To be stuck in traffic on a rainy working day evening at the Thousand Lights bottleneck on Mount Road in Chennai, is by itself a great physical ordeal. So imagine one’s chagrin on getting converted into an involuntary participant of a procession to protest the death sentence on Shri Saddam Hussein, care of, Baghdad, Iraq or what is left of it.
Short of shouting "Bush down, down" and "Saddam Zindabad" or whatever that frenzied crowd was crowing, I along with scores of unfortunates were very much a part of the protestors: We sat through the show and were cursing, for a different reason though, that benighted Iraqi Judge and his judgment, much like the agitators who belonged to certain Muslim and Left outfits. And after thus exhibiting my "solidarity" with Saddam, I realised this was the bitterest "jam" I had ever tasted in life. For, Saddam is one person for whose plight none should feel sad or care a damn.
It beats one why many political parties, Leftists in particular, and some Muslim outfits should be complaining about the hanging of Saddam. After all, virtually all of Saddam’s victims were Muslims, that included many of his own family members, sons-in-law and half-brothers, to mention a few. The sweep of Saddam’s sword did not spare anyone who came in its way, be it Kurd, Shia or Sunni and on that count, he was wholly secular.
The agitators are probably under the impression that support for Saddam would endear them to the Indian Muslims and bring their votes in barrels. Besides insulting the intelligence and sentiments of Indian Muslims, such a belief belies sectarian realities. Saddam was a Sunni and the Shias and other sects down here do not take kindly to him and his bloody past. In fact, the Shi'ite Muslim personal law board has opined that he should be hanged forthwith and capital punishment is allowed under Islam. So a good part of the vote bank goes bust.
The other usual suspects pitching for Saddam are the media and the human(?) rights activists. All those scholarly editorials in the national dailies about how the judicial process has been rigged and of Saddam not getting a fair trial are actually wasted.
Of course the judicial procedure was screwed from the start and the trial was flawed and unfair. But if we may ask, would a fair trial have arrived at a different judicial verdict on Saddam’s crimes? If anything, the Iraqi judge may have cut judicial corners and taken some liberties with legalities, but the final judgment is, by all means, fair and faultless and most important, prompt.
If still, lack of proper procedure is what is making the aforementioned hearts bleed, we can suggest a via-media. Let’s hang Saddam first; and then let’s get that Judge impeached for violating procedure to arrive at a correct verdict, though. And let that process be lawful, for sure, lest some other group holds up traffic at Thousand Lights on a busy week day and ...well, you know all that now!
Some dusting up of Saddam’s sordid saga will be in order, not to expose just him, but his sponsors too. We said he was quite secular in shedding blood? Well, he was also prolific. He is now being hanged for ordering the killing of around 150 Shiites in the village of Dujail. In fact he had scored better than that when during the Iran-Iraq war his hordes gassed and killed over 5,000 Kurds.
Soon after seizing power, he purged the Baath party of political rivals and critics, executing many of them after the swiftest of trials in recorded history: charge-sheeted in the morning and killed by a firing squad in 24 hours. Most often, the firing squad comprised either relatives of victims or partymen. And there was usually another firing squad having their guns trained on the first squad, so they dare not miss!
And this is not the first death sentence for Saddam. In the mid-sixties he was condemned to death for an assassination attempt on the then president of Iraq. The bid failed and Saddam escaped to Egypt. By then the young Saddam was a trained killer, having personally carried out a few ‘assignments’ and thus earning his spurs. The BBC’s correspondent John Simpsom, in his seminal work on the dictator, "Wars against Saddam", describes him "as a brute and a gangster’".
Saddam, eventually returned from Egypt and soon his Baath party captured power in a coup. For ten years, he was the de facto president of Iraq, and became the formal one in 1979. As president, he now "outsourced" the killings to his pliable, but reliable, associates; evil men are always born with an equally evil supporting cast. Saddam has fought three wars, one with Iran and the two Gulf wars that left lakhs of Iraqis dead.That there are still Iraqis around to tell the story of Saddam is by itself a wonder.
Saddam’s apologists accuse the US of directing the trial. The US is guilty of bigger crimes vis-a-vis Iraq. Through the 8-year Iran-Iraq war, it was the US that backed Saddam to the hilt. He owed his survival to the Western powers, as also Russia, who all armed him to the teeth. In fact, the joke was that Bush was dead sure of Saddam’s WMDs because it was he (Bush) who supplied them in the first place! And critics are right when they say that Bush too is a threat to humanity.
Yet, today we know that the American system has the checks and balances to rein in a fundamentalist while countries like Iraq do not. It is a historic truism that unstable nations, with the people’s perennial yearning for stability and peace, are ripe for dictatorship. Burning nationalism is almost always the tool for those dictators. And once in power they are a law unto themselves.
GM Trevelyan says this of dictators: "Singularly unscrupulous, yet magnificently successful. Unlovable in character, and yet romantically beloved. Vain, untruthful, capricious and often times mean. And yet with all these defects, undoubtedly great and powerful". Indeed, these words were true of Hitler, Stalin and very much, our Saddam too. He has had his fill.
There simply cannot be an encore. For, in Iraq anything can happen. The world he leaves may not become a better place after all, but it is worth trying to make it one. If not for anything, at least to avoid getting accidentally enlisted in protest processions in Thousand Lights ....That’s something, amidst all his crimes, that I will always grudge Saddam for.
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