Saturday, December 30, 2006


Saddam Hussein executed

An ambitious "firebrand" preaches a new way of thinking. He gathers forces about him, becoming an eminent figure even among the scholars, finding allies from every turn who are willing to support him. Then his campaign takes a potentially violent turn, and the Powers-That-Be had to take him down.

In taking him down, instead of stopping his followers in their tracks, support for his way of thinking even grew more dramatically. In the end, the Powers-That-Be launched a bloodbath even worse than they had initially feared.

I am not talking about Saddam Hussein. I am talking about Jose Rizal, dead today 110 years past.

In some way, I am also talking about the Christ, whose supreme sacrifice we continue to remember, but ironically we remain more fixated with the season of his birth than the manner of his death, which should inspire us more to take heed of the ideals of his ministry.

Regardless (before I launch a diatribe against the commercialization of Christmas and the all-too palpable "deification" of Jose Rizal), the death of Saddam Hussein leaves me torn.

Saddam was never a hero. He was the supreme opportunist, parlaying his organizational genius to break into the halls of power, peddling both Arabic nationalist slogans and a vision of a strong Middle Eastern state (in Iraq) as he rode the waves of turmoil to grab the Presidency of Iraq.

He kept the various factions and tribes together, dealing with the most intractable with an iron fist. He elevated Iraq from obscurity to front-page headlines by invading Iran as the US's proxy against the Glorious Islamic Revolution of Ayatollah Khomeini. He succeeded in fostering a fervent Iraqi nationalism, spearheading the outflow of prodigious Iraqi scholars and businessmen, and came close to making his Iraq a secular, albeit disciplined and moral state.

That he was devious, underhanded, and perhaps a misanthrope to boot is beside the point. One can point out to several historical antecedents and to current examples among today's world leaders. Saddam was never unique, and he never claimed to be.

Was it hubris that caused his downfall? Perhaps. The invasion of Kuwait was definitely a no-no, and his subsequent conduct of his occupation and the resultant counter-invasion by the Grand Coalition exposed him for the craven manipulator that he was. The US leadership at the time, for all its brilliance in ousting Saddam from Kuwait, could have and should have finished the job of ridding Iraq of Saddam then. There would have been no question of intervention, and countless lives would have been saved as the Kurds who rose in rebellion (abetted surely by the US) would not have been on the business end of Saddam's revenge.

As it was, the elder Bush administration pulled its punches, and was subsequently upended by the Democratic challenger, Bill Clinton.

Fast-forward to events of recent vintage. The younger Bush, a slicker communicator but perhaps half (or even less) the statesman his father was, invaded Iraq (despite prevaling international sentiment against the same) on the pretext that Saddam had a cache of chemical weapons and weapons of mass destruction. The war is now entering its fifth year, and no sign of these weapons has been established. Iraq, too, has bogged down into a morass of sectarian and ethnic strife.

I am torn not because I have any remorse over the death of Saddam. He got his just deserts, despite the kangaroo court the Iraqi government set up to try him of war crimes. The charges were ridiculous, rather off-tangent. Few people would agree to the manner in which the former dictator was tried, though most would readily agree that the heavy hand of American interventionism was fully involved.

I am torn because the swirl and shift of events in this part of the world, which I consider another haven, have become even murkier, darker, and filled with the quiet promise of more violence.

Perhaps the American leadership and those who supported the war would say this hanging has the stamp of "mission accomplished," and go on with the business of securing the Iraqi "democracy." Oh sure, I'm ecstatic with delight. The US presence has neither stopped the violence at the grassroots level and nor have they won over the locals or the international community for this hateful war.

This hanging, however, is just the beginning of another stage in the war, and so far, what I get is that Saddam was not executed, he was martyred. The thought of placing him in the same company as Jesus and Jose Rizal makes me cringe. No, check that, it makes me sick to my soul.

Back home, the heavy hand of the Americans again makes itself felt when the Arroyo administration finally caves in to pressure and sends convicted rapist Daniel Smith back to the custody of the US Embassy.

Rizal duly foretold the annexation of the Philippines by the United States nine years before the event. I wonder what will Rizal make of how weak-kneed and shortsighted the mass of Filipinos have become, while their leaders, instead of taking them forward, have become their most ardent oppressors, all in their name.

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