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Killing Saddam

The way Saddam Hussein died left me feeling sorry for him. I never thought I would feel this way for a man who once killed a political rival, Mohammed Baqir al-Sadr (a relative of current Shiia leader Moqtada al-Sadr) by pounding nails into his skull. Maybe Saddam didn’t deserve to die “nicely” based on how he treated his fellow Iraqis, but two wrongs don’t make a right.

The New York Times put it accurately, if a bit crudely, when they said, “Saddam Hussein never bowed his head, until his neck snapped.” He played the role of martyr, and the U.S. played the role of barbarous occupier. Last Sunday, the day after his death, I chatted with my friend Doga about this.

    eatbees: I’m feeling a bit sad for Saddam, because it’s vengeance, not justice—even if justice would have given the same result. Now we can look forward to a trial that will send Bush to Guantanamo.
    doga: What do you mean?
    eatbees: I mean that Bush is a criminal like Saddam. He’s responsible for 650,000 deaths in Iraq. We need to have a trial and treat him like Saddam, right?
    doga: Criminals need to be punished…. I’m disappointed by the Arab leaders, as always.
    eatbees: Why is that?
    doga: Because they didn’t speak up.
    eatbees: It’s bizarre, isn’t it, that Pinochet did the same thing in his country as Saddam, but he was protected until his death? We went to war to ensure that one man, Saddam, would be brought to justice.
    doga: I don’t know who Pinochet is.
    eatbees: He’s the former Chilean dictator who just died.
    doga: You know I have trouble remembering Western names.
    eatbees: Pinochet had thousands of victims. Of course many of them were innocent, but innocence and guilt depend on the standard we use. For him, leftists were traitors. Until the end of his life, he insisted that he didn’t regret what happened, because it was necessary at the time. Do you know who Kissinger is?
    doga: No.
    eatbees: He was Richard Nixon’s right hand man, his Secretary of State and National Security Advisor at the same time. Calling him Nixon’s Driss Basri wouldn’t be far off. He’s considered a genius of international politics. In fact, he’s the one who whispered to Bush that he mustn’t leave Iraq without a clear victory. He was with Nixon for the fall of Vietnam, so he doesn’t want to repeat that. I’m mentioning him because he helped persuade Pinochet to take power. He’s a major architect of dirty wars. You know nothing about this?
    doga: I sort of know.
    eatbees: So we have Kissinger and Pinochet, who get respect right up until their death, but we’re in a hurry to bring Saddam to justice. I read in the New York Times that international experts think the judgment against Saddam does nothing to advance the cause of international justice. That’s obvious everywhere but in the U.S. What world do we live in, that treats Saddam and Pinochet so differently?

Later we returned to the subject, when I asked Doga how he and his family were celebrating the Eid holiday. He volunteered that everyone was sad because of Saddam’s death.

    eatbees: What did your father, your mother, the guests say…?
    doga: They’re sad that Saddam was condemned. They say it’s unjust. They say that to carry out the sentence during Eid expresses the hate of those who want injustice for the Arabs.

With the exception of some Shiites in Iraq, this feeling seems to be shared throughout the Arab world. A tour of my favorite Tunisian blogs brought me a panorama of indignation. adib had this to say:

    Today…a deposed dictator who ended up as a prisoner of war was assassinated before the cameras of the whole world! Sacrificed for the glory of the all-powerful George W. Bush! Yet another lesson in civics and democracy given to the oppressed Iraqi people.
    I don’t see any difference between the executions filmed by Zarqawi and the one I saw this monring on all the satellite channels. All bloody, all power-hungry, all the same!
    On this holiday, the Americans have performed a master stroke to improve their image among Arab and Muslim people, and especially among a large fraction of the Iraqi population, so don’t be surprised if the Iraqi resistance returns the favor on the ground….
    Saddam was condemed for the murder of 164 people during an assassination attempt, but who will be judged for the 650,000 Iraqis who have died since the beginning of the war? Who?
    It seems that the stars are announcing a difficult year for humanity…world peace is slippping further and further out of reach!

Téméraire called it a “day of great sadness”:

    As I returned from the mosque after the Eid prayer, I was shocked by the information concerning the execution of Saddam. Although this information had been circulating for 24 hours, I never believed it. But this morning, the truth was there, and I felt a great sadness envelop me that continues to weigh on my chest this evening.
    I’m not sad for Saddam…. What makes me sad is the fact that the Americans (certainly not the government of Maliki) chose this day in particular to execute Saddam.
    Today is…the festival of the sacrifice, which coincides with the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, and celebrates the act of Abraham, who decided to sacrifice his son when God asked him. Today is the most important festival in the Muslim community….
    For hundreds of millions of Arabs and Muslims, it’s a day of great sadness, if not for Saddam, then for the humiliation and gratuitous insult the United States has subjected them to. The great majority of these humiliated people don’t distinguish between the American government and the American citizen. For them it’s the same.
    That helps to answer the question Americans never stop asking, “Why do Arabs and Muslims hate Americans?”

Then I visited Manna’s blog for the first time and found this:

    I can’t prevent myself from expressing my disgust, my humiliation, my fury and grief at the execution of Saddam on the day of Eid.
    As if the year didn’t have enough days for executing him, it has to be on a holiday for us, the Muslims.
    I would love to ask [the Iraqis], why are you dancing?
    Are you the ones who captured him? Are you the ones who chose his execution date?
    I’m ashamed of these people.
    I could care less that Saddam was a dictator, it’s not my problem. That he was hanged doesn’t concern me either, but to do it on the day of Eid…that’s too much.
    I find that petty.
    You’re happy and you dance, but know that I’m one of those who cried.

Despite reports in the American press that our government had nothing to do with the timing of Saddam’s execution, and was even surprised it happened so quickly, most Arabs are convinced that Washington calls the shots in Iraq. They can’t help seeing this as a direct order from George W. Bush, a slap in the face, a provocation. Perhaps that is paranoia, but after all, Saddam was in American custody. It’s clear that if Bush hadn’t wanted him handed over, he wouldn’t have been.

Don’t worry, though, the upswell of rage and grief will soon subside. It has many times before. The Arabs are used to humiliation by now. Before this, there was the abuse at Abu Ghraib, the use of white phosphorus in Falluja, the shooting of a twelve-year-old boy by Israeli soldiers, the Israeli assassination of Hamas leader Ahmed Yassin, the slaughter of a family in Haditha by U.S. Marines, the Israeli bombing of Lebanon last summer, and on and on. Each time, it seems like a step too far, but each time, the Arabs prove their amazing capacity for abuse. Just look at what they put up with from their own leaders! This has been going on for centuries, so there’s nothing to worry about.

Except for one small detail. None of this presents the U.S. to the world as a champion of justice. Even if there were no Americans in the room when Saddam was killed, the U.S. is occupying Iraq and this happened on our watch. This lynching will turn Saddam from a tyrant into martyr in the eyes of many. Myrtus, no friend of dictators, provides us with an English translation of Saddam’s last moments, and a link to the video of him falling through the trap. After thousands of years of human evolution, is this where we have arrived? God help us all.

UPDATE: Here is journalist Nir Rosen’s take on the hanging. He makes a point I made in the post above.

    Saddam’s hanging at the hands of chubby Iraqi men wearing ski masks is likely to be perceived by many as an American execution…. The trial of Saddam was viewed by detractors as an event stage-managed by the Americans.

He goes on to say that “it is clearly a Shia execution” due to the nature of the taunts against Saddam, and the day it took place. The choice of the Sunni day of Eid—Shia Eid is one day later—”was a striking decision, virtually declaring that Iraq is now a Shia state.”

    By killing Saddam [the Americans] were killing what they believed was the symbol of the Sunni resistance, expecting them to realize their cause was hopeless. Sunnis could perceive the execution, and its timing, as a message to them: “We are killing you.”

Siding with the Shias against the Sunnis in this way may come back to haunt the U.S., whether it was intentional or not. What scares me is that George W. Bush, in his supreme arrogance and delusion, may not have even known or cared.


Comment from adib
Time: January 6, 2007, 16:18

thank you for a link and translation;)

Comment from Téméraire
Time: January 7, 2007, 09:36

Thank you for adding my post.

Comment from eatbees
Time: January 7, 2007, 14:50

@adib, Téméraire — I should be thanking you for expressing so well what I am feeling myself (and other Americans too). We can’t eliminate barbarity from the world with more barbarity, but only with restraint (hilm) and repentance (tawba), turning back and finding a different path. There was a grand opportunity to make a demonstration of this after 9/11 that was destroyed completely by the war in Iraq.

I wanted to give some of my Western readers a sense of the insults and humiliation we inflict even unconsciously with our adolescent triumphalism. As citizens of a democracy we are all responsible.

Comment from jilal
Time: January 7, 2007, 16:22

Dead or not dead..pourquoi this man il a fait la terreur et la why this man est considirer comme un président..bientot il sera le tour de this two:

Comment from eatbees
Time: January 7, 2007, 16:45

@Jilal — Bush has made peace with Qaddafi (he’s getting old, isn’t he?), so don’t expect any help from the Americans getting rid of him (not that you would want it).

As for the other one, isn’t he a big friend of the West? The rule is, you can repress your people all you want as long as you open your country to foreign investment!

Comment from Cat In Rabat
Time: January 7, 2007, 18:09

I was somewhat relieved when I read your posting because I’ve been haunted by the images of Hussein’s execution since I first saw them broadcasted. There is no doubt that Hussein was guilty of countless atrocities, and certainly died a kinder death than the majority of his enemies but – but, I found myself feeling sorry for him. I felt much the same way when he was hauled out of his rabbit hole and humiliated – on camera – by having his mouth and hair probed & inspected. I suspect that I feel this way partly because, as you say, 2 wrongs don’t make a right but I also object to the public humiliation of any individual especially in the moments leading up to their death. Can there be a more solemn occasion? I was mortified that any of the proceedings were filmed and televised; I was mortified that anyone with an iota of human compassion would taunt a man before his death. I would not wish a death without dignity on the lowest of creatures. Yet he was a monster. Go figure. I suspect that what I feel sorry for the most is the fact that, as a race, we have failed each other. There is no victory in Saddam Hussein’s death.

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