Not tortured, merely insulted

Laurie Hawn, amateur anthropologist, talking last night on CTV’s Power Play about the abuse of a detainee in 2006.

We’re talking about an issue of somebody being hit with a shoe, which is, frankly, in Islam, is an insult. If they wanted to torture the guy and beat the guy, they’d have beat him with the stocks of their AK-47s, they wouldn’t have been hitting him with shoes.

This sort of thing came up a year ago when an Iraqi journalist removed one of his shoes and proceeded to throw it in the direction of George W. Bush’s head. A reporter with U.S. News & World Report went to the trouble of trying to sort out the actual significance of the shoe.

Omid Safi, an Islamic studies professor at the University of North Carolina, says that the meaning of the recent shoe incident is probably more universal than has been acknowledged. “We saw on CNN and BBC a ton of articles offering instant ‘anthropological insights’ on how the shoe touches the earth, and is the lowest part of the body,” he wrote in an E-mail message. “What if in an American context someone had thrown a shoe at Bush? Would we see that as a sign of great love for the President?”

Of course, the use of a shoe to beat another man has deep roots in North American culture too. Here, for instance, is video of Boston Bruins defenceman Mike Milbury personally insulting a New York  Rangers fan.