged him out and beat him until he had a broken hand, broken ribs, internal bleeding, and an eye injury. And according to the linked NYT article his cries from being severely beaten could be heard while Bush was giving his press conference from a nearby room.

Yeah.

#151 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2008, 03:35 PM:

If he'd thrown Nikes, maybe he could have gotten a sponsorship deal?

As it is, Al-Jazeera reports that the shoe-bomber got his hand broken in prison after his arrest.

The usual associations I've seen with throwing shoes in American culture are either throwing them at yowling cats in cartoons, or throwing pairs of sneakers (presumably not the thrower's sneakers) so that they get stuck on telephone wires.

#152 ::: Bob Rossney ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2008, 04:45 PM:

heresiarch @142: I think you may be hearing me say things that I'm not saying.

I'm not overstating things one bit. At no time in the last ten centuries have large numbers of Muslims from North Africa and the Arab world settled permanently in European countries. I mean, Ireland is struggling to deal with immigration. (Ireland! When has that ever happened?) This is happening on a scale that's much larger than the waves of post-colonial non-European immigration (e.g. Indians and Pakistanis to England, Indonesians and Surinamese to the Netherlands).

(Granted, there has been a lot of Islamic settlement in Spain and the Balkans at various points in the last thousand years. But I'm talking about settlement that doesn't come in the wake of an invading army.)

I'm not saying - indeed, I don't believe at all - that this is "destroying the culture." It's certainly changing the culture. It's forcing lots of Europeans to confront questions of identity that they really haven't had to face before (like, can you be Danish if you're not a Dane?).

Also, the character of this immigration is different from previous waves of immigration. Moroccans and Algerians are forming urban communities that are a lot like what immigrants from the Pearl River delta formed in the US, which, again, is a new experience for Europeans. The closest analogy to this in European history is ghettos, and that's a really poor analogy for any number of reasons.

This is a problem of growing urgency. Not because it's some kind of existential threat to European cultural hegemony. (I think it sort of is, but I don't think that's a problem; I think that's something Europeans should just suck up.) The problem is that both the Europeans and the Muslims are coping with it poorly.

There's a lot of mutual ignorance and suspicion. Europeans have an extremely poor understanding of these new subcultures. I don't want to draw too strong a conclusion from the case of Geert Wilders - as Abi points out, one of the consequences of the Dutch style of politics is that it's easy for outsiders to mistake worst-case scenarios for the mainstream - but he does have a constitutency. There's a reason that Dutch-Moroccans have by far the highest arrest rates of any ethnic subgroup in the Netherlands, and it's not because they're more likely to be criminals. The whole French debate over headscarves in school is more sensible than it would be in the US, but that isn't saying a lot.

This is something that both old and new Europeans need to come to terms with. Neither group is doing an especially good job. I believe that the way to that involves each group developing a more nuanced understanding of the other. In this regard, I think that recognizing that something has a meaning for one group that it does not have for the other is pretty important. I think that the risk of exoticization and emphasizing Otherness is outweighed by the impulse, however minimal it may be, to understand.

#153 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2008, 07:15 PM:

PNH @ 74: "Arabia =/= the Arab world".

I know that. However, I chose the word with some consideration. Baghdad is, historically, the crown city of Arabia; the parts that the Saudis now control are, other than the cities of the two Mosques, peripheral to Arabia.

But these days I'm spending too much time back in the 9th century, when Baghdad was the actual seat of an actual Caliphate. Perhaps I let that force me into affectation.

#154 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2008, 08:02 PM:

Inge @ 129: Indeed, a thousand years is a long time, and it has precedent for a lot of things.

Bob Rossney @ 153: One of those many things is long-term or permanent settlement in Europe by Muslims from North Africa and Arabia. Granted, after several centuries of "Reconquista," the kingdoms of Aragon and Castile forced the Moors out of what is now Spain, but when their ancestors conquered Iberia, they intended to stay. The Moors lived in, and ruled parts of, Iberia for longer than people of European descent have been living in what is now the United States.

#155 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2008, 09:17 PM:

SeanH @132: Actually, in my home in London, my living room has shrunk by six inches just in the past year from the weight of Arabs pressing against it from all sides.

We call those "books" on this side of the pond.

#156 ::: Pyre ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2008, 09:54 PM:

Bob Rossney @153: I mean, Ireland is struggling to deal with immigration. (Ireland! When has that ever happened?)

I Pale at the thought.

#157 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2008, 10:41 PM:

Bob Rossney #153: There's this ancient Irish text, of considerable interest to some of my own kindred from the hearth of Breoghan, called the Leabhar Gabhála that discusses immigration into Ireland.

#158 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2008, 10:42 PM:

Pyre #157: Not one of the black Irish are you, then?

#159 ::: Laughingrat ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2008, 12:13 AM:

#33, I second what #58 says about throwing shoes at newlyweds. Re: #89, the whole throwing shoes thing is actually documented separately from attaching them to the car itself. Buster Keaton's famous short film "One Week" (1920) opens with newlyweds leaving the church and having shoes thrown at them. If I remember correctly, no shoes are attached to the car, leading Keaton fans to debate endlessly whether the car-attachment custom evolved from shoe-throwing, or whether the evolved separately.

#160 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2008, 12:51 AM:

Bob Rossney @ 153: "At no time in the last ten centuries have large numbers of Muslims from North Africa and the Arab world settled permanently in European countries."

Even if I grant you that the entire Caliphate of Cordoba never happened, it would be equally true to say that at no time in the past ten centuries has there been an argument between you and me on this topic on the internet. Nonetheless, it would be quite sensible to look back at past arguments between others, past arguments on the internet, and past arguments on this topic as having substantial similarities with this one. Despite the undeniable uniqueness of the situation, useful and educational analogies could be drawn. Unless you can prove that there is no meaningful point of comparison between the current Muslim immigration into Europe and past mass immigrations, then going on about its uniqueness is fairly pointless.

Obviously, the current Muslim migration into Europe is freaking a lot of people out, and some people are making stupid, dangerous decisions. My point is, none of that is new. It's the exact same thing that happened when large numbers of Chinese immigrated to the US, and everyone freaked out about the Yellow Menace. It was also an event totally without precedent for the people going through it, and most reacted in the same racist ways that some Europeans are. Actually, anti-Chinese sentiment was far, far more virulent and wide-spread than anti-Muslim sentiment is in Europe today. Nonetheless, California did not secede from the union and declare allegiance to the Qing emperor.

History shows us that however uncomfortable Europeans may be with the situation, the current influx of immigrants isn't going to cause a cataclysm. It shows that assimilation is a more powerful force than people give it credit, and that a few decades can change a lot. The evidence indicates that Geert Wilders and his ilk (on both sides) are on the wrong side of history. There will be bumps along the way, no doubt, and studying and thinking about to solve those problems the best way possible is a noble task--I wish your girlfriend the best. But playing up those differences and their unique intractability is the oeuvre of culture warriors and racists.

#161 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2008, 03:14 AM:

Bob Rossney:

Hah! Pwned!

It's nice to see someone who knows what he's talking about on the subject, for once; most of the people I see on the web writing about inevitable culture clashes are expecting an immediate racial/religious/cultural conflagration, rivers of blood, and the swift imposition of the burka on the unwilling European populace. (Google "Dhimmitude Europe" for some examples if you don't believe me.) In that light, I particularly appreciate your post at 153 (I'm not saying - indeed, I don't believe at all - that this is "destroying the culture." It's certainly changing the culture. It's forcing lots of Europeans to confront questions of identity that they really haven't had to face before (like, can you be Danish if you're not a Dane?).)

I do think we're both suffering from some observer bias here. As you say, you have been living in this intellectual space for some time, and were in the Netherlands in that context.

As for me, well, my neighbors and colleagues talk about their kids, the weather, the traffic (Amsterdam traffic is like British weather in many respects), music, work, the economy, all the usual things. Politics is only part of the mix. It's possible that, in an office with many immigrants (Israeli, German, Swedish, American, British), people suppress that topic from the lunchtime discourse.

One other thing:

I mean, Ireland is struggling to deal with immigration. (Ireland! When has that ever happened?)

The immigration that Ireland is struggling with (and the UK, and other places) is not purely, or even substantially, Islamic. It's Polish and Eastern European.

This may exacerbate the impact of Islamic immigration (if the much less conspicuous European immigrants are using up whatever resources are perceived as scarce), but it's not the same thing.

#162 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2008, 08:58 AM:

Actually, anti-Chinese sentiment was far, far more virulent and wide-spread than anti-Muslim sentiment is in Europe today. Nonetheless, California did not secede from the union and declare allegiance to the Qing emperor.

(lightbulb noise) Oh, nice AH. Even better, though, if it had seceded under the leadership of exiled Taiping leaders and declared independence - Mormons versus Taipings versus Union versus Confederates!


#163 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2008, 09:03 AM:

OH MAN THAT WOULD BE SO AWESOME.

#164 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2008, 10:17 AM:

ajay

Considering how those groups have treated each other over the years, that would have to be called the Uncivil War.

#165 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2008, 11:14 AM:

abi #162: As the child of two immigrants to the UK (one from Jamaica, the other from Spain), I'm grateful for your calm discussion of the subject. Since 1945, the populations of Western Europe have undergone considerable change as a result of some of the most massive peaceful movements of population in history. These aren't without precedent; eighteenth and nineteenth century colonialism and imperialism drew to Paris, London, Liverpool, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Brussels, Brest, Marseilles, Le Havre, Brest, Barcelona (and, for that matter even Glasgow, Cork, and Dublin) peoples from the far reaches of colonial empires, both to work and to study both during the heyday of empire and after.* The needs of reconstruction after the war drew vast masses of labour to reconstruct western Europe. This led, eventually, to such things as Enoch Powell's 'river Tiber foaming with much blood' speech. Powell having forgotten that 17 years earlier he had set up an office to recruit bus drivers in Barbados.

Fast forward to today, and one of my colleagues (the child of Sierra Leonean immigrants, he grew up in north London) and I find ourselves roaring with laughter as we read reports of black and Asian Britons talking about the need to restrict immigration, and of the BNP saying it is defending the interests of British people of all races against the threat of Polish immigration. But for most American rightists the threat, as you say, is Muslim** immigrants, even though one of the biggest current flows of immigrants into Europe is from sub-Saharan Africa, and most of those illegal immigrants aren't Muslim.


* My country doctor in Jamaica was a graduate of the University of Aberdeen; his wife had grown up in Sligo. One of my closest friends at university had an Irish given name because she was born in Cork, her father being, at the time, a medical student. The connections.

** Or, as a famous placard had it, Muslin immigrants.

#166 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2008, 11:39 AM:

Fragano 166: Or, as a famous placard had it, Muslin immigrants.

Reminds me of an anecdote I heard at the Pennsic War. One year they got to the site to discover that someone had spray-painted "I LOVE SATIN" on some surface or other. "No, you need the next camp over," commented the person who was telling the tale. "We're the brocade worshippers."

#167 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2008, 11:53 AM:

164: just tapping my inner Turtledove there. They're all roughly in the same period of history, as is the '49 Gold Rush - and with a bit of a stretch I'll throw in Sam Houston too.

167: and, entrenched beside you, no doubt, was the Corps du Roi.

#168 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2008, 12:14 PM:

Xopher #167: I live in the South, and folks here just don't cotton to that sort of thing.

#169 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2008, 12:18 PM:

Fragano @ 169: Particularly the men of the cloth. Wool the madness never end?

#170 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2008, 12:27 PM:

Ginger #170: It would take a real revolutionary to end the madness, like that Russian fellow Linen. But I'm not going to rely on any prophets, I'm no seer sucker.

#171 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2008, 12:28 PM:

Where's Serge when we need him linen a hand to the proceedings?

#172 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2008, 12:33 PM:

I'm sure Serging will be along shortly. He knows he's very poplin-ar in this kind of thread.

#173 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2008, 12:43 PM:

I live in Toronto, and I take the bus a lot. Before I quit AMD, I took the bus at the same time as a lot of high school kids.

You can't tell them apart by listening to them; if you look at them, wow, head scarves, obvious Han descent, obvious a whole lot of things. But they sound the same; they've got a common universe of discourse, a common accent, and a broad range of common concerns.

This is completely inevitable if people immigrate to a place that makes them more prosperous and welcomes them. It's a generational process, but it's also utterly inevitable because they are pursuing what they think makes them better off.

You only get the dire cultural clash stuff if enormous effort is made to prevent immigrants from becoming more prosperous.

Since US policy since-and-including Regan has been to not make people better off, but to get wealth into fewer and larger piles, no one is becoming more prosperous. Some people, a very few, are becoming more wealthy. In that kind of an environment, you'll get nasty culture clash, all right, and this whole meme of inevitability being attached to it is yet another neocon bullshit narrative designed to cover for the fact that, hey, no one is getting more prosperous, the whole high diversity cosmopolitan welcome-immigrants culture thing is busted, whose fault might that be? would be the logical question to ask.

(This applies mostly to folks from Central America in the States, but consistency of narrative appears to be regarded as a neocon virtue far above mere consistency with facts.)

#174 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2008, 12:52 PM:

173: don't encourage him, you knitwits! You know what his puns are like - 'twill be horrible!

#175 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2008, 12:55 PM:

(Actually, I hempen to know that he's t-raveling at the moment. We'll be weft without his warped comments for a day or so at least.)

#176 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2008, 12:59 PM:

Oh, great. So instead of getting it over with quickly, the prospect will just be looming over us till he gets back. My heddle explode if I think about it too much.

(The really annoying part of all this is, I thought of a fabulous fabric-based pun the other day, and I thought, "What are the odds ML's going to start on that topic?" And now I can't remember it.)

#177 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2008, 01:09 PM:

can you be Danish if you're not a Dane?

If you're a visiting foreign leader in Berlin, you can for sure be a jellyroll.

#178 ::: tye ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2008, 01:49 PM:

Kip W. @ 112:

In Canada, Shoe fly? Don't bother me.

#179 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2008, 02:51 PM:

Shoe Fly Pie! Yum!

#180 ::: mjfgates ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2008, 03:24 PM:

Graydon@174: oooh. That. What HE said.

It's just as well Serge isn't here, because puns make my parrot go "FFFF!" at people, and last time it scared the eight-year-old when Polly hissed her.

#181 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2008, 03:35 PM:

It's too late -- weave already begun.

#182 ::: Bob Rossney ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2008, 04:04 PM:

heresiarch @161:

Re Cordoba: While we're on the subject of the rhetoric of right-wing nativists, maybe we ought not to be in too much of a hurry to talk about conquest and immigration as though they were similar processes with similar results.

Re US Chinatowns: The first several decades of immigration from the Pearl River Delta differed from the current migration in Europe in a critical respect. The men from Turkey and Morocco who came to the Netherlands did what the men who came to California from China did not: once they got established, they sent for their families. (Or they sent home for new wives.)

This makes the Muslim immigration seem far more alarming to European nativists than Chinese immigration seemed to Americans. Family units, not single men, are being established in their midst. And adding to the demographic pressure, the new families that are forming are usually much larger than autochthonic families. (This is an especially strong pressure in Italy; not only does Italy's proximity to North Africa result in a high volume of immigrants, but autochthonic Italians are experiencing significant negative population growth.)

(This difference cuts both ways. Chinatowns on the west coast of North America suffered from a broad array of social problems that Muslim immigration communities in Europe do not: the sorts of problems that emerge when a large group is made entirely of men.)

Furthermore - and this is probably an even more significant difference - the Chinese men were imported into a civilization that was under construction, not one that's solidly established. So not only were they exerting much less pressure, there was a lot less that they were exerting pressure on.

In the context of all of those differences, the fact that the US also didn't have a millennium of history of military and religious conflict with China is lagniappe.

> It shows that assimilation is a more powerful force than people give it credit, and that a few decades can change a lot.

Which is why these new immigrants' tenacious and broadly successful resistance to assimilation is so significant. There's clearly a process of integration going on between the Muslim immigrants and their European surrounds, but it can't properly be called "assimilation." It's this more than anything else that makes the character of Muslim immigration into Europe materially different.

abi @ 162: I'm certainly willing to cop to observer bias, but we didn't come to Amsterdam looking for this. My girlfriend had a completely different research subject in mind when she came to the Netherlands. She'd done a study of sex workers here in San Francisco that uncovered some really interesting aspects of how they perceived themselves (as workers - that is, not as sex workers), and she wanted to find out what impact the illegality of the work had on how they formed these self-perceptions.

So the obvious thing to do next was to go somewhere where sex work isn't illegal. Obvious and, it turns out, wrong. She had enormous problems getting access to sex workers in the first place, and those she did get access to were second-generation Surinamese and Indonesian immigrants whose clients were primarily Turkish and Moroccan.

She learned a hell of a lot, particularly from one wonderful second-generation Dutch-Surinamese informant, a goofy twenty-something girl who liked nothing so much as going to Lelystad to shop in the outlet stores. This girl said just the most amazing things. "I feel sorry for them [Moroccans], because twenty years ago there used to be racism against blacks, too." was a real conversation-stopper. (And then she went on about how the Jews control all the banks.) But my girlfriend was learning very little about sex work in Amsterdam that she could use.

Anyway, since these women all worked in Turkish and Moroccan neighborhoods, my girlfriend spent a lot of time commuting into those neighborhoods, and realizing how ignorant that she was about what was going on there. It wasn't until she got back to the US that she launched herself into the whole Dutch Studies kick and got immersed in the Dutch Multiculturalism project.

We're pretty sure we're going to live in the Netherlands for a much longer period over the next few years. It's really an enormously appealing place in so many ways, though I do wish they had more than two kinds of cheese. (The strongest culture shock that I experienced while I was there was the question "What kind of cheese would you like on your sandwich, old or new?")

#183 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2008, 04:13 PM:

heresiarch #161:

Are there examples of massive immigration that went really wrong for the destination country, or for the immigrants? I have the impression that there are such cases, but my deeply lame knowledge of history means I don't know of any examples (or of their conspicuous lack).

I'm not convinced that just because massive immigration has worked out well in the past, it will also work out well now. But the case is a lot stronger if there are either:

a. A lot of cases where the immigration was a disaster for all involved, or

b. Very few or no cases where the immigration was a disaster, despite many cases where widespread immigration took place.

In the US, immigration has worked out for us well overall, but I gather that some groups of immigrants brought some pretty big problems at the time.

#184 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2008, 04:24 PM:

Bob #183:

The demographic stuff is having a really interesting and odd effect on the world, with the average age rising and more and more people being more-or-less alone in the world. It's a weird feeling going to visit family in Utah, and being immersed in places where kids are everywhere, the average age is much younger, and the whole society has adapted to that difference.

I still have a hard time getting my head around the idea that a lot of the developed world has birth rates *way* below replacement levels. It's hard to imagine how those places will work in twenty or thirty years--perhaps widespread immigration will basically lead to a replacement of much of the existing population, perhaps the population will just continue to age and to have small families and few children, till some new stable equilibrium is reached. But in any case, those places are going to change in some pretty noticeable ways.

What happens to the fertility of the immigrants into The Netherlands in later generations? I believe in the US, Latin American immigrants have much higher fertility in the first generation, and that it decreases quite a bit in later generations. And that's part of a broader pattern, pretty much everywhere, in which more education (especially for women) and wealth, combined with modern birth control technology, lead to lower fertility.

#185 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2008, 05:22 PM:

Bob Rossney: One of the reasons this wave of immigration isn't being preceded by an advancing army, is that the folks are being allowed to head the way they want without worries (or, as this coversation points out, less worry) that the natives will kill them.

It's not as if large groups of muslims haven't made such immigrations (look at the Balkans), it's that they are able to do it peacefully. If there were hordes of troops marching under the banners of the renewed caliphate, then this might be something I thought more of a pressing issue. I do have to say that in my excursions to Germany, and Ukraine (both with immigrant issues) this was not the topic of widespread conveersation. Apart from the nativists it hasn't been something I saw many people worrying about.

I'll add that in all of those trips, there were more than just Ukrainians and Germans, there were Russian, Romanians, Greeks, Brits, French, Swedish, Italian, Swiss, Georgian, Czech, Bulgarian, Austrian, Albanian, Polish, Austrian, and I forget who all else. A lot of world/European issues were discussed.

It also happens I know a lot of people (in the states) who are first generation (or actual immigrants; the army is good for that, and my line of work better), from Muslim countries, and from non. They assimilate.

They do, however assimilate more slowly when the attitudes of the people around them is, "Oh my god, they are so different from us. Our culture will be destroyed."

Which leads me to think the problem is caused more by those who worry about it, than those who don't.

And, without a desire to be rancorous, I don't see you having any "skin in the game" either. The first impression I got was that your girlfriend had been in the Netherlands for the past several years. What it seems to me now is she's been in the states, studying them. That's a different perspective.

#186 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2008, 05:41 PM:

Albatross @185 --

Contraception, reproductive tech generally, and affluence select heavily for people who want to have kids. It's gone from being a species of economic necessity to being a voluntary expense.

As selection pressures go, this one is both screamingly enormous and significantly cultural. (does your culture include the idea that a woman can not have kids and be a good woman, at one and the same time? If it doesn't now, it's very likely going to start.)

Given a few generations, and pretty much everybody is from a family where kids where a conscious choice. The median childhood experience is already improving; that situation will tend to improve it more. Happiness of childhood is not the only predictor of having kids yourself, but it matters. (The others are economic; more to do with perceived predictability of the future rather than raw prosperity measures, though those don't hurt.)

Throw in increased lifespans with effective anti-senescence treatments and I don't think we're going to see that much of a population dip on the whole.

#187 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2008, 05:53 PM:

albatross @185: Are there examples of massive immigration that went really wrong for the destination country, or for the immigrants?

European immigration to the Americas is the first that comes to mind. Far less massive, but Germans immigrating to czarist Russia, though after the first winters and plagues passed, it took until the 20th century until things hit the fan. Anglo-Saxons getting settled in Britain by the Celtic warlord they fought for. Palestine.

One massive case I can think of which went well: Lots of Poles immigrating to the Ruhr area of Germany in the 19th century.

Of those I can think of, the Poles -> Germany and the Germans -> Russia cases are probably the most "modern" in structure, i.e. they involve states, and not directly wars.

#188 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2008, 10:57 PM:

Bob Rossney @ 183: "Furthermore - and this is probably an even more significant difference - the Chinese men were imported into a civilization that was under construction, not one that's solidly established. So not only were they exerting much less pressure, there was a lot less that they were exerting pressure on."

What, you think there's a point at which a culture stops developing and rests on its merits? All cultures are under construction. The future expecations of ante-bellum residents of Boston, New York, and even Los Angeles were no less sure than those of modern Europeans. Their certainties were no less certain, and they were no less angered when those certainties were contradicted.

Europe right now is in flux, and if the Europeans are shocked by that, it's because they are lying to themselves. Feminism, WWII, WWI, colonialism, liberalism, communism, the Napoleanic wars, nationalism, the Renaissance--Europe has always been in the midst of massive cultural and demographic changes. Change is the status quo. Muslim immigration is especially scary because people are bigots, not because it represents a fundamental, never-before-seen challenge to a static Europeaness.

"There's clearly a process of integration going on between the Muslim immigrants and their European surrounds, but it can't properly be called "assimilation." It's this more than anything else that makes the character of Muslim immigration into Europe materially different."

Okay, which of these stereotypical pieces of Americana were a part of American culture before 1830: hamburgers, St. Patrick's Day, pizza, the Mafia, chow mein, Woody Allen. That's right! Just Woody.

Every "assimilation" is more of a negotiation. Get something, lose something. Obviously, not everything works out perfectly, but in hindsight, a lot of those weird, foreign, and just plain unnatural things become some of the most cherished--and may I say, delicious?--parts of the integrated future society.

#189 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2008, 11:01 PM:

albatross @ 184: "Are there examples of massive immigration that went really wrong for the destination country, or for the immigrants?"

Well, North America leaps to mind. Israel-Palestine seems to be going fairly poorly. Korean immigrants to Japan really suffered and still face substantial stigma now, three generations on. The Chinese in Southeast Asia face varying levels of prejudice--it's pretty bad in Indonesia.

More interesting to me than "did most mass immigrations go well or poorly?" is "what were the differences between mass immigrations that went well and those that went poorly?" In my experience, the answer to that is very simple: immigrations went poorly when the groups involved decided to make it go poorly, either by refusing to integrate, or refusing to accept the immigrants.

Israeli immigrants weren't interested in integrating with the Palestinians. The Japanese had no intention of allowing Korean blood to pollute their purity. In Indonesia, the Chinese never saw themselves as part of the local culture: I met a Chinese-Indonesian girl who described herself as thirteenth generation overseas Chinese.

This is why I think playing up the difficulties and unprecentedness of immigration is so dangerous. By convincing people that the challenges of integration are insurmountable, you can create a self-fulfilling prophecy: the immigrants do not feel welcome, so they do not try to assimilate, so the locals dislike them, which offends the immigrants, and so on. Emphasizing commonality is more than hippie lets-all-be-friends language--it's a survival strategy.

#190 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2008, 11:06 PM:

Graydon @ 187: "As selection pressures go, this one is both screamingly enormous and significantly cultural. (does your culture include the idea that a woman can not have kids and be a good woman, at one and the same time? If it doesn't now, it's very likely going to start.)"

Cultural pressures might not be as important as economic ones. I read about a study done in India, where a province was having huge problems with population growth--every family was having five or six kids. They tried everything: free contraceptives, family planning, advertising; nothing worked. So they decided to go out and ask these people why they were having so many kids. The answer came back: because we don't want to starve to death in our old age. So they instituted a pension, and the birthrate went down.

#191 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2008, 12:02 AM:

This discussion has taken an interesting turn.

One of my great grandfathers (who apparently met me when I was too young to remember) was a German ummm.... immigrant. He fled here because his choice was the Prussian army or merchant marine. He got to New York, jumped ship and went as far as he could to avoid having his neck stretched for desertion.

He made to Afton, OK. Which apparently had a strong German community at the time. I'm not sure if he's where the "Helm" name came from or if it came from other folks, father told me his sister traced our family heritage back to the Mayflower on one lineage.

It is all interesting in a theoretical way. All the kids in my family are adopted.

#192 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2008, 12:03 AM:

heresiarch@191 --

I'd call the decision that the responsibility for the care of the aged is general, rather than familial, a cultural thing.

Economies are a bunch of cultural decisions. So are a whole lot of decisions about money, in the sense of what it will be and what it will measure.

The population general case is definitely affected by whether or not having kids is a net economic asset or a net economic drain, but whether that is so is to a large degree a function of cultural decisions, not immutable laws of nature.

#193 ::: christopher McConnell ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2008, 02:36 AM:

since I see that most of you have never been to the mid east let me tell you that even showing the bottom of your shoe to an Arab is considered a dire insult. This is the sort of thing that can lead to gun fire and death. I have seen to Sheiks come to blows over a perceived instance of shoe insult. This is a serious insult and can be interpreted as a death threat. I think that the Iraqi government will handle this very seriously.

#194 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 04:24 PM:

Mr. McConnell: One, are we to assume you have been to the Mid-east, and with enough breadth of both education, and experience, that we should qualify you an expert witness?

2: If so thank you for being so kind as to condescend to tell us what a close reading of the thread might have informed you we already understood.

3: I have been to parts of the Middle East, and can say (from my moderate experience) the level of insult depends on the perceived level of intent.

4: As to how this ought to be taken... Bush isn't staying in Iraq (and the odds of his return when he isn't the president and can't command the levels of secrecy he seems to think are needed to do it safely; before he was blessed with this unconventional gifting of footwear, are slim), so it's pretty much a one off. If the American public is so clueless as you seem to think, the need to point up the severity of the insult by playing it up (i.e. taking it, "very seriously) would be counterproductive.

#195 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2008, 05:45 PM:

Europe right now is in flux, and if the Europeans are shocked by that, it's because they are lying to themselves.

Important distinction: actual Europeans vs. rightwing conwis US mediawankers.

Feminism, WWII, WWI, colonialism, liberalism, communism, the Napoleonic wars, nationalism, the Renaissance--Europe has always been in the midst of massive cultural and demographic changes.

+1. It's going to be weird? It's always been weird! Europeans' core business is surfing the wave of weirdness. Our motto is WE'RE STILL HERE.

#196 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2009, 07:09 PM:

Drop the other one!

This is wonderful....

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