Friday Discourse (227)
The End of Saddam
He was brought in, handcuffed, leaving behind him his enormous power, wealth, palaces, leisure and people. None could escort him, except his atrocities. None could benefit henceforth, or save him from the gallows. The end of a long journey in tyranny was finally at hand.
He said nothing, but wore the look of a dejected person, defeated more by his evil deeds than by the Americans who have been his friends and masters for over thirty years. His mind must have reflected on the dynamics of his relationships with the Americans since when they recruited him as their agent in Egypt way back in 1960 up to when they shoved him out of power two years ago. Suddenly, the world's most powerful dictator since Hitler was reduced to a fugitive. He went on the run. The whole world failed to accommodate him. He continued to flee from one place to another until a hole granted him space like a rodent. How could a leader abandon his people and prefer to live in a hole? The answer is simple: He was running for his life, the same life he denied the over two million people that he killed over the forty years of his romance with power.
To disguise his identity as a fugitive, he grew a bushy look, like the early man who did not enjoy shaving blades. But none can save whoever God wanted to humiliate: the people, the hole and the disguise all became useless. His old friends continued to pursue him. And they got him, ultimately. Bringing him out of the hole, the president-turned-rodent told his captors, "I am the President of Iraq."
I will hardly forget those pictures of Saddam attended to by American soldiers after his capture, pointing at his tooth, looking more like a monkey than a human being. Neither will I forget the press conference when the Americans announced his capture. "Ladies and gentlemen," their spokesman greeted the crowd of journalists waiting for the breaking news, "we got him."
We know very little of what happened to him thereafter, until he was charged to court. There, only two of his atrocities were mentioned, not even the biggest ones. We watched him behave unruly, reminiscent of the bandit he was at Al-Ouja. He did all he could to appeal to the sentiments of Muslims, by quoting the Qur'an, by shouting Allahu Akbar, and so on. Finally, the death sentence was passed on him, which was confirmed on appeal.
But just before the confirmation, he wished to die honourably and revered thereafter. He carried his manipulation further. He wrote a letter claiming that he intends to die as a martyr on behalf of his people. What a pity! That was the limit of defeat. Why did not he choose to confront the Americans? Saddam, whose name means "confronter", could not confront his enemies in a dignified manner. He fled, just as he had fled from death many times before, though he readily inflicted it on millions of people. His martyrdom would have been more spectacular were he killed by American bombs in his palace. For him to imagine martyrdom only after a death sentence was passed on him suggests a contemplation made too late, an afterthought too cheap to be taken seriously.
He knew his D-day would be Saturday. On Friday, the Americans handed him over to the Iraqis. The people who would taunt him at the gallows could not miss the opportunity of intimating him that he had less than 24 hours to shake hands with death, if only to subject him to a trauma.
Friday night must have been the most extraordinary for the tyrant. He must have reviewed his entire life, since he was born to an unknown father sometime in the 1930s, a date he was not sure of. He must have recalled the different categories of people he betrayed and executed: beginning from the murders of thousands of communists at the Palace of the End in 1963, to the scores of friends and relations he killed to acquire and maintain power, to the thousands of Iraqi Kurds and Shi'ites whose populations he wiped out through using tanks and poisons, to the Iranians whom he caused over 1.5million to perish in a protracted eight year war, to his cul-de-sac, the Kuwaitis whose land he invaded and property he looted.
That night he must have regretted being a CIA agent. He became their wild dogm they set after who communism and Islamic revivalism. People like Donald Rumsfeld were his frequent visitors and suppliers of arms; the Arab regimes of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt and Jordan supplied funds and soldiers in a confederation against the Islam. But as his countryman, al-Mutanabbi, once said, the lion turned to hunt its master. The Americans and Arab leaders had to confederate once more to destroy Saddam. The same Donald Rumsfeld headed the troops that invaded Iraq, deposed Saddam, captured him and handed him over to the people he once oppressed. He is now in their hands. What a mess! They will hang him the following morning.
And there he was. With the rope tied around his neck, just loose enough to allow him breathe. He could not flee anymore. I thought he will utter some words of courage, condemning America or al-Maliki, as he used to do in the courts. No. He gave up. But before the rope could do its job, Saddam muttered, "Allahu Akbar, there is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the Messenger of God." Then, I remembered the Pharoah of Moses, who made a similar profession: "Now I believe that there is no god save the God in whom the Children of Israel believe. To Him I give up myself."
We often think we can fool God, thinking that a reverse gear at the point of hopelessness will acquit us of our atrocities. God said, "But God will not forgive those who do evil and, when death comes to them, say: 'Now I repent!" Hence, God rejected the above quoted repentance of Pharoah, saying, "Now (you believe)! But before this you disobeyed and were a wrongdoer."
I would not have written this article if it were not for the reaction of some people to the hanging of Saddam. I can understand the unease of other Arab leaders because, like Saddam, they are living specimens of tyranny. I can also understand the protest of the Sunni minority in Iraq, for Saddam was their last opportunity to lead the country. In democracy, unlike in totalitarianism, number counts. The Palestinians may also show support to Saddam simply to hurt America.
However, what I fail to understand is the sympathy that some Muslims developed for the tyrant. They said he was executed on the day of Eid. And so what? I have never come across any injunction prohibiting so. I disagree with Jabir al- Alwani of the OIC who faulted the execution because it fell within the ashhurul hurum, the four sacred months. Is Saddam's life better than the thirty-five Iraqis killed by Sunnis on the same day? In any case, Saddam never respected the sanctity of any month during his war with Iran or invasion of Kuwait. God was specific on what should not be done in the sacred months, and he did not include the execution of Saddam: "Do not wrong yourselves in them," He said.
Then came the mobile phone video depicting how Saddam was taunted at the gallows when he was called a tyrant, or when he was reminded of Muhammed Baqir Sadr, the famous cleric he murdered twenty-six years ago, and his living son, Muqtada. Saddam appealed to them to be men. His sympathisers now claimed that this was not in accordance with the spirit of Islam and Arab tradition, as al-Anbari, the Editor of London based al-Quds claimed on al-Jazeerah. But at that point God himself would have taunted Saddam, saying, as he said in the Qur'an, "Taste it, you are certainly the powerful and great."
In any case, which Arab tradition was al-Anbari referring to? One, Did not Yazid bin Mu'awiyya once bought Iraqis and got them to massacre over 300 members of the Holy Prophet's family, among them was the Prophet's, Husein, whose head was cut-off and kicked openly in the streets of Iraq, during a holy month?
Two, if they claim that Saddam was a leader and, so, deserved some measure of respect, why did not he and members of the Baath Party respect President Qasim, when they executed him in 1963. In Saddam, the Secret Life, Con Coughlin narrated that "to assure the doubting Iraqi public that the president was indeed dead, Qassem's bullet-ridden body was featured in a grotesque film that was shown repeatedly on Iraqi television." Then he went further to quote Samir al-Khalil in the Republic of Fear, who said, "Night after night… the body was propped up on a chair in the studio. A soldier sauntered around, handling its parts. The camera would cut to scenes of devastation at the Ministry of Defence where Qassem had made his last stand. Back to the studio, and close-ups of the entry and exit points of each bullet hole. The whole macabre sequence closes with a scene that must forever remain etched on the memory of all those who saw it: the soldier grabbed the lolling head by the hair, came up close, and spat full face into it."
Saddam and his Arab Sunni sympathisers have forgotten the above scene. He was pleading to those taunting him at the gallows to be men. I wonder if he and the Baathist party were men in 1963 when they mishandled the body of President Qassem. In every recent development, I observed how we allow sentiments to shroud facts. Everyone will agree that Saddam was a butcher but we are not ashamed that among us a tyrant of his magnitude will emerge and kill Muslims at will, without us uniting to check him. And when God decreed that he be humiliated in the hands of the same enemies that he once made friends, we turn our back on his treachery and point fingers at those enemies.
Here, I find it equally difficult to reason with those in the West who were calling for the mitigation of the death sentence to life imprisonment in line with their present jurisprudence that outlaws death sentence. Among them, ironically, is Britain and Italy, junior partners of Bush in the coalition to kill. What a hypocrisy!
Amnesty International also decried the death sentence because, as its spokesman said, life is a fundamental human right. To kill Saddam, impliedly, is to deny him that right. Their jurisprudence is for the criminal, not the victim; it is for the living, not the dead; it is for the strong, not the weak. If the millions that died in the hands of Saddam were to return to life, they would have also demanded the justice that will allow him taste the bitterness of death. But since they remain weak by virtue of their state, amnesty is not on their side. Amnesty International, sides with the strong, the living. Deny the murderer the freedom of movement, it says, but allow him the joys of life: health care, seeing his family, reading newspapers, eating and drinking. I will argue that freedom of movement is also a fundamental human right, like life. So, by their logic, they can as well set Saddam free.
In the same vein, I consider it very shameful our sympathy to al-Qa'ida and the insurgency in Iraq. These are people who daily kill innocent worshippers in mosques, children in schools, patients in hospitals, mothers at home, traders in markets and so no. What Islam is this? Why can't they take the Americans head on? Why do they resort to soft targets among their people? Are these men? Why do we support them? Only cowards resort to violence, the strong and noble abide by the law, more so when they are Muslim. And the law regarding the sanctity of life is very clear in Islam.
As I write this article, two other butchers – Banda and al-Tikriti – are billed for the gallows tomorrow, Thursday, 3 January. Let even TV cameras be there. Let us applaud their hanging. They shot, poisoned and tortured others to death. They should not share a bit of our respect.
As for Saddam, the fatherless child of Al-Ouja, who used to steal chickens from his neighbours, the illiterate who participated in banditry and robbery, then later a gangster in Baghdad, then the butcher Vice-President and President, the agent of the CIA against Communism and Islam, the end came in a typically disgraceful manner. Conscientious Muslims, certainly, did not miss him.
The beneficiaries of his regime may turn his graveyard into place of pilgrimage. They may paint him a martyr as he wished, and even call him a saint one day. But God does not work in accordance with our claims or wishes. He is just when He said, "It shall not be in accordance with your wishes, nor shall it be in accordance with the wishes of the People of the Book. He that does evil shall be rewarded with it, and there shall be none, besides God, to protect or help him".
3 January 2007