I bought some new shoes the other day. A pair of lizard skin Calvin Kleins, as it happens – a rare extravagance. Throwing them at someone, thus being unlikely to get them back, would not have crossed my mind. Throwing a shoe at a person’s head isn’t considered insulting in only the Islamic world, though it does carry a particularly degrading symbolism (showing the sole of your shoes is considered deeply offensive). The sensitivity is related to the fact shoes are considered ritually unclean in Islam. In addition to ritual ablutions before prayer, Muslims must take off their shoes to pray, and wearing shoes inside a mosque is forbidden. Shoes should either be left at the door of the mosque, or carried (preferably in the left hand with the soles pressed together). When the statue of Saddam Hussein was toppled in Baghdad in 2003, Iraqis beat it with their shoes.
Which led me to a few more choice international insults. The response of the English archers after Agincourt to their French adversaries of two upraised fingers, a testament to the fact that they still had them – the enemy disabled captured archers by hacking off their two pulling fingers – is well known – even Churchill got them the wrong way round sometimes.
I had not realised that the ‘thumbs-up’ sign, beloved of everyone from Bean to Rolling Stone was also gravely insulting to some, particularly in Turkey and the Middle East. “Sit on it and spin” seems to be the message.
Bush commented that the shoes were a ‘size 10’ – the same size as mine, coincidentally. Perhaps I should offer to donate my new CK’s to the man who is now in need of a new pair. After all, it was a remarkably good shot.
The image is of a Calvin Klein Harlequin Bootie (sic) retailing at almost $900. Mine cost rather less and have lower heels. A friend of mine knows a lot more than me about shoes. But she’s a woman, so it helps.