Kammo links today to a fantastically bonkers thread on the Guardian’s news blog following the Iraqi authorities’ decision to execute Saddam Hussein. According to this article in today’s Times -and I strongly advise you to click on the link, if only for the photograph of a spectacularly bad effigy of George Bush being burnt in Bhopal, India – 50 prisoners have been executed in Iraq since the restoration of the death penalty in 2004, and given Saddam’s past record (David Aaronovitch writes today about BBC journalist John Simpson’s recollection of meeting a man whose crime was to have jotted down a phone number on a banknote that had Saddam’s picture on it – “His prospective executioners listened to his story, sympathised with him and merely dipped him in the bath (of acid) for a few seconds. He had some of the most hideous scars I have ever seen”), you might expect the execution of any or all of these to have generated more sympathy and less outrage than Saddam. You might expect that, but you’d be wrong, of course. About a quarter of the way down the Guardian thread there’s an marvellously concise comment that encapsulates much of the rest of thread by saying simply:
Illegal invasion,illegal occupation,puppet government,kangaroo court,bogus verdict,murderous outcome!Restore Iraq’s true and legal government and bring back President Saddam Hussein the true and legal president of Iraq.
There is, fortunately, another piece by Oliver Miles on Comment is Free, where the standard of debate is somewhat higher. Miles is criticised in the comments for suggesting that execution might be the best option, and for saying that “capital punishment is an established fact in all or virtually all Arab societies, and is not in itself controversial. It is recognised in Islamic law, and it is deeply rooted in tribal culture”. Occasional HP commenter Francis Sedgemore writes, “Whether it be the Middle East or Middle England, capital punishment is barbaric. Please, Mr Miles, enough of the cultural relativism and soft racism”. I can agree with this to a certain extent but you can also argue yourself into knots by invoking cultural relativism and soft racism. If the death penalty is barbaric, then does that apply to all countries that practise it ? If it’s “soft racism” not to condemn the death penalty, then doesn’t that also apply to the implied suggestion that these countries’ values are worse than ours, or that they should adhere to our standards? I don’t know. If there was a referendum on the restoration of capital punishment then I would, without hesitation, vote against it. I’d also support anyone that did so in the countries that retain capital punishment, but in this case I’m not going to argue either for or against. As one of the Guardian commenters says, “It is their country, their court and their choice”.