Muntadar al-Zaidi my hero

If only that shoe had hit Bush. It wouldn’t have compensated for the hundreds of thousands of people

I am in love with the guy who threw his shoes at George W Bush.

He is my hero. I love you Muntadar al-Zaidi and I hope that you are not punished for your brave and wonderful shoe based act. This is a protest. Shooting someone or blowing someone up is not way to go about making a point. By killing someone you only prove yourself as bad as them. But to fling a clog….

It’s funny, it’s insulting and it makes the recipient of the flying espadrille look like a cock.
I think it’s even better than passive resistance. Sitting around and letting soldiers hit you in the face with a rifle butt is a pretty good way of showing you’re in the right. But if, after that, you chuck a sandal at their head…. Well it’s the cherry on the cake!

What I love about the Bush clip, aside from the fact that there is a shoe being thrown at his smug oleaginous face, is the fact that Muntandar gets time to throw a second shoe at the President of the United States.

He clearly hasn’t prepared himself to do that, or he’d have both shoes in his hand. But after Bush dodges the bullet, al-Zaidi actually leans down, takes off his other shoe and throws that too. What are the secret service up to? They all must have vowed to take a shoe for the President and the minute the first one left the journalist’s hand they should have been leaping in front of him in slow motion shouting “Noooooo!” and buffeting the trainer away with their chest. But they don’t do that. Not even for the second one.

Watch the clip again and look out for the guys at the back dashing into the room comically much too late to do anything about anything. They were probably sitting out the back having a sandwich and a fag and then hear a kerfuffle and by the time they’ve stubbed out their cigarettes and wiped the cake crumbs off their faces the whole incident is pretty much over. But they run in anyway, looking like they’re trying to do their job, but knowing that if anyone has used a gun or a knife that Bush is already dead. Let’s face it a man had time to take off both his shoes and bung them at the President before they were even in the room.

As it turned out Bush didn’t need anyone else. He’s pretty wily for an old fella and he gets right out of the way of the first shot and unfortunately shot two is slightly rushed and goes a bit too high. If only its sole had slapped him on his nose. It would only have stung him. Maybe caused a bit of blood to come out. It wouldn’t have compensated for the hundreds of thousands of people who have died in Iraq, but it would have been a good start. Leaving a man bewildered and stunned and with a stinging nose is much better than hurting him. That is satire.

And wouldn’t it be great if the rest of the world registered its disapproval in the same way? If everywhere he went for the rest of his life, Bush had to deal with a constant shower of shoes, coming at him from all directions. Just to let him know that what he’s done in the last eight years has made the world a worse place. His goons can’t ensure that everyone is bare foot, unless only Sandie Shaw and Zola Budd are allowed in the vicinity.

Shoes raining down on him for every minute of the day, banging against his windows when he was trying to sleep, smacking against his windscreen as he drove into town. Then maybe he’d get the message.

Make shoes, not war.

Then throw the shoes at the people who make war.

Happy Christmas.

Richard Herring began writing and performing comedy when he was 14. His career since Oxford has included a successful partnership with Stewart Lee and his hit one-man show Talking Cock
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Martin McGuinness's long game: why a united Ireland is now increasingly likely

McGuinness died with his ultimate goal of a united Ireland arguably closer to realisation than at any other time since the island’s partition in 1921.

In late 2011 Martin McGuinness stood as Sinn Fein’s candidate in Ireland’s presidential election, raising all sorts of intriguing possibilities.

Raised in a tiny terraced house in the Bogside, Derry, he would have ended up living in a 92-room presidential mansion in Dublin had he won. A former IRA commander, he would have become supreme commander of Ireland’s defence forces. Once banned from Britain under the Prevention of Terrorism Acts, he would have received the credentials of the next British ambassador to Dublin. Were he invited to pay a state visit to London, a man who had spent much of his youth shooting or bombing British soldiers would have found himself inspecting a guard of honour at Buckingham Palace.

McGuinness would certainly have shaken the hands of the English team before the Ireland-England rugby match at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin every other year. “I’d have no problem with that,” he told me, grinning, as he campaigned in the border county of Cavan one day that autumn. Though a staunch republican, he enjoyed the “Protestant” sports of rugby and cricket, just as he supported Manchester United and enjoyed BBC nature programmes and Last of the Summer Wine. He wrote poetry and loved fly-fishing, too. Unlike Gerry Adams, the coldest of cold fish, McGuinness was hard to dislike – provided you overlooked his brutal past.

In the event, McGuinness, weighed down by IRA baggage, came a distant third in that election but his story was astonishing enough in any case. He was the 15-year-old butcher’s assistant who rose to become the IRA chief of staff, responsible for numerous atrocities including Lord Mountbatten’s assassination and the Warrenpoint slaughter of 18 British soldiers in 1979.

Then, in 1981, an IRA prisoner named Bobby Sands won a parliamentary by-election while starving himself to death in the Maze Prison. McGuinness and Adams saw the mileage in pursuing a united Ireland via the ballot box as well as the bullet. Their long and tortuous conversion to democratic politics led to the Good Friday accord of 1998, with McGuinness using his stature and “street cred” to keep the provisional’s hard men on board. He became Northern Ireland’s improbable new education minister, and later served as its deputy first minister for a decade.

His journey from paramilitary pariah to peacemaker was punctuated by any number of astounding tableaux – visits to Downing Street and Chequers; the forging of a relationship with Ian Paisley, his erstwhile arch-enemy, so strong that they were dubbed the “Chuckle Brothers”; his denunciation of dissident republican militants as “traitors to the island of Ireland”; talks at the White House with Presidents Clinton, George W Bush and Obama; and, most remarkable of all, two meetings with the Queen as well as a state banquet at Windsor Castle at which he joined in the toast to the British head of state.

Following his death on 21 March, McGuinness received tributes from London that would have been unthinkable 20 years ago. Tony Blair said peace would not have happened “without Martin’s leadership, courage and quiet insistence that the past should not define the future”. Theresa May praised his “essential and historic contribution to the extraordinary journey of Northern Ireland from conflict to peace”.

What few noted was that McGuinness died with his ultimate goal of a united Ireland arguably closer to realisation – albeit by peaceful methods – than at any other time since the island’s partition in 1921.

The Brexit vote last June has changed political dynamics in Northern Ireland. The province voted by 56 per cent to 44 in favour of remaining in the European Union, and may suffer badly when Britain leaves. It fears the return of a “hard border” with the Republic of Ireland, and could lose £330m in EU subsidies.

Dismay at the Brexit vote helped to boost Sinn Fein’s performance in this month’s Stormont Assembly elections. The party came within 1,200 votes of overtaking the Democratic Unionist Party, which not only campaigned for Leave but used a legal loophole to funnel £425,000 in undeclared funds to the broader UK campaign. For the first time in Northern Ireland’s history, the combined unionist parties no longer have an overall majority. “The notion of a perpetual unionist majority has been demolished,” Gerry Adams declared.

Other factors are also working in Sinn Fein’s favour. The party is refusing to enter a new power-sharing agreement at Stormont unless the DUP agrees to terms more favourable to the Irish nationalists. Sinn Fein will win if the DUP agrees to this, but it will also win if there is no deal – and London further inflames nationalist sentiment by imposing direct rule.

McGuinness’s recent replacement as Sinn Fein’s leader in Northern Ireland by Michelle O’Neill, a personable, socially progressive 40-year-old unsullied by the Troubles, marks another significant step in the party’s move towards respectability. As Patrick Maguire recently wrote in the New Statesman, “the age of the IRA old boys at the top is over”.

More broadly, Scottish independence would make the notion of Northern Ireland leaving the UK seem less radical. The Irish republic’s economic recovery and the decline of the Roman Catholic Church have rendered the idea of Irish unity a little less anathema to moderate unionists. And all the time, the province’s Protestant majority is shrinking: just 48 per cent of the population identified itself as Protestant in the 2011 census and 45 per cent Catholic.

The Good Friday Agreement provides for a referendum if a majority appears to favour Irish unity. Sinn Fein is beginning to agitate for exactly that. When Adams and McGuinness turned from violence to constitutional politics back in the 1980s they opted for the long game. Unfortunately for McGuinness, it proved too long for him to see Irish nationalism victorious, but it is no longer inconceivable that his four grown-up children might. 

This article first appeared in the 23 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's permanent revolution