Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Saddam the martyr?

I've spent the last few days pondering what impact hanging Saddam Hussein will have. It looks highly unlikely to curb the mounting violence in Iraq. The authorities there (if such a word applies amid such anarchy) feared his death sentence would have the opposite effect. The Shia, for whom Iraqi television is evidently much too dull, want the execution broadcast live. Will it, as some worry, create a martyr? I suspect not, though it is posterity, rather than the executioner, that determines martyrdom.

The most famous Arab martyrs are commemorated in the present names of two public squares in Beirut and Damascus. In 1916 they were known, respectively, as the Burj and the Marjeh. Today, for the events of 6 May that year, both are known as Martyrs' Square. The men hanged there in public early on that date had been sentenced to death for treason against the ruling Ottoman regime. Their crime was to have asked the French for assistance with their cause, and it was the letters they naively sent the French consul which were found when he abandoned his office in 1914 that condemned them. They represented an increasingly self-confident Arab intelligentsia: besides an army officer, a newspaper proprietor, magistrate, barrister, and several local politicians were executed. They were successful people, frustrated by the Arabs' second class status within the Ottoman Empire at that time. One of them died calling on 'the civilised nations of the world' to help them achieve 'our independence and freedom'.

Men less like Saddam you would find it hard to find.

1 comment:

El Despiole said...

Very interesting. Are Anwar Sadat and Yitzhak Rabin martyrs, do you think?