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When the Camera Creates a Hero | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Coincidently, I was in Baghdad to attend an official Arab conference at the end of December 1989, when the revolution that toppled ex-Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu had erupted. Despite the fact that Baghdad was the central point for all Arab rulers and officials at that time and after its triumph in the devastating war with Iran, I still felt strongly that the then regime was heading in same the direction as the Romanian model.

I did not expect that matters could escalate so quickly, as the imprudent act of invading Kuwait took place which led the country through a dark tunnel for many years and ended with American troops overthrowing the regime. I also did not expect that the leader of the regime would be exterminated by the American gallows, in the same way as a martyr or a hero in the eyes of many people. I did not expect such an act to take place instead of granting Saddam Hussein a fair trial that would cause a real break in the modern and bloodstained history of Iraq.

Once again, I recalled the Romanian case and remembered my visit to Bucharest in February 2002 to supervise the Arab-European dialogue forum. Whenever I came across a constructional milestone, I was told by the elderly Orientalist Dobershan who accompanied me on my journey to Romania that “All that you see are the accomplishments of the deceased”, (in reference to Ceausescu).

It seemed to me that Dobershan’s words were shrouded in mockery. I had heard much about the tyranny of Ceausescu and the suppression practiced by his security agencies, however, during my stay in Bucharest, elements of his comments surfaced through other people’s statements and analyses of politicians and academics. One of them told me: We witnessed injustice and oppression; we were equal in poverty and subjugation, however, today we can shout as loud as we want, our markets are full of valuable goods. Nevertheless, poverty is spreading and security is collapsing. Security forces, which had once ruled us, have turned into Mafia that steal from us and drain our resources in the name of democracy and freedom. Ceausescu’s popularity had increased and we developed profound nostalgia, longing for the days that we once considered dark. I was dismayed by these comments.

I had recently heard the same words muttered by a prominent Iraqi figure, a Shia and an opponent of the toppled Baathist regime. He told me, “We opposed Saddam and fought with him, as we were aware that he was the head of a repressive dictatorship, who led the country to disaster. But what have we gained since the overthrow [of his regime]?” Sectarian strife, lack of security, comprehensive social and economic downfalls, as well as foreign occupation and external interference by neighboring countries.

It is true that the state was repressive but it was an established entity. Today, this entity has vanished. Thus, owing to policies of the US and Iraqi government, one should not be surprised that Saddam has turned into a hero in the eyes of those who once regarded him a brutal beast.

This conversation had taken place months before the execution of Saddam Hussein. Just as the trial of Ceausescu was quick and retaliatory, the trial of Saddam Hussein was more or less the same. There trial did not see any respect for regulations and formalities of law; it was overwhelmed by the spirit of revenge and ended with the terrible theatrical execution that has provoked strong sentiments amongst Muslims during Eid ul-Adha.

This is not to object to the concept of prosecution, since the right of prosecution is sacred and guarantees the right of Saddam Hussein’s victims (of which there are many). However, the exasperating manner in which the trial was held and the execution process carried out had generated a broad impression that the whole process was not about revealing the truth, and achieving justice for those who have been inflicted. The main objective was to conceal a lengthy, intricate and exciting chapter in the history of modern Iraq during which Saddam was a troublesome and guilty player.

A file dealing with American support for Iraq during the war with Iran and the complicity of the American administration in the suppression and persecution of the Kurds, needed to be hidden. There were also rumors of tacit collusion between the administration of President Bush Senior and the Saddam regime during the occupation of Kuwait that needed to be silenced.

Some stated that the execution of Saddam Hussein would be the turning point for relationships between the communities and sects of Iraq, at a time when Iraq witnesses devastating sectarian strife that has only been fueled by the manner in which the execution was conducted.

Once again, the naivety of the American view in using the weapon of imagery is apparent. Another example is the Abu Ghraib scandal, the photos of which have undermined the “morality” and “legality” of the war which was introduced as a war for the liberation of Iraqis. Such naivety reappeared with pictures of the execution of Saddam Hussein as he recited the Shahadah on the first day of Eid ul-Adha; yet another strong blow to the American efforts to gain access to the Arab and Islamic publics.

And this is how the assassinated murderer was transformed into a martyr in the eyes of many Iraqis, Arabs and Muslims. The American media machine did not realize that death is the greatest producer of myths and that our people are governed by the dead whom we see in our dreams and expect to return.

As far as the situation in Iraq is concerned, it is collapsing with occupation authorities reaching the end of a blocked tunnel and sectarian conflict becoming increasingly horrifying, the elements of the legend will then be completed. Iraqis will be inclined to forget the real man [that Saddam Hussein was] and his infamous atrocities, creating a different image of him that shall remain and this image will be one of a hero who stood strong against the occupation of his country. Let us remember that masses are mobilized by legends and not by the analyses of politicians and historical facts.