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Jewish World Review
Jan. 4, 2007
/ 14 Teves 5767
An act of moral hygiene
"The execution of Saddam, a human-rights monster, turned his unspeakable record
upside down." So we are informed by Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch, which
issued a statement calling the monster's hanging "a significant step away from
respect for human rights and the rule of law in Iraq."
You may not agree with that you may be one of those squares who think the
death of a mass murderer makes the world a better place but Tim Hames does. A
columnist for the Times of London, Hames declared himself over the weekend with
"those who find the notion of this execution offensive." He recognizes that "the
evidence of Saddam's atrocities is overwhelming," but, like Dicker, he is sure
that the government that hanged the dictator did something as evil to Saddam
Hussein as anything Saddam did to his innumerable victims. "Mainstream
middle-class sentiment in Europe," Hames tells us, "now regards the death penalty
as being as ethically tainted as the crimes that produced that sentence."
As ethically tainted. Got that? The quick and painless death meted out to the
Butcher of Baghdad after a reasonably transparent trial is morally equivalent to
the horrific brutalities that earned him his nickname.
The chronicling of those brutalities will go on for years, but here is a reminder
one minuscule fragment of Saddam's record, plucked almost at random from Kanan
Makiya's 1993 book about Iraq and the Arab world, Cruelty and Silence:
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"Children who would not give their parents' names to soldiers" this was in
1991, during Saddam's suppression of the Shi'ite uprising "were doused with
gasoline and set on fire. Some were tied to moving tanks to discourage sniper
fire from the rebels. Security forces also burned entire families in their houses
when they would not give or did not know the location of the head of the
household. . . . Some rebels, it has been alleged, were forced to drink gasoline
before being shot. It appears that instead of crumpling into an undramatic
lifeless heap, the victim explodes and burns like a torch for a short while. "
If "mainstream middle-class sentiment in Europe" equates burning children alive
with hanging the man responsible for burning them, then mainstream middle-class
sentiment in Europe, to quote Mr. Bumble, "is a ass a idiot."
And so you might conclude from the headlines and the official European reactions
to Saddam's death. "The EU condemns the crimes committed by Saddam and also the
death penalty," said the spokeswoman for Javier Solana, the European Union's
foreign-affairs chief. "Europe condemns death penalty," announced the German
paper Deutsche Welle. The British foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, let it be
known that "the British government does not support the use of the death penalty,
in Iraq or anywhere else . . . regardless of the individual or the crime." Dutch
and Belgian officials called the execution "barbaric." The Vatican declared it
With opposition to capital punishment so firmly entrenched in Europe's worldview,
it came as no surprise to learn that US officials tried in vain to convince the
UN, the European Union, and a host of countries to assist with the tribunal that
judged Saddam. "They all refused," the Boston Globe reported last week, "because
they opposed the tribunal's use of the death penalty."
But what if Europeans don't oppose the use of the death penalty? When the German
magazine Stern commissioned a poll on whether Saddam should be executed, it found
50 percent of Germans in favor and only 39 percent opposed. A poll conducted last
month for Le Monde found that most Americans (82 percent) favored hanging Saddam
as did most Spaniards (51 percent), most Germans (53 percent), most French (58
percent), and most Britons (69 percent).
In fact, once you get past the leftist elites who run the media and staff the
foreign ministries, other industrialized nations may not be nearly as implacable
in opposing the death penalty as we're commonly told. "Polls show that Europeans
and Canadians crave executions almost as much as their American counterparts do,"
wrote Joshua Micah Marshall in The New Republic in 2000. "It's just that their
politicians don't listen to them."
In Canada, for example, support for reinstating the death penalty ran between 60
percent and 70 percent. Two-thirds to three-quarters of Brits, about half of
Italians, and even 49 percent of Swedes (according to a 1997 poll) felt the same
way. "There is barely a country in Europe," Marshall concluded, "where the death
penalty was abolished in response to public opinion rather than in spite of it."
"Mainstream middle-class sentiment" abroad, it turns out, may not be such an ass
after all. When normal men and women in Europe look at Saddam's hanging, they,
like us, see an act of moral hygiene. If their politicians and journalists see
something different well, what else is new?
Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
Jeff Jacoby is a Boston Globe columnist. Comment by clicking here.
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