Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Iraq's Charles I Moment

There has been much discussion about the execution of Saddam not exemplifying the properly impartial and majestic operations of blind justice. To the contrary, this whole debate is an illustration of blindness -- the blindness of us Americans as to what we have wrought in Iraq.

We have two models for what the execution should have been: 1) A routine execution of a serial killer, kind of like giving Jeffrey Dahmer a lethal injection; 2) A Nuremberg trial where the international community exercises the impartial standards of international human rights law.

But of course the execution was not and could not have been either of these things.

Let's just dispose of the second fantasy first. Door no.2 ignores the obvious, overwhelming fact that the "international community" never wanted to try Saddam Hussein in the first place, indeed they never wanted to overthrow him; in fact, if it was up to human rights lawyers and the United Nations, he would still be in power. And even when he was overthrown, the international human rights community washed their hands of the trial from the beginning. So a trial and execution was not conducted in ways that those who would sooner die than participate in it preferred. Hardly news.

But why could not the execution have been a neo-liberal/neo-conservative "exercise in democratic values"? Because it was an expression not of democratic values, but of REVOLUTIONARY values: like King Charles on the scaffold, Marie Antoinette on the guillotine, Nicholas II and his wife and children up against the wall in the Ekaterinburg cellar, Jezebel's blood being licked by the dogs.

The whole idea between an autocratic system is that the head of state is responsible only to God. The King may not be above the law in a theoretical sense, but he is most certainly above an earthly judge and jury, as Charles I rightly point out to the kangaroo court that tried him. See A Coffin for King Charles.

And a king rules by means of a nobility, a privileged class. What was Saddam's nobility? His Tikrit landsmen. And what was Saddam's gentry? The Sunni Arabs as a whole. An attack on the king is an attack on the whole system of hereditary privilege. And such an attack cannot be conducted legally, because law flows from the constitution and in a revolution the constitution itself is in dispute.

Revolutions are by nature illegal, partisan, and undecorous. The enemy must be tarred and feathered and dispatched to Nova Scotia, slaughtered in Drogheda, guillotined, banished to Siberia, or butchered in the temple of Baal. Only when the opponents have been purged then may it happen that the new political community sees the wisdom of routinizing their rule and protect the rights of all the remaining citizens. If the country is lucky, then they will then see the wisdom of creating the impartial laws of state machinery that can dispatch serial killers and other malefactors with the impartiality. Until that day, however, like God in relation to His creation, the head of state is never and nowhere subject to those laws.

Judging from the written descriptions (I have not seen the video and certainly have no plans to), Saddam's Shi'ite execution seem to have been no more vengeful and rude than the Puritans, Jacobins, and Bolshevik executioners before them. And the Sunni demonstrators seem no less blind and hardened in obstinacy than the Cavaliers and Irish, aristocrats and Catholics of Vendee, and Kolchakists and kulaks before them. Make no mistake, the Sunni demonstrators are not offended by the nature of the execution -- at most that's an insult topping up the already unforgivable injury -- but they are offended that the vulgar Shi'ite mob has laid its hands on God's annointed, and in doing violence to his person dared make it clear that they will no longer accept that they are inferior.

"I tell you we will cut off his head with the crown upon it" -- Oliver Cromwell

"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants" -- Thomas Jefferson

"One cannot reign innocently" -- St. Juste

"Pick him up and throw him on the field that belonged to Naboth the Jezreelite" -- Jehu

"Moqtada, Moqtada, Moqtada!" -- Shi'ite militiamen

And another unvarying part of the script is the quiet and devout prayers and serene confidence in divine favor shown on the day of execution by Charles I, Louis XVI and his queen, Nicholas II and his whole family, and Saddam Hussein. And the shock and outrage of the emigres exiled by a ugly, vengeful, and vulgar revolutionary regime.

It is certainly consistent and legitimate to be revolted by all four executions -- or to support them all as the rising up of people unquestionably oppressed for centuries. It is also legitimate to pick and chose based on your ideology which one you support and which one you oppose. (Although why all the supporters of Cromwell and Robespierre's revolutions, not to speak of Lenin's, have suddenly acquired an interest in canonizing the saintly martyr, the pious tyrant of Sunni Arab revanchism is a mystery to me.) But all are an illustration of the same fact that revolutions are not dinner parties, nor are they objective trials and impartial applications of law, but in their nature they are an exercise of raw dictatorship by one formerly subjugated part of society over their ci-devant subjugators, a dictatorship that lasts until the formally ruling class accepts its dispossession. (Which as the Iraq events show, is not going to happen there anytime soon.)

But it is unlikely that the Americans will be around for when civil peace is reestablished in Arab Iraq. We don't understand the Iraqi events, because we no longer understand revolutions, and like all post-revolutionary people assume that a revolution is just an election, albeit a rather bitterly contested one, kind of like Florida 2000. And the American policy makers are now trying to work up the courage to use our forces to suppress (legally and constitutionally, of course) the Jacobins, Bolsheviks, and Independents and keep in charge the Girondins, the Kerenskyites and Cadets, and the anxious Presbyterians of the Shi'ite Islamic Revolution. But they, and the rest of world public opinion will be suprised to discover that having had his name chanted in Saddam's face by his executioners, and thus in the face of the revanchist suicide bombers killing them by the scores every day, is a recommendation of Moqtada al-Sadr to the harried and terrified Shi'ites of Iraq, not an embarrassment. (Abdul Aziz Hakim is undoubtedly this moment wishing they had chanted "Hakim, Hakim, Hakim!".)

We have made a revolution in Iraq, one which we cannot control and should not try. It is a day of the oppressed masses rising up against centuries of deprivation and humilition, of drowning Pharoah and his chariots in the Red Sea, and so of course we are therefore terrified and perplexed by a phenomenon which we insist has never had any place in our sanitized faith and history. By all means get out now while we still have time.

Of course in the short run it will look pretty ghastly. Revolutions almost always do. As Jezebel quietly reminded the arrogant new master sporting his prophetic commission to wreck vengeance on the wicked: "Did Zimri have peace, who murdered his master?" And if the Shiite revolution does win, a spell of (cautious, limited) counter-revolution will still be necessary if Iraq is to get any kind of decent government. But all those deploring the ugly, vengeful, and vulgar death of Saddam had better start getting used to the fact that in the end they will have to make a "regicide peace" with Iraq's new masters who will no more repudiate this deed than Putin will rebury Lenin in a common grave. When Saddam was sent to the gallows, one name was entered into the pantheon of Iraq, and I fear it was "Moqtada!"

Labels: , , ,