Saturday, December 30, 2006

Machiavelli would be smiling...

It is a strange feeling, updating my blog last night knowing that in a few hours, this man, somewhere in Iraq, was sitting in a cell contemplating his fate. While I had laid my head down to rest I couldn't help but imagine what it would feel like knowing you are hours if not minutes away from being hung. A human feeling of pity is inevitable and you wonder how it is that men can do such evil to each other. It is unlikely that he himself lost much sleep over the people that his security apparatus burned, shot, electrocuted, tortured or melted in acid. His Western backed invasion of Iran ensured that two potentially great Middle Eastern powers bled each other to death as generations of their finest and worst tore each other to pieces on the killing fields that were their borders. Perhaps up to one and a half million souls perished in the meat mincer that was the Iran-Iraq war. Indeed, up until perhaps twenty years ago, Saddam's Iraq may even have qualified for what Mr Blair fondly refers to as the "moderate" states of the Middle East. Furthermore,the gruesome fates meted out to people unfortunate enough to fall in the hands of his security apparatus would make a grown man squirm in his chair on hearing the details, and behind the facade of the Pan-Arab hero lay a vicious, thuggish, vain and greedy man.

Julius Caesar once said that you should only break the law to seize power, in all other cases obey it. There are few who would epitomise Machiavelli's Prince so much and prove such a startling example of realpolitik. Indeed a glimpse through any biography of Saddam Hussein is more likely to bring to mind Tony Montana from the film Scarface than any other. Character flaws aside, Saddam was a masterful political animal, not the greatest, but enough to ensure that apart from a full fledged invasion by the worlds only superpower, there was nothing that would have shaken his grip on power. He was a man who was able through fear and terror to exert and maintain control of an entire country, by exerting pressure at the exact points needed. His goal was simply to remain in power, nothing more, nothing personal. He lavished those loyal to him with extravagance, exacted furious vengeance on those foolish enough to cross him and knew enough to manipulate mens desires. He also had guts by the bucket loads and regardless of what silly newspaper articles might say, he did not flinch when sentenced to death and he was not afraid as the noose was tied around his neck. Like Machiavelli's Prince, he knew when to keep a promise and when to break it, when to draw blood and when to appear as the benefactor, all coupled with a keen attention to his cult of personality.

Some such as As'ad Abu Khalil pointed out his inconsistency while others such as Abd al Bari Atwan extol his virtues as an Arab champion. Both are correct, but for the wrong reasons. The inconsistency that Abu Khalil described on his blog was more to do with political necessity and pragmatism for his own ultimate goal than anything else. Hence he was quite comfortable having holes drilled in Shiites or mosques demolished while at the same time calling for the liberation of Palestine and recompensing the families of suicide bombers with a financial lump sum. He would proclaim his authentic Islamic credentials, especially after his 1991 defeat, while murdering Christians, Sunnis and Shiites, illustrated perhaps most in that famous picture of him in prayer with his eyes firmly on the camera instead of to Mecca. It is because of this pragmatism that he has become an Arab Champion of sorts, as Mr Atwan pointed out and why many are mourning his death. Ironically his pragmatism also ensured a modicum of security and stability for Iraq. al Jazeera English had an Iraqi Christian woman (now taking refuge in Syria) who said she was sad for his death and believed he was good for the Christians of Iraq, Tariq Aziz was one of his most prominent aides and also a Christian. Ambitious projects to modernise Iraq, boosting levels of education and technical skill were also part of his plan to make Iraq a regional power on all levels. Ultimately he aimed to be compared with men such as Gamal Abed al Nasser of Egypt or even to Salah el Din, the liberator of Jerusalem. Indeed, these two men also had their fair share of blood on their hands and Nasser in particular is credited with introducing concepts of the secret police and torture to the Arab world. However, where Saddam falls flat on his face, and in spite of following every political rule which would have ensured his survival, he was no Prince as Machiavelli would have recognised. Nasser and Salah el Din were such Princes. They knew when to be generous and when not to, when to be cruel and when to be forgiving. They all knew it was better to be feared than hated. Where they leave behind Saddam is that they possessed that moral fibre and interest in the overall good for their nation, the avoidance of cruelty for cruelties sake and unnecessary injustice on their people.

Saddam broke the main rules of being a Prince of the people. He built fortresses when his men would have been the best defence. He committed the cardinal sin of interfering with his mens livelihoods and women. Finally, through his unnecessary cruelty, those that survived him or his company were only flatterers and cowards of men so that when the time came, they proved of no use to him and deserted him at his hour of need. truly you only get one chance to test the mettle of those around you, Baghdad fell in a day rather than becoming the grave yard of the American invaders. If there is anything sad about the execution of Saddam at the hands of the Americans, for that is indeed what has happened, then it is the abysmal state that the Arab world finds itself in today. We clutch at the essence of any person defying the United States and Israel and proclaim him our champion, such is the dire need for one that we have. Saddam was eager to assume that role and for that, many of us thanked him and cheered, like followers of a charlatan or false prophet. When the music stopped playing we were then bewildered and lost, still without Jerusalem, still under occupation.

The Americans too, are committing the cardinal sin of fighting a war in another land, a land they have no intention to live in. They have destroyed the continuity of the old laws and imposed their own which has caused resentment among the people. They have proven worse than he who they replaced and caused untold bloodshed and because of all these factors, they will lose their war in Iraq and have lost the thanks of Iraqi's. The fact that they hanged Saddam on the first day of Eid only serves to buttress his position as Arab champion. This in spite of the fact that they managed to extinguish his line by killing his two sons and grandson in what was a desperate last stand. There is no winner in Iraq not the people, not Saddam and not the Americans. Saddam and the Americans we described earlier, as for the people, they have also been denied Justice by the American occupation. Bearing in mind the trials of the Nazi's after WWII, the greatest tragedy of the execution of Saddam was that he was hung because he lost and not for his crimes...this is the American world we find ourselves in.

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