Sunday, January 07, 2007

Meditations on a Hanging 2

Gordon Brown now having condemned the manner of Saddam's hanging and the Iraqis being upset by all the international condemnation, it is clear the whole affair has gone the Middle Eastern way - ie badly. To clarify one point about my previous and hurried post on this matter: I was merely quoting Chris's thoughts. For me, it is obvious Saddam had to die for purely pragmatic reasons. Alive in prison, he would have become just another bargaining chip - his release, for example, becoming a useful Sunni-placatory mechanism. The manner of his death, however, has plainly been a catastrophe for all the reasons given by others. Its replaying as a YouTube video will confirm the views of embittered Islamists that we are, indeed, a decadent culture. But one point in particular bothers me. The taunting of Saddam seconds before his death will have convinced him that his savage, tribal view of the world was correct. He would have died, in his own mind, justified. A silent, dignified execution may not have inspired remorse, but it may have given him at least a glimpse of the possibility that he was deluded. Perhaps this is mad, perhaps writing a book on immortality has addled my brain and perhaps it is true that Saddam's final thoughts are irrelevant. But, for some reason, I can't bring myself to think so.


  1. Apart from the particular circumstances in Iraq, if by using the reasoning that justifies or demands executions of those who merit it, I presume we would have to execute the Americans and British who helped place Saddam in power in the first place, those who sold him the weapons to gas the Kurds, those who funded his war on Iran, those who have now plunged Iraq into utter chaos, those who bombed the hell out of Vietnam and Cambodia with charming substances such as Agent Orange, those Russians like Putin who have reduced Chechnya to a bloody hell-hole, those Chinese who ...etc etc etc etc etc.
    Tedious and blunt I know, but power politics is a mire of hypocrisy and murder, and the idea of isolating someone like Saddam Hussein, and saying he deserved death as if we can be relatively content that justice has strikes me as creating a fantasy Peter Pan world in which we get to dwell with something like easy consciences, at the minor expense of disconnection from reality. I'm sure if our televsions were kind enough to show the thousands of mutilated bodies in Iraq, the children's decaying bodies, the images of Abu Ghraib(the really horrific ones) and focus on the blatant lying to justify this invasion, would we be saying, yes, Blair, Bush and the gang deserve death? There is a greater justice than that meted out by us humans, however.

  2. depends if these in fact were Saddam's "final thoughts" - if (as i believe is the case) scientists can't explain consciousness as a purely material phenomenon, then there's no reason to suppose it doesn't survive its obvious physical circs, i.e. a working brain.

    i haven't seen the video and don't want to. But i've been thinking of Gandalf's words to Frodo, when the hairy-toed little man says it's a pity Bilbo didn't kill Gollum when he had the chance; to which Gandalf, "it was pity that stayed his hand [...] Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal our death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends."

    Would anyone describe Bush & his handlers as "the very wise"?

  3. The whole thing is illegitimate, in my view. Surely by the logic of the apologists for the execution, Mugabe (for example) deserves to be executed just as much (if not more)than does Saddam Hussain.

    It seems to me that you can only justify state killing if someone who accepts the protection of the state and all that entails then breaks the state's rules (which he accepted in the first place and which it is to be hoped are synonymous with morality) badly enough to be a danger to others who expect to be similarly protected. That's the moral basis for hanging murderers.

    But this Saddam hanging has little to do with that. It can only be described as 'victors' justice' and instead of trying to dress it up as the imposition of morality we should be honest about it - it was the only pragmatic course open to the US. But there's nothing morally defensible about it, even if it is the US that's behind it.

  4. If there could be one moral absolute, it should be that one should never take a life deliberately and/or knowingly outside very narrowly defined medical circumstances. This should be considered axiomatic. I think that would be a good start. A reevaluation of all values, anyone?

  5. If "one should never take a life deliberately and/or knowingly outside very narrowly defined medical circumstances," then what is one supposed to do with those, like Saddam, who do precisely that, and on a grand and vicious scale? Saddam was a murderous SOB who got better than he desrved - a sanitized version of frontier justice.