Ruminations on Saddam’s Guilty Verdict and the March of History

Yes. So I have been silent on Saddam’s guilty verdict and death sentence. But I promise you this: it is not the same kind of silence into which virtually all Arab heads of state have sunken -more like a dazed stupor, when not outrage and indignance. My silence has more to do with my chronic slothfulness that is about to ruin not only my blogging schedule by also my entire future academic career and graduate school plans. On the other hand, what is happening on the Arab street and in the Arab officialdom is a willing abandonment of conscience.

With the exception of Egypt’s Mubarak, who has publicly voiced his opposition to the death sentence (of course for political and pragmatic reasons and not because it will set a terrible precedent for all those who have ruled their countries long and hard), an eerie silence is ringing in the hollow of all Arab courts’ domes from Riyadh to Amman. There are more than a couple of reasons for this. And dutifully aware of the promise of this blog (i.e. no bars on cynicism) I shall recount them here.

First of course is the simple fact that when it comes to the Iraqi question, the Arab world is blinded by prejudice. Iraq is the only Shi’a majority Arab state, and the only other Muslim country with a Shi’a majority besides Iran -itself universally villified in the Arab world. So it is no surprise -especially after similar eerie silences in the aftermath of Samarra bombing and the large-scale daily massacres of Shi’as- that in the eyes of many Arab heads of state -and many in the Arab street- Saddam did not deserve the punishment handed down to him. If Saddam get’s a death sentence for crimes against a disenfranchised majority in his country, what about the Saudi royal family -whose official policy has been to root out religious minorities deemed untasteful by Wahhabi theology whether directly in the south of the Arabian Peninsula or by proxy as far away as in Afghanistan and Pakistan. (On which point, it is worth mentioning cursorily that this summer’s Hezbollah victory in Lebanon, while seemingly reclaiming Arab honor lost to Israel in the 1967 war, was in reality, a bitter pill for Sunni Arab statesmen to swallow -but alas, we shall not digress.)

Which brings us to the second point: Am I next? This is the question that is in the minds of all those Arab heads of state who have to answer for one crime or another that they have committed during their long tenures -in other words, all Arab heads of state; from monarch to the president, from general to the colonel, and from temporal to the ecclesiastic. Saddam’s trial and pending execution is an unwholesome reminder to the many other strongmen of the region that there is a slight chance that they too will suffer a similar reversal of fortunes and end up in the same defendent’s dock. And when you have something to answer for, even a slight chance that you will be questioned is a big inconvenience.

However, by far the biggest fear from Saddam’s execution is the fear of what I shall call a “Charles the First Effect,” -and here I shall slip into my favorite ‘historicist’ mood. When Charles I was executed in England 1649, it was not just another violent death -it had a profound impact on the people’s understanding of their relationship viz-a-viz their ruler. It did that thing that is most dangerous to all tyrants and enemes of open society -that is, stretching the ordinary person’s imagination -an irreversible damage. There have been topplings, murders, and natural and unnatural deaths of assorted kinds in Arab politics -but rarely an execution that has resulted from however shoddy a process of justice. Saddam’s trial is a first in this regard -and therefore a momentous occasion. Sure, it will have little or no positive impact on the situation at hand -but the situation at hand is but a ‘blip’ (is that the term Condi used to describe it?) when we speak of the ‘inexorable march of history’. The serious point is, Saddam’s trial and execution will open up possibilities in peoples minds -of justice and accountability for those who have always stood synonymous with handing out law and what was called justice. And many of these types abound in the Arab world today, and cringe at Saddam’s fate.

And for what it is worth, I will admit that that the imaginary ‘balance of justice in the world’ that I keep in my head, and that has been turning steeply lopsided in favor of injustice lately, did defy gravity momentarily with the verdict.

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4 Responses to Ruminations on Saddam’s Guilty Verdict and the March of History

  1. yasmiin says:

    what moral ground do they have to try Sadam? was it not in itself injustice to be overthrow by crooked westerns, and tried by Iraqi puppets?

    He is being tried and hang for 140 people killed, but the funny thing is Bush and the American are doing this, and the corrupt Iraqi Government whom I am sure is behind the daily blood letting of the Iraqi civilians who refused to bow down to the imperial, ” if they do not succumb to the imperial will, it is the grave” how many Iraqis the Americans freed their souls from their body, over a million? after all that bombing in Baqhdad I doubt it is less then Million.

    To me Justice is carried out by Just people, a government that was created by crooked outsider cannot be Justice. when the outsiders leave then what the Iraqs do is what is the true feeling of Iraqi people. for now I don’t think justice was served.

    I am not surprise the way you talk, anyone who worked the Crooks of International Crimanl Goons, or ICG, most defintly will not know what is right and what is wrong in life! yuck! not you but to ICG yuck,

  2. Borat says:

    “Iraq is the only Shi’a majority Arab state” — ummm, Bahrain?

  3. safrang says:

    @Yasmiin:
    I believe in my late grandmother’s view of justice -that is, justice often finds unlikely ways to manifest itself. Let me give you fair warning, this is not the tidy view of lawyer’s justice, but rather a mushy and diffuse form of villager’s justice that only the villager can afford (the kinds of F. Lee Bailey is way out of their league.)
    From the standpoint of villager’s justice, what is important at the end of the day is that justice is done. If you are joining Ramsy Clark and the chorus of Saddam’s defendents who are protesting the trial for technical and legal ‘irregularities’, then be my guest. Yours truly has little faith left in the debauchery of justice that is the legal process -the same process that is known to acquit criminals and incriminate the innocent.
    So even if I agree with what your (and Saddam’s – in many of his in-court outbursts) accusation that the court has no legal credentials or moral grounds to try him, it does not make a crucial difference in this view of justice. From the standpoint of his victims, even those who are not terribly amiable to the Americans, Saddam meets a fitting end for his innumberable crimes.
    On a more general note, I feel that many people should really get a grip and guard themselves against the tendency to make ‘America’ -or for that matter, anything- their sole moral compass. Let me elaborate: I think there is a fashionable tendency to disagree with everything that America does, well, because of the simple fact that America does it. This is in a way making America a reverse moral compass -which is as dangerous as agreeing with everything America does because of that fact itself.
    Here in Saddam’s trial, it is not anymore about the American or anti-American agenda -just because Americans helped organize the trial or made it possible -which mind you is not a little thing- does not mean that the process is automatically discredited or that Saddam did not deserve it. I find it inexcusable that a history of crimes so well documented -again a sign of divine, or even better, villager’s justice: it just so happens that both Nazi Germany and Saddam’s Iraq were such meticulous record-keepers of their exploits- should be ignored just because of the process or the people who carry it out.
    Here is something you can take heart in: if you are right about Americans and their crimes, then be sure that the villagers justice will find a way to implement itself on them too. It is a harsh and unrelenting and unlikely form of justice.
    As to my working with the crooks of ICG, well, you are simply too kind to credit me with undeserved loyalty to them. I am notoriously promiscuous and unloyal when it comes to taking up ideological positions and sticking by them. I have been an outsider and a gadfly wherever I have worked or studied in, and now that I see this huge tendency in the Muslim blogosphere of criticizing America, I find myself comfortable outside that mainstream too. A simple glance at the history of posts in this blog is enough to reveal the extent of my philosophical and political inconsistency and lack of card-board-box-ability.
    @Borat, I did not know that Bahrain was also a Shi’a majority Arab state, though I suspect that does not nearly make it as crucial a part of the notorious and widely feared Shi’a Crescent as Iraq. And the the geopolitics of the imaginary crescent is what the Arab states are really concerned about.

  4. Borat says:

    “Very nice, Hamesha!” “High five.”

    Beheading the ruler, gouging their eyes, castration -all this business isn’t new in our part of the world. Saddam’s death will be just another such event.

    Yasmiin – Saddam killed innocent people. I don’t see how anything can explicate Saddam from that. If we go down this road, it is not justice that we are concerned with, but rather scoring narrowly defined knee jerk political mini points.

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