The tyrant is fallen — Happy New Year

December 31st, 2006
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It’s never pretty to see a man die, but one has to move beyond squeamishness and see the execution of Saddam Hussein as rightful, just and a huge achievement for the long-suffering people of Iraq.

Hannah Arendt famously coined the phrase “the banality of evil” to describe Nazi war criminals. I always thought she had it slightly wrong: Evil is profound, the banality resides in those who do evil. The man with the coal-black eyes opening into an empty abyss shuffled to the gallows with his mouth grimly set. But nobody materialized to save him. He finally had something in common with all his victims.

CNN led into the execution (with an undertone of disbelief, as if the event would be cancelled at the last second to accord with post-modern Western sensibilities) with a stomach-turningly graphic examination of what death by hanging does to the human body. They had an anatomically correct cut-away, and a bespectacled expert (did he actually have a pointer, or is my memory playing tricks?) providing commentary on what happens to cervical vertebrae, neck arteries, sections of the brain, etc., at the instant that the body ceases its downward acceleration after falling through the trapdoor.

It appears I missed the CNN specials in which they discussed with equal detail what happens to human bodies when they are fed feet-first into industrial plastic shredders (with family members watching). Or to human brains when a Tokarev pistol is placed against the skull and the trigger squeezed, sending blood and brains out the victim’s face. Or to a woman’s body after 15 men rape her. Or to genitals after electrodes are taped to them and the switch is flipped to activate the car battery.

You know. The stuff Saddam and his secret police did to some 600,000 innocent Iraqis. Where was CNN when the mass graves were unearthed? At the last report I saw, 400,000 bodies had been recovered. And the task continues.

Despite the West’s defeatism and confusion, I can’t help thinking that the large majority of Iraqis are quietly but profoundly proud of what they’ve achieved. Yes, things are often horrible over there. Yes, their federal government is feckless and corrupt. But it’s a democratically elected, civilian government, in which civilian judges and lawyers tried their former tormenter, weighed evidence, rendered a verdict, imposed a sentence and, amazingly, carried it out.

After the liberation from fascism of Germany and Japan, it fell to Allied courts to try the monsters and dispose of them on the local peoples’ behalf. The Iraqis managed to do this themselves (albeit under American protection). As much as we jeer at them in the West, in that sense they’re more advanced than the Germans or Japanese.

After the execution, Western journos issued the usual homogenized claims that “nothing would change” following Saddam’s hanging. This of course followed months of warnings that Iraq would erupt in violence if he were executed.

For me, I can’t help thinking that something will change – for the better. As long as Saddam was alive, a certain core of Sunni Arabs would keep on fighting, thinking that their Fuhrer, their Dear Leader, their Great Helmsman, would rise from the ashes to restore their country to hegemonic glory. It’s as if Hitler had watched the Nuremburg trials from a comfortable exile in Argentina or some Bavarian mountain redoubt, vowing to return as soon as those Amis relaxed their guard. An untenable if hypethetical situation back then. And an absurd one in Iraq ever since Saddam was pulled from his hole, lacking the courage even to fire his loaded pistol.

Until now. Now, he really is gone. Forever.

Happy New Year to all our readers, and to all Iraqis!


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