The title of this post is a statement of fact. Before the hate mail starts to pour in, let me explain…No, there is too much. Let me sum up.
When I wrote my previous post, the ghastly cell phone video [CNN’s sanitized version is here] of Saddam Hussein’s execution had not yet surfaced. I had argued then that the execution would make a martyr out of Saddam. Now I am certain of it.
Saddam died reciting the Shahada, which is the first of the Five Pillars of Islam. The Shahada is the Muslim testimony of faith: "There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger." Saddam recited the longer form: "I testify that there is no god but Allah, and I testify that Muhammad is his messenger." To become a Muslim, one has to recite the Shahada, usually in front of two other Muslims. Muslims will also recite the Shahada, as Saddam did, moments before death.
Every Muslim, including myself, knows the Shahada, in its original Arabic, by heart. The spectacle of Saddam Hussein, while he was being taunted by masked men moments before his death, reciting the Shahada had the effect of humanizing him to the Muslim world. The fact that the execution took place on Eid-ul-Azha did not particularly help his executioners’ cause with the Muslim world. The timing of the execution was an affront to Muslims – protestations that it was the Iraqis, and not Washington, who decided the timing will fall on deaf ears in the Arab and Muslim world.
Before Saddam’s execution, I did not think it was possible to humanize the Butcher of Baghdad – I was wrong. During Saddam’s rule, he sent many people to the gallows and torture chambers. His cruelty was well known throughout the Arab world. Yet, by putting him to death in such mafia fashion, with his executioners in death squad garb, the thugs of Iraq and their benefactors in the Bush Administration have managed a Herculean feat. Through the power of video, they have managed to humanize a tyrant.
Perhaps it is a sign of the times. Already in Iraq many long for the stability of Saddam’s rule. It is not difficult to imagine that the men who executed Saddam, while chanting "Moqtada! Moqtada! Moqtada!", are the same men who deposit tortured corpses of Sunni men, with drill holes in their heads, all around Iraq. The grainy execution video made it quite clear to anyone who was not paying attention that George W Bush has handed Iraq over to sectarian militias and death squads.
By some estimates, this new Iraq has already cost over 650,000 lives. Those numbers suggest that the thugs that rule Iraq today are far outpacing the deaths caused by Saddam Hussein’s regime. By comparison, Saddam looks good. This is a fine legacy for George W Bush and his war of choice.