David Leppard, Times of London, April 11, 2010
SCOTLAND YARD has bowed to Islamic sensitivities and accepted that Muslims are entitled to throw shoes in ritual protest–which could have the unintended consequence of politicians or the police being hit.
News of the concession by the Metropolitan police has come to light amid a series of trials of more than 70 mostly Muslim demonstrators who were charged with violent disorder after last year’s Gaza protests outside the Israeli embassy in London.
Aquib Salim, 21, an IT student at Queen Mary, London University, who was involved in a shoe-throwing incident, is almost certain to avoid a prison sentence as a result.
Chris Holt, Salim’s solicitor, said he was likely to get a suspended sentence after he pleaded guilty to a single charge of throwing a stick at police lines.
“The court accepted that the earlier shoe-throwing incident was simply a ritual form of protest and therefore not a criminal act of violence,” Holt said.
Judge Denniss agreed that the act of shoe-throwing should not be considered in a charge of violent disorder against the student because it was “a symbolic” political gesture.
Shoes, and particularly the soles of shoes, are regarded as ritually unclean in the Islamic world. An Iraqi journalist became a folk hero for throwing a shoe at President George W Bush during a press conference in December 2008.
The president ducked, but Muntadhar al-Zaidi was jailed for three years and allegedly tortured by the Iraqis. He was released after nine months and his gesture inspired many imitators.
A spokesman for the Crown Prosecution Service admitted this weekend that the police advice to the Downing Street protesters was a factor in the case at Isleworth crown court, west London.
It has now emerged that the Metropolitan police first told protesters of its stance on shoe-throwing shortly after the attack on Bush.
The concession has already been taken up enthusiastically by Muslim demonstrators, who pelted Downing Street with shoes in protest at the Israeli bombing of Gaza last year.
Dozens of ski-boots and clogs were also hurled at the US consulate in Edinburgh in a related protest, in which three policemen sustained minor injuries.
Lindsey German, convenor of the Stop the War coalition, said: “After the incident in Baghdad we told the police that people would want to bring shoes to throw at Downing Street.
“They said that was okay and there was a facility allowed for people to bring old pairs of shoes. Afterwards they joked that they didn’t realise we were going to throw the shoes so hard.”
In January 2009, anti-war protesters advertised a demonstration outside Downing Street by posting a photograph of a pair of old shoes under the words: “Bring your old shoes to throw at useless Gordo.”