An Immortal Saddam?

This is a familiar discussion. How dangerous is it to label entire countries as ‘evil’? Iraq, Iran and North Korea, the Triumvirate of Evil they are, and Saddam Hussein will no doubt be the first great Muslim martyr of the 21st century. Not those dozen or so martyrs who died in 9/11 or Palestinian martyrs who died fighting (of if you prefer, replace ‘martyr’ in this sentence by ‘terrorist’). We’re talking about Saddam Hussein, the one who, despite thousands of bombs and “Shock and Awe,” still lives!

It doesn’t matter if the images showing Saddam Hussein alive and well were indeed the real Saddam. He is now imprinted on our collective conscience as the one that survived thousands of bombs and still states Iraq will be victorious; he has propelled Iraqi patriotism as well as uniting Arab-ness, and may I add, this is what Saddam had planned all along.

As much as these ideas of Saddam may disconcert rational thinkers, imagine if you were an Iraqi or a Muslim. Here’s Saddam who endured injustice – despite the first Gulf War, then US-led sanctions for twelve years. Never mind the fact that Saddam was the aggressor in the first Gulf War, people tend to forget and forgive these regional disputes when faced with a bigger, non-regional threat. In 2000, Hussein made a political statement and switched to the Euro from the dollar for the United Nation’s oil-for-food program, which OPEC was indeed pondering at the time.

In addition, Saddam Hussein brought order to the factionalized population under the Iraqi flag, provided education to his citizens and modernized Iraq. Yet because of his brutal methods, his unquenchable desire for self-glorification and an unrelenting mania for power, he became isolated and detested, even by his Arab neighbors and brothers.

Yet ever since this war began, Saddam has portrayed himself as the guardian of Iraq, as well as the victim of a bully. He has called the United States a terrorist regime and shamelessly repeats the recent anti-war rhetoric in order to sympathize all those who’d watch – his cause being Iraq’s sovereignty. He has said “I was born in Iraq and I will live and die in Iraq,” thereby equating his death with Iraqi nationalism, and bringing himself one step closer to martyrdom. His strategy is working: the Iraqis are fighting back against the most powerful nation the world has ever known. Even ex-patriot Iraqis are returning by busloads to fight for Saddam and thus for Iraq, and I would argue, for a greater Arab brotherhood.

Was it ever realistic for the Anglo-American alliance to expect an easy victory or cheerleaders instead of fighters? Were they so naive to actually believe that Iraqis would welcome them as liberators from a repressive regime? We don’t know if those in the Pentagon miscalculated the Iraqi resistance. After all, the Iraqis have been living under abject living conditions for the last twelve years, and her hospitals are full of children suffering from cancer or leukemia possibly from the use of depleted uranium from the last Gulf War. How can you miscalculate so much pain and suffering? It would be a grave miscalculation indeed to underestimate the past decade during which Iraq made more graves for her children than for her elderly, whoever is to blame.

Accordingly President Bush has warned us not to expect an easy victory. He has also said “either you’re with us or against us,” and combine that with the widening world opinion that America practices a double-standard. Therefore Rumsfeld’s comments that POWs aired on TV was a contravention of the Geneva Convention were all but laughed at. It’s unfortunate that international law has become the subject of jokes.

Furthermore, domestic support for the war in the United States and in Britain has been growing, whereas the opposite takes place in the Middle East, even pro-democracy Arabs are finding themselves defending Saddam and admiring his guts. Educated elites in the region have learned to give up hope of the United States installing a democratic regime in the Middle East. Haitham Maleh, a lawyer working for the Human Rights Association of Syria said, “the U.S. has always supported the dictators who rule our countries.” He isn’t alone in distrusting US intentions of post-war Iraq, and you can’t blame him for not sticking his head into the sand out of hopeful thinking.

There’s a dangerous dualistic polarization beginning to solidify in our world. Saddam is becoming all the more ‘evil’ for the West, whereas he is becoming the defender of Arabs and effectively, the ‘good’. Flip-flop this for Bush and Blair.

It can be argued that in every war, there is mutual demonization and sanctification on each side. However we need to make the assessment now: is it safer for Saddam to be dead or alive?

Let’s remember that Saddam Hussein sent $25,000 to every Palestine martyr. It’s clear that Hussein understands the importance of martyrdom in the Muslim consciousness. Some even speculate that Hussein is currently outsmarting the Anglo-American coalition and is planning to die at Karbala, where Imam Hussain, the grandson of the prophet Mohammed died in 680 AD.

Indeed, if the United States wanted to start a holy war, there’s no better way of doing it than killing Saddam Hussein, and calling him ‘evil’. The growing perception that the United States is attacking Islam must not be underestimated. In this case, who’s outsmarting who? If Saddam dies as a martyr for the Muslims, you can be sure that Saddam would be the smarter one; he would have succeeded to glorify himself once again and immortalize himself in the Muslim consciousness, thereby inspiring countless other Muslims to do the same. An immortal Saddam…could he be even more dangerous dead than alive?

This is why post-war Iraq must be dealt with utmost compassion and tact. George Bush’s simplistic version of good vs. evil, his minimal budget proposal for post-war Iraq reconstruction, the rewarding of Halliburton for oil contracts, the neglect of post-war Afghanistan — all leave us with much doubt. As much as Rumsfeld’s words of “Shock and Awe” have proven true, we hope that George Bush’s words of freedom for Iraqis will also be proven true.

Jee Hyung Kim is a Korean-American freelance writer. He contributed above article to Media Monitors Network (MMN) from Paris, France.