A Brief History of Shoe Protest

Last night during ABC TV’s Q and A programme saw former Prime Minister John Howard dodging not just questions but also the odd bit of footwear.

A member of the audience stood up excusing himself by saying “Sorry, Tony, take it as a comment” before lobbing two shoes at Howard. The protester told Howard “That is for the Iraqi dead” linking his protest with that of Muntadar al-Zaidi, the Iraqi journalist who was arrested for throwing a pair of size 10 shoes at President George W Bush. Al-Zaidi rather more fiercely shouted at Bush “This is a farewell kiss, dog!” so in terms of rhetoric Howard got off lightly.

But Howard is no stranger to boot protest with a student Cambridge lobbing a Doc Marten boot at him in November 2009. Even the notorious Bush incident was preceded by Bush’s effigy being dragged through Baghdad then thumped with shoes, which the Huffington Post noted at the time was “a gesture of contempt in the Arab world”.

But protesting with your footwear has a rich history around the globe. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev reportedly pounded his shoe against table at the 902nd Plenary Meeting of the UN General Assembly in 1960, when the infuriated leader of the Soviet Union was said to have pounded his shoe on his delegate-desk.

Since the Bush event shoe throwing has gone viral with the several video mash-ups of the event, a game allowing you to pelt the president with boat shoes and a protest movement encouraging shoe throwing against the Iraqi War.

Whether the recent Howard shoe lob will have the same impact depends on how we translate it into our own culture - was it a larrikin stunt or a valid protest. For satirist Mic Looby it was a question of national identity. Looby tweeted soon after the event “Throwing shoes? Un-Australian. We should be throwing thongs.”

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