Guest Author - Lisbeth Cheever-Gessaman
Saddam Hussein, reviled despot of the Iraqi regime and perpetrator of countless Human Rights violations against millions of people, was convicted Sunday for his crimes against humanity and sentenced to death. This should have been a win-win situation. Mahud al-Bahari, a 45-year-old journalist in Iraq, is among those who are satisfied with the verdict, stating, "I still remember when they put my brother in a shredding machine and threw his body in the Tigris river." Many others voiced the same satisfaction.
However, rather than the expected and unilateral rejoicing in the streets in the name of justice, there are numerous reports from within the Iraqi and Muslim community of just as many people defiantly protesting the verdict and thrusting forth posters of Saddam and swearing righteous revenge. In a country where the inevitable political spin is going to be positioned as bias, it makes sense to know exactly who supports this among our mideastern brethren, and why (or why not). What’s a girl to do?
Hit up “Google’ and produce some timely research. Certainly I am not the only one here that is confused.
That Hussein was an evil man and waged a horrendous campaign against his own people in the quest of religious extremism, power and greed is not up for debate. Very few will argue that Hussein was a good leader. But if he is as horrible as that, as hated as that and as reviled as that, then why are so many Muslims taking to the street today with posters and keychains shouting “God is Great” and protesting his sentencing? Is this simply predictable anti-American sentiment, or something greater?
It’s not an easy answer. At least part of understanding the division of supporters vs. protesters lies within the existing sectarian strife within the understanding of two important factions in Muslim today, the Sunnis and the Shiites. Allow me to elaborate, if you will.
The majority of the world’s Muslims follow the Sunni branch of Islam, with an estimated 10-15% practicing as Shiites. The differences in their tenets stem back to the succession of Muhammed the Prophet upon his death in 632 AD, and consisted of whether leadership should be assumed by a pious and qualified individual who would lead by following the customs of the prophet, or whether the succession should hail directly from the prophets bloodline. Community leaders inevitably chose Abu Kabr, a companion of the Prophet, to become their Caliph (Arabic for ‘successor’). Those who challenged this designation supported the candidacy of Ali ibn Abi Talib, the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, husband of Fatima, Muhammeds daughter. Those who supported Ali’s ascendancy were referred to as ‘Shi’a’, which means ‘helpers of Ali’. Those who respected and accepted the legitimacy of his caliphate, but opposed political succession based on bloodline became known as ‘Sunni’, or “Followers of the prophet’s customs (Sunna)’.
Eventually, this conflict inevitably led to the Umayyads claim to the caliphate being challenged, with his murder subsequently following in 680 AD. The rest, as they say, is history.
Sunnis ruled Iraq under Saddam, with Shiites and Kurds being ruthlessly persecuted. Now, Shiites lead the current Iraqi government. What is important to note is that the majority of Sunni’s are protesting the verdict against Hussein, with the majority of the Shiites praising it, regardless of location or affiliation with Iraq as a political force. Thus, division exists on multiplicitous levels, a great many of which are simply religious differences and righteous indignations.
However, another aspect of the questionable victory of the verdict lies not within any denial of actuality of guilt, but with the handling of the proceedings and the political influence of the western world. That Hussein was a dictator and merciless in his rule is barely debatable; His violations of human rights were so horrendous that the UN imposed sanctions against Iraq in 1990 instituting relief only in the form of the “oil for food” program after Iraq agreed to certain terms of the resolution itself, and only then in hopes to extend relief to the people. Under Husseins’ leadership, tens of thousands of individuals systematically ‘dissapeared’. Death penalties were undertaken extensively, torture was routinely and eagerly employed. There is no doubt that this is a warmonger that should rightfully pay penance for his horrific crimes.
However, when even Amnesty International voices concerns over the fairness of the trial and announces an official statement against it, it gets one thinking. "This trial should have been a major contribution towards establishing justice and the rule of law in Iraq, and in ensuring truth and accountability for the massive human rights violations perpetrated by Saddam Hussein’s rule," said Malcolm Smart, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Program. "In practice, it has been a shabby affair, marred by serious flaws that call into question the capacity of the tribunal, as currently established, to administer justice fairly, in conformity with international standards."
Further charges were made including:
• Accusations of political interference undermining the independence and impartiality of the court, causing the first presiding judge to resign and blocking the appointment of another;
• That the court failed to take adequate measures to ensure the protection of witnesses and defence lawyers, three of whom were assassinated during the course of the trial;
• That Saddam Hussein was also denied access to legal counsel for the first year after his arrest, and complaints by his lawyers throughout the trial relating to the proceedings do not appear to have been adequately answered by the tribunal.
Not being one to concede that unethical means justify a righteous end, I can only conclude that in the zeal to align our righteousness, we’ve alienated justice somehow, indignant in that way that only the dishonest with truth ever can be.
And so, I neither celebrate nor protest this momentous day. Instead, I light a candle for us all.