The Western world, the blogosphere, the mainstream media and even the alternative media are in a massive celebration at the news (available here) that the former Iraqi dictator will be hanged.
This, of course, is perfectly understandable. I too feel that humanity will be better off without him, although, I do have significant reservations about glorifying such punishment as it invariably leads to bloodlust of Homeric proportions. That said, putting the issues of whether this will quell the violence (as the US president suggests will happen) or whether capital punishment in any scenario is justified aside, let us assume that Hussein deserves this fate.
Since just about everybody (myself included) believes that Hussein deserves some manner of horrible fate, it is worth taking a moment to apply this relatively simple moral conclusion to ourselves and see if the empathy we claim to have for Hussein’s victims, is universal and worthy of being called empathy.
Let me begin by saying that empathy, in order to be genuine, MUST be universally applied. It is disingenuous at best to state that we have empathy for one group of oppressed individuals when it suits our convenience and then to turn around and show little to no empathy for another group of oppressed individuals when it does not suit our ends.
So, if we’re to hang Hussein out of empathy for the horrors visited by him upon his victims, we must also have empathy for victims of other similar villains. Even a basic understanding of history and current political affairs shows that we have little such empathy.
Charge #1: Saddam Hussein assassinated enemies of his presidency, tortured ‘separatists’ in the Kurdish north, engaged in two wars of aggression (one against Iran, the other against Kuwait) and was accused of attempting to develop nuclear weapons (although just about everybody realizes that this last charge was trumped up).
So, under this justification for punishment (which I think is a strong justification), ought we not to take a good long look at Russian President Putin as well? Putin has historically and continues to assassinate enemies of his presidency. Putin has engaged in torturous activities against Chechen rebels – who he claims are ‘separatists’. Putin has engaged in a massively brutal, and completely lop-sided, war of aggression against Chechnya and lastly, Putin already has weapons of mass destruction (he may not know where they all are, but he has them nonetheless).
Charge #2: Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator who oppressed democratic grassroots movements and maintained a one-party state.
This is undoubtedly a crime worthy of punishment, but it’s a little bit rich for the US to say that this offends their sensibilities when the US supported Noriega in Panama, Pinochet in Chile, The Shah in Iran, Diem in Vietnam, Suharto in Indonesia, Marcos in The Philippines, Papa Doc and Baby Doc Duvalier in Haiti, Batista in Cuba, Armas and his military junta in Guatemala, the Contras in Nicaragua and SADDAM HUSSEIN HIMSELF as well as tons of others which I have (partially) listed here.
So, if we’re to hang or otherwise punish Hussein, then that’s fine. But in order to avoid looking like hypocrites, we should really take a look at our friends too. The US has supported far worse men than Hussein who, if we were honest, ought to be charged as well.
Of course that’s assuming that we’re actually honest brokers of justice, which patently isn’t the case.