Rants and Raves

Opinion, commentary, reviews of books, movies, cultural trends, and raising kids in this day and age.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Question from a reader

I received the question below from a reader who found my old post, "Observations on Arabs" found here: http://rantsand.blogspot.com/2006/09/observations-on-arabs.html

It amazes me that I still get comments on that one. It pleases me that this time it's not calling me a racist.

For future reference, if anyone wants to call me a racist, would you kindly explain first how "Muslim" or "Arab" can be reasonably defined as a race?

And while your at it, please define "race"?

Secondly, if you still want to call me a racist, please get in touch with me, so that we might arrange to discuss the matter further. In person.

So, the question:

"I was looking for an explanation as to why shoes are a weapon of choice for Arabs culturally, as with the example this past week of Zeidi the journalist hurling his pair at Bush in Iraq. I came across this instead, which I recall reading in a forward email awhile ago. The second read was well worth it for some insights.

As an Anthropologist, you don't have any explanations for me do you?"

Answer: Damned if I know.

The sole of the foot or shoe, is considered unclean in Arab culture. I've asked Arab friends about this and got explanations such as, it's dirty because you walk on it, it's farthest from God, etc.

When teaching in Saudi I had a few troublemaking students* who would find some excuse to raise their foot or put it on the table to show the sole.

Usually I said, "I know what that means."

Remember the first video reports from the capture of Baghdad? Remember all those Iraqis beating pictures of Saddam with their shoes?

I've read that in Japan striking someone with your shoe is a huge insult as well.

Do you remember videos of Nikita Khruschev at the UN beating the table with his shoe?

You've intrigued me. Now I'm beginning to wonder why we don't have that particular insult.

Any suggestions from the floor?

* I mean extreme troublemakers. Most of my, and other expat teachers', complaints about our students were that they were just not taking schooling seriously. They were getting paid 40 riyals per class to show up - and many tried often to get us to mark them present when they were absent.


  • At 8:01 PM, Blogger Atomic said…

    The only thing I can come up with is pretty half-assed.

    For a long time for most societies, roads were dirt affairs trafficked heavily by beasts of burden, and pretty much any nontrivial precipitation turned them into rivers of inextricably blended mud and dung- basically, REAL disease-ridden filth.

    So my cultural question would be: for societies that lack the shoe insult, how long have they had a tradition of paving or cobbling roads compared to those that have it?


  • At 11:25 PM, Blogger Pat said…

    I started reading your blog around the time that you wrote the post referenced in this current post regarding "Arabs". The original post had an impact on me because I lived with Arabs while attending college in Florida and I found your comments dead on. I have often borrowed your "kicking dirt" scenario to try and relate to friends some piece of the madness that is the Middle East. Of course it's way more complicated, but I look forward to more open discussion of this topic.

  • At 6:17 AM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    Not half-assed at all Atomic.

    I'd add, given that in northern European countries people often wear boots - how easy is it to take off your shoe/boot?

    Pat, the sad thing is, in our academic environment these days, it's dangerous to have a discussion that's too open.

  • At 7:47 AM, Blogger Nik said…

    Hey Stephen,

    I've been following your blog for a few weeks now, thanks to my friend Ken.

    My name is Nikhil and I'm originally from Bangalore,India. I've been in Dayton,OH for about 4 years now.

    I agree with your observations that the reason for this being an insult is because the foot or shoe, is considered unclean.The reason being,as mentioned in the IHT, the target is even lower than the shoe, which is always on the ground and dirty.

    In India, people walk a lot (sometimes on unpaved roads?) or take public transport instead of driving around and hence believe that shoes are dirty. We often don't bring them into the house and usually leave them outside (and have other home shoes which are cleaner? relatively).

    An attempt to answer your question as to why don't we have this insult here, would be, shoes aren't considered really dirty here. Maybe cause (at least from my perspective) the roads are clean, the offices are clean, the cars are clean, houses are clean, people hardly use the public transport. I was even surprised when I first got here that I don't really have to take my shoes off when I go to my friend's houses!

    A good read would be http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/12/17/opinion/edkenney.php by John Kenney who talks about other insults!

  • At 6:24 PM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    Hi Nik and welcome aboard!

    It's interesting you metnion the shoes indoor thing. When I was living in Poland, I found people have a rack of old slippers in the vestibule for guests because they have shoeless houses.

    Now that I'm back, my wife and I maintain a shoeless house.

    Of course, we're in North Dakota and you really need to shed the shoes during the winter!

  • At 12:20 PM, Blogger TJIC said…

    I came to leave a comment, but Atomic said exactly what I wanted to say.


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