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Posted : 2009-02-26 00:01
Updated : 2009-02-26 00:01

Shoe Attack Haunts Leaders


By Kim Se-jeong
Staff Reporter

We all have some. They are necessary items in our daily lives, and, in many cases, fashion items.

Recently, the world has witnessed shoes being used as a weapon of humiliation.

It began when Iraqi TV journalist Muntazer al-Zaidi threw his shoes at former U.S. President George W. Bush on Dec. 14 last year, which then inspired many other protestors around the world. Some of them actually mimicked the action.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao was next on the spot, who saw a battered sports shoe hurled at him while he was speaking at Britain's Cambridge University in early February.

Wen initially carried on with his speech despite a whistle sounding, but then stood back from the lectern slightly, smiled as he watched a man being escorted away and glanced sharply to his right as the shoe hit the stage.

Wen responded by saying, ``Students, this despicable behavior cannot stand in the way of friendship between China and the United Kingdom."

A couple of days later, shoes were thrown at the United States consulate in Edinburgh, and at the gates of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Downing Street office by anti-war protesters.

Israeli Ambassador to Sweden Benny Dagan was also a victim of a shoe attack, as he was delivering a speech at Stockholm University in Sweden.

The Agence France-Presse (AFP), a news agency, wrote that a series of attacks would haunt politicians around the world.

Bush was the first U.S. head of state to be humiliated by shoes, but it was actually the second occasion in which he was a target. In April 2006, a press conference in China involving Chinese President Hu Jintao and Bush was disrupted by a Falun Gong demonstrator.

Shoes were also used as the vehicle for a weapon of mass destruction. In December 2001, when the horror of 9/11 was still trembling many in the United States and the world, Briton Richard Reid, a member of al-Qaeda, got on American Airlines Flight 63 from Charles De Gaulle International Airport, Paris, France, to Miami International Airport, the United States.

He possessed explosives hidden in his shoes and attempted to detonate them, but was subdued by flight attendants and passengers on board. He was convicted on charges of terrorism and is currently serving a life sentence in the United States.

The late Soviet Union leader Nikita Khrushchev's shoe-banging incident showed shoes aren't the sole possession of protestors or terrorists.

On Oct. 12, 1960, during the 902nd plenary meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Khrushchev was outraged by a statement made by Lorenzo Sumulong, a Filipino delegate, who criticized the system of the former Soviet Union.

``It is our view that the declaration proposed by the Soviet Union should cover the inalienable right to independence, not only of the peoples and territories which yet remain under the rule of Western colonial powers, but also of the peoples of Eastern Europe and elsewhere which have been deprived of the free exercise of their civil and political rights and which have been swallowed up, so to speak, by the Soviet Union,'' the Filipino envoy said.

Khrushchev rose up to the rostrum, pounded his fists on the table, picked up his shoe and banged the desk with it in protest.

Shoe-Throwing Incidents in Korea

A shoe-related incident could happen in simple, everyday life, as seen from time to time in films in which a furious character throws a shoe at someone as expression of anger.

But, finding a shoe-throwing incident in the public domain involving public figures is not easy. Lee Man-sup, a former speaker at the National Assembly, said modern Korean politics, although notorious for its violence, has not witnessed any shoe-related incidents.

Neither did Yoon Young-kwan, a scholar who served as foreign minister during the Roh Moo-hyun administration.

Shoe Culture

Arab culture has the most pronounced attitude toward shoes that is enormously negative. To them, a shoe is a symbol of impurity.

The Daily Telegraph, a U.K. newspaper, wrote an article last December after Bush ducked the shoe, entitlted, ``Arab Culture: the Insult of the Shoe."

It said, ``The shoe is considered dirty because it is on the ground and associated with the foot, the lowest part of the body. Hitting someone with a shoe shows the victim is regarded as even lower.''

When Saddam Hussein's statue was toppled in Baghdad in April 2003, Iraqis assembled around it, hitting it with their shoes, the article said.

``The shoe is such an offensive symbol that it is seen as culturally rude to cross an ankle over a knee and display the sole of a shoe while talking to another person. The shoe is also considered unclean in the Muslim faith and believers must remove them before prayers. Wearing shoes in mosques is forbidden.''

In fact, former U.S. presidential candidate Bill Richardson exposed his sole during an interview with Saddam Hussein, and the latter left the room.

An Iraqi diplomat in Seoul told The Korea Times that a shoe is an object of insult.

History of the Shoe

A shoe is a piece of footwear designed to protect the human foot. The fashion aspect of a shoe was added later.

According to the book ``History of Shoe'' by Kim Myung-woong, the first form of footwear was born in the ancient Egyptian period (3000 B.C. to 525 B.C.). The first footwear called ``Sandllion'' was worn by the upper class in the society, Kim wrote. During that period, slaves didn't have footwear.

The design of a shoe, or its material, was influenced by climate. Areas with a milder climate saw sandal-like open shoes made with natural fabrics such as wood or leaves. However, in northern areas, under a cold climate, shoes were designed to cover the entire foot ― even ankles ― and were made of leather or other durable materials.

Social status and vocations were reflected in shoes. For example, shoes during the Gothic period in the 13th and 14th century, known as Crackows, had toes whose length varied from 13- to 60-centimeters long, Kim said. The higher a rank of social status was, the longer the toe was.

There were times when a heavy regulation on footwear existed. Around the third century, common Roman women were banned from decorating their shoes with gold or jewels. In the 14th century, Edward III classified shoe fabrics by the sector of society to which one belonged.

Contemporary shoes see many variations in design and fabrics according to usage.

Korean shoes have seen a similar pattern of evolution, with the purpose of protection also the starting point. Design and material of shoes also represented social status.

Since the late 19th century, western-style shoes were introduced, contributing to the extinction of traditional footwear, made of wood and straw.

skim@koreatimes.co.kr

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