“Take my photo,” exhorted Ali, a shopkeeper, holding aloft a picture of Saddam Hussein. He was selling hundreds of posters of Saddam in Sana, the capital of Yemen. “And mine too”, yelled a small boy, Yakub, selling pictures of Hussein on the streets. Every car had Hussein’s poster on the windshield. A shop was selling tyre covers with his photos printed on them. Shops displayed his pictures. I was flabbergasted at this adulation in the Arab countries, after Hussein’s execution. Abdullah, a businessman, is changing his name to Saddam. “He was a true Arab,” explained Ali, selling raisins in the street. “He kept Iraq together,” says Jasmine.
Many countries rightly condemned the execution as painful and barbaric. His execution, shown on the Internet, has ensured that he will be evoked for the dignity with which he handled his last minutes.
His responses to taunts, “Is this the manliness of Arabs? Is this the bravery of Arabs?” will haunt Arabs forever. Hussein will be remembered for choosing to meet death with open eyes. “I do not need it,” he said, when offered a mask. Those hanging him wore masks. He bore with equanimity the insults hurled at him. He kept a strong countenance, though he had minutes left. He couldn’t even complete his prayers.
Finally, he was the only person with any dignity in that execution chamber. Even President George W. Bush had to admit, a week later, that the execution was not dignified.
The scenes of the execution were despicable. He could have been sent into exile. As Gandhiji had said, “An eye for an eye, will only make the whole world blind.”
Hussein met his death with aplomb. He is supposed to have indulged in crimes against humanity, but the manner of his departure was an insult to human decency and dignity. In the movie, The Lion of the Desert, Sheikh Mukhtar battles the troops of General Graziani, Libya’s governor. The Italians had killed Arab prisoners. The followers of Mukhtar are about to kill an Italian prisoner soldier. Mukhtar restrains them, counselling, “They (Italians), are not our teachers.”
Hussein’s execution, appeared to be an act of vengeance. He may have been guilty of inhuman acts; but his executors were dehumanized. His executors made Hussein’s henchmen their teachers. The executing guards were party militia!
Sheikh Mukhtar was hanged by the Italian army. He told the General, “Do not tell the world, that in the privacy of this room, I asked you for my life!” Hussein’s daughter told the Times, UK, that her father had told them not to plead for his life.
It seems that the entire Iraq episode was whether the Sunnis or Shias should rule. Bush and Tony Blair would have wondered, why/how they got into this cauldron. Since 9/11, the world has been in mortal combat. Allied forces ousted the Taliban from Afghanistan, then Hussein from Iraq. The fight against Al Qaeda has taken the war into many lands. West Asia remains bitterly embattled, innocent citizens are slaughtered, purely because they are born in some sect. More than 150,000 people have died in Iraq, three million live as refugees and one million children miss school daily. The issues in Iran, Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq can be resolved amicably by talking. And understanding that to gain, we also have to give. A spirit of accommodation will melt guns into computers. International leaders and common citizens must create forums for a US-militants dialogue to end the bloodshed and pain.
The pivotal problem confronting the world is the return of refugees to Iraq. If Iraq is unstable, the entire West Asia is unhinged. Then, oil prices wobble and the world shudders. The admonition by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, that West Asia is a powder keg, is timely. Arab leaders must come together. Otherwise, West Asia will be the playground or battleground of superpowers.
Rajendra K. Aneja worked with Unilever in India, Latin America and Brazil. He is now CEO of a food company in West Asia. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org