Saddam's Execution: Forgiveness vs Vengeance

I came across this nice post on Saddam and how Forgiveness is the way forward instead of Vengeance by Arvind Singh. I think its a timely message and an important one too! The question is will it be heeded?


Saddam Hussein was like some world leaders who place ambition or an ideal before dignity of human life. The broader question is whether his trial in Iraq was fair and what it truly means for the future of Iraq.

With numerous defense lawyers gunned down, a divided Iraq along sectarian lines, and a US-backed government in power, the question of a just trial under those circumstances was always remote.

The execution was motivated by anger, the desire to hurt a man, who like other leaders was responsible for carrying his nation into war and death. The trial could have allowed Iraq to heal old wounds if it was conducted impartially and with the idea of restorative justice and not mere punishment.

An international court or at least one by impartial judges would have lend credibility to the proceedings. However, this trial was not about broader question of justice, especially since with his execution he will not be tried for other alleged atrocities, except possibly in absentia.

The quick execution of Saddam was meant to serve as a “blow” to the insurgency. Other markers in the past, such as, Bush declaration of an end of combat operations, killing of Uday and Qusay Hussein, the capture of Saddam, two elections, death of al-Zarqawi have proved unsuccessful in the past. Hussein’s execution likewise will not quell the insurgency, especially since “Saddam loyalists” are only a small percentage of the total insurgents. The Sunni-Shia divide cannot be bridged through more executions, killings and military operations, since more insurgents will come to replace those who become “martyrs.”

Interesting the timing of the execution was on a holy day for Muslims, EidalAdha or “Feast of the Sacrifice,” which concludes the Pilgrimage to Mecca and remembers Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael to God (in Biblical version the son is Isaac). In forgiveness, God sends a ram in place of Ishmael as the sacrifice.


Sacrifice of an animal on Eid-al-Adha

On the three holy days of this feast, clemency and generosity are revered as virtues. So Saddam’s execution can be considered insulting to Muslims. Instead of forgiveness, the impression of an unfair trial and execution will further allow Sunnis to feel alienated and powerless in occupied Iraq. Mercy instead of a vengeful execution could have provided a framework to heal old wounds and created forgiveness. Any power-sharing discussion needs to start with mutual respect between all parties otherwise the status quo will continue.

Only a climate of forgiveness can allow for the creation of a truly sovereign and national government that represents all Iraqis. Without unity, division and hatred will lead to a continuation of violence. Revenge satisfies but only temporarily, since antagonisms are still left intact and the anger harms personal and social health. The virtues of generosity and forgiveness can create long-term change, where the greater good of people matters more than any one section of society dominating another.

Forgiveness is important in many world religions and it requires releasing the mind from past hurts, pains and resentments. Through forgiveness, we achieve healing and without it we remain stuck in our anger. Negotiation requires parties to understand each other’s perspective beyond anger to the pain that underlies it. With forgiveness, we can understand our own position and are receptive to listen with compassion to another perspective. It is the first-step in reconciliation among people and in a nation.


Unless Iraq can turn to forgiveness, the alternative seems to be an ongoing civil war and strife. Unless the “Iraqi” government can bridge the chasm that separates ethnic groups and give Sunnis dignity, it will remain a government whose primarily support is sectarian i.e. Shia-based and dependent on the presence of Amercian troops.

The parties in Iraq have two responses available to them. The first is the approach of anger resulting in reprisal killings which has already resulted in huge loss of life. This vengeful attitude arises from fearful “fight or flight” response. That response is also responsible for creating stress in everyday life.

The alternative response is “face and forgive.” That is the only response that can allow an end to the cycle of violence, yet it requires moral courage, which is a commodity lacking whether in the Bush administration or the “Iraqi” government. Without it the violence will continue and the US will continue to occupy Iraq. The path of anger has been selected through military hubris and brute force and only with courage, vision and conviction can it be changed.

In the final analysis, guilt or innocence is less a product of seeking justice and more a question of who can enforce it. With the fall of Saddam’s dictatorship, he was easily put on trial where the conclusion had been largely predetermined. That “justice” was based on vengeance, which satisfies anger, yet it cannot heal.

True healing can only begin when forgiveness enters the human consciousness. The execution of Hussein is just another sad and violent episode in Iraq’s occupation period. True courage would have required mercy and forgiveness, especially on a holy day that remembers those virtues.

Anger will continue to play a part in Iraq’s future. But we need to ask who will have courage to forgive? Without forgiveness, justice remains an act of retribution instead of restoration. Without civility that arises from dialogue, common ground and compromise will remain elusive in Iraq.

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