It’s not often one witnesses the defeat of a morality.
But that’s what Saddam Hussein, feet shackled, hands tied, inflicted on Bush and Blair, and their acolytes, in those moments before he was hung.
Courtesy of digital technology, this extraordinary event was witnessed by millions around the world. Plain as day.
Morality has always been the driving force of Anglo-American aggression towards Iraq. It is the enabler of other, baser motives. This morality is the Judeo-Christian kind. Pervasive and taken-for-granted, it’s as invisible to Westerners as water is to a fish.
This morality is the mortar of global capital. When its heart was pierced on September 11, 2001—let us leave aside by whom—it responded with a visceral lust for vengeance. This emotional need was shaped by Christian-Zionists around Bush, who used it to fuel and underwrite the demonization of Saddam Hussein and the rape and pillage of Iraq society.
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The link between 9/11 and Iraq is moral and emotive. It is the need to assuage pain by inflicting still more pain, preferably upon a weaker party. This moral right and emotive need made superfluous any legal right.
On this basis, Bush and Blair, these Old and New Testament moral crusaders, mobilized the most potent military force the world has ever seen and unleashed it against a society brought to its knees by sanctions and rendered practically defenseless.
At every opportunity, this armed morality has humiliated Iraqis—whose own morality centres on honour and dignity—in retribution for the humiliation of the United States. The toppling of his statue in Firdos Square on April 9, 2003; Saddam down a hole; Saddam being medically inspected as if he were a vagrant; Saddam in his underpants. All of these events were staged-managed by the Americans for the “folks” back home.
Arabs and Muslims are much better placed to evaluate Saddam’s actions than Westerners. Sustaining “our” goodness, the moral validity of what “we” have done to the people of Iraq, requires sustaining Saddam Hussein’s "evilness". Seldom has one person been subjected to such an enormous campaign of vilification for such immoral ends.
The execution of Saddam Hussein was the final act of this morality play. This was the “justice” to which he was brought. The stage was set for his final humiliation. To his credit, he refused to follow the script and turned the tables on those who brought him there. He denied them the pleasure of feeling morally superior.
Saddam Hussein’s life will be argued over for many years, but on this everyone can agree: Nothing reveals a man’s moral character so much as having his own death staring him in the face. Few among us will die on the gallows, but we must all face death alone. Nothing, no-one can help us. We must rely entirely on our inner resources.
How a person faces death reflects how they have lived their life. Dying, like living, is a skill requiring disciplined practice. Some fall apart, blame others and turn this way and that looking for an escape. Others grimly batten down the hatches, stare blankly ahead and let death overtake them. The exceptional ones go to meet it with equanimity.
Knowing you are about to be hung by your enemies following a fraudulent trial, at the behest of foreign invaders who have destroyed your country, would tax the moral resources of a saint. Or, in this case, a martyr.
Saddam Hussein demonstrated how to die with courage, honour and dignity. Ponder for a moment how Bush and Blair would behave in similar circumstances? Recall too that during the showdown over “Weapons of Mass Destruction” Saddam Hussein was the only one of the three to tell the truth.
Ordinarily, at an execution, the condemned man is hooded or blindfolded, to hide his shame, to spare him sight of his own death rushing towards him. But Saddam forewent this. He stood bare-faced, facing death, not hiding from it.
His constrained body emphasized the expressions of his face. It showed no sign of fear, or submission to the power about to kill him. His eyes did not stare into the void. He listened attentively to what his executioner said to him. He is quick-witted to the end, rising above the verbal barbs of his tormentors.
It was his executioners who were hooded. They could see, but not be seen. Ostensibly, this was for fear of reprisals. And yet they stood and moved furtively, like guilty men. The arrangement of their bodies lacked order. They moved as if their hoods were to spare us the sight of their wretchedness.
Saddam Hussein, surrounded by hostile men, about to be lynched, refused to be terrorized. America lifts up its skirts at the mere idea of danger and sees terror around every corner.
He was not horrified—the horror is ours.
This was the death of a man of exceptionally strong will. It was a death that shamed all those who slandered how he lived.
Is this the behavour of a man who would hide in a hole to evade capture by the Americans? It gave the lie to that piece of propaganda.
Here’s one thought that might have sustained and amused him in the final hours:
An occupying power hands over a man to his enemies who taunt, mock and then execute him. Where have we heard this before? Bush and Blair should know the answer—two thousand years ago in Roman-occupied Palestine.
Jesus was sacrificed to atone for the sins of the guilty. For whom was Saddam Hussein sacrificed?
He was hung, with indecent haste, not for what he did to Iraqis—for Bush and Blair would hang a hundred times over—but for what he knew about the Americans.
And it was for their sins he was sacrificed, on the first day of Eid ul-Adha, 2006.
1. This essay is best read in the context of my earlier essay The Trial of Saddam Hussein and the coming trials of George W. Bush and Anthony Charles Lynton Blair.
2. By far the best commentary on Saddam Hussein's death is his own: Final letter from President Saddam Hussein to the People of Iraq
3. The title's Ecce Homo [‘Behold the Man’], of course, is an allusion to the words attributed to Pontious Pilate when presenting Jesus to those demanding his execution; and also to Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo: How One Becomes What One Is.
Dr. Richard Marsden is a professor in the Centre for Integrated Studies, at Athabasca University, which is Canada's open university, specializing in distance education.
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