Column for JN issue June 19 2015 by Jenni Frazer
Of all items of clothing, shoes carry a certain potency, both within Judaism and Islam. Judaism has a somewhat arcane ceremony known as halitzah, in which a brother-in-law renounces his right to marry his deceased brother’s childless widow (I said it was arcane), and a ritual follows involving the removal of a shoe. And, it has to be said, some spitting. We also change the material of our shoes on Yom Kippur.
Islam requires worshippers to remove their shoes before prayer and throwing a shoe at someone is deemed to be deeply insulting.
This much is verifiable. So when, after a week away, I returned to find social media awash with terrible shoe jokes, I was slightly taken aback. What, I wondered, could possibly be afoot?
Well, it turns out that one of the founders of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, otherwise known as MPAC, may have temporarily taken leave of his senses.
Asghar Bukhari, who often appears on Sky as a supposedly reputable commentator on the Middle East, posted a bizarre rant on Facebook and later on YouTube claiming that “Zionists” had got into his house and – to intimidate him – had stolen one of his shoes and a pair of slippers.
The YouTube video features Bukhari relating the sad story of his missing shoe – he doesn’t say whether it was his left or his right, but he manages to make the whole thing sound sinister (that was a Latin joke). At one point he rolls his eyes as if to say he doesn’t quite believe what he’s saying, either.
“Are Zionists trying to intimidate me?” he asks. “Someone came into my home yesterday while I was asleep. I don’t know how they got in, but they didn’t break in. The only thing they took was one shoe – they left one shoe behind to let me know that someone had been there. I can’t prove anything and that’s part of the intimidation. The game is to make me feel vulnerable in my own home.”
But if Bukhari expected sympathy for his plight he was sadly mistaken. Twitter immediately assigned him a hashtag, #MossadStoleMyShoe, and a wave of shoe gags ensued. One tweeter posted a picture of a shop window full of trainers, claiming it was a never-before-seen photo of Mossad HQ. Another showed a dog with a moccasin in its mouth and the confession, “My dog is a Mossad agent.” Headline writers had fun, describing it as a “Shoeish Conspiracy” and even the Israeli ambassador to South Africa, Arthur Lenk, joined in, telling him: “We have your shoe, Asghar Bukhari. Call me”.
Hundreds of mocking tweets later, and despite being advised to “put a sock in it”, Bukhari was still unbowed, insisting “Can’t believe Zionists upset I said they stole something. Hello, they stole the whole of Palestine”.
Now, I don’t know that much about the intimate workings of the Mossad but I am willing to lay bets that moving shoes about people’s houses is not in the Israeli secret service training manual. I also don’t really know why Bukhari hasn’t looked under the bed or down the back of the couch, like everyone else who kicks their shoes off when they get home.
So could Mossad really be the heels that Bukhari alleges? I was just about to insist that the MPAC man was not instep and that the sole reason for his conspiracy theory was somewhat footling.
But then I saw this report in the Guardian of four years earlier. According to Mafia State, by Luke Harding, the paper’s former Moscow correspondent, Russia’s spy agency regularly waged a massive undercover campaign of harassment against British and American diplomats, as well as other targets, using deniable “psychological” techniques developed by the KGB.
In operations described by the US State Department as “home intrusions”, agents typically “moved around personal items, opened windows and set alarms in an attempt to demoralise and intimidate their targets.”
Wow. So secret agents really do this stuff. So Asghar could be… Nah. He’s just not important enough or interesting enough for anyone to waste time moving his wretched shoe and slippers around.
The best lesson to draw from the Tale of the Missing Shoe is not to take this man seriously. And for reputable broadcasters not to invite him on their programmes – shod or unshod.