Back in my days as an undergraduate at Southampton University, I leant through dealings with Arab students that the Iraqi Baathist regime was built on violence. In the years that followed, nothing changed that view. I remember all too well the war with Iran, the cruel dealings towards the Kurds, the hanging of Observer journalist Farzad Bazoft and the subsequent invasion of Kuwait.
I wrote this so that it is clear that I have no affection for the late Saddam Hussein. He was without doubt a violent ruler. However, I opposed the war launched by Bush and Blair in 2003 on the grounds that war rarely solves problems and that the agenda was dishonest. I also saw no likely happy outcome. Indeed, it emerges that even within the Foreign Office and amongst politicans, those with a modicum of understanding of the Arab world sensed that this war would open the very gates of Hell. And so it has proved.
All of this brings be to the question of Saddam. Given that his rule included many crimes, it was right that he should be brought to trial. Unlike Bush, I favour international courts to deal with such cases. Bush, on the other hand, clearly favours a lynch mob mentality with a jolly good hanging. The removal of judges throughout the Saddam trial was as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have pointed out, inconsistent with a fair trial. This criticism should be taken seriously although I for one, have no doubts that Saddam was guilty of crimes against humanity.
Yet, I remain opposed to the use of capital punishment. In part this is because no decent society can be formed by the breaking of a neck. Such action only feeds the cycle of violence and is part of the pagan myth of redemptive violence which Christians need to oppose. Indeed, as a Methodist I am also convinced that God can work in even the most foul offender through his transformative love. I have no doubt that the way of a good society would have been to impose a sentence of life imprisonment. The practicalisies of this case also suggest that such an approach would have enabled subsequent and more grievous charges than even those of which he was convicted to be put. I cna not help but wonder if some of those charges may have been inconvenient froma western perspective due to the fact that in the 1980s he was in the main "our son of a bitch" which could raise all manner of issues.
But not only should the matter of the imposition of capital punishment be an issue. The way in which it was done also raises concerns. The Iraqi Government in its conduct of the execution was either incompetent or pernicious. Whichever is the case, suggests little hope. From the theatrical signing of the death warrant by the Prime Minister, things went wrong. The films of the process suggests that it was carried out in a quite disgraceful manner akin to a lynching. There is no credit in insulting a person before killing them. Oh yes, Saddam wouldn't have been above such conduct, but it is a sad state if we are reduced to taking Saddam as our moral barometer. But especially concerning is the chants of support for Moqtada al Sadr, the militia warlord. What on earth were his fans doing at a Gov't organised execution?
Now, the reality is that this was not just Iraqi Gov't justice. The US, which will only join the league of civilised states when it ends its own policy of state execution/murder, was as the holder of Saddam heavily implicated. More and more , it also seems that the UK Gov't showed no stomach for the fight. But fight they jolly well should have. Not because Saddam merited mercy. Of course not! But preciely because he was such a reprobate, that the chance to make a powerful stand against the stench of capital punishment, was possible.
So what are we left with? Well, the execution will hardly heal the communal tensions in Iraq. The timeing of the execution on such an important day in the Muslim calendar as well as its conduct, have seen to that. But more than that, the glee with which the photographs have been produced and videos including the ultimate snuff video ( which I have not seen and hope my children never see) have been distributed on the internet, is in many ways seriously sick and pornographic. The outcome is quite simply that the last few days have left us just that little bit nastier than we were before.
A few years ago, I heard fellow Christians express joy that the UK and US were being led by Christians. Having watched their violence, I have to say if that is Christianity, just leave me out of it! I want nothing to do with the violence of these men. Indeed, I'd take a decent atheist over either of them.
This is a time to stand against violence including that within ourselves. We need to discover the spiritual resources which enables us to say no to the violence that was deemed acceptable for our children to watch over the past weekend, the violence that for too long has been allowed to hide behind weasel phrases such as "collateral damage."
Yes, a bad man was killed in Baghdad. But in the dehumanising way that events unfolded, I fear that we have learnt something very unpleasant about ourselves.