It Couldn’t Get Worse Than Saddam. Could it?
July 27, 2006
by Martin ‘HStorm’ Odoni
First published in August 2004
That’s an interesting question. To explain why I ask it, I was chatting with a few people the other day about the situation in Iraq, and in particular the issue of what a truly, obscenely, hideously evil dictator Saddam Hussein was.
It’s a funny matter (or it would be if it weren’t about someone who has done much evil), but the view put forward by one person in the discussion was more or less, “I can’t imagine any ruler of Iraq being worse than Saddam.”
That is a big assumption.
For sure Saddam is an evil, arrogant, murderous tyrant, and if he’s sentenced to death for the ghastly crimes he has committed – not just against society but against humanity itself – then I for one will certainly not waste any breath arguing against it.
But at the same time, there’s no reason to get things out of proportion. I mean why single out Saddam particularly? Awful though he was, the truth is the human race has given the world worse tyrants than him. Do names like Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Pinochet, Franco, King Leopold, Suharto or Caocescu ring any bells? To name just a handful. I’d even argue that Saddam’s attempts to exterminate the Kurds mark him out no worse than Ariel Sharon’s clear desire to wipe the Palestinian people off the face of the Earth.
My argument, as I’ve already made clear elsewhere, is that Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi – who is himself an ex-Ba’athist – has a history of pathological brutality that is no better than Saddam’s, and so I see no reason at all for confidence that a nation he will build will be any better than what was there before the Gulf Wars. The counter-argument to that from some quarters seems to be, “Well okay, but it can’t be any worse…”
Well, pardon my quibbling, but even if that’s true, surely it wasn’t worth all the violence, all the deaths, all the grief, all the misery, all the destruction, and even the ludicrous expense of the last year and a half if all that was achieved at the other end was a Government that isn’t any worse than what was there before (which was, supposedly, the worst Government possible).
But in any case, I have to reiterate the question, why assume that Saddam’s Government was the worst, most brutal regime in the sphere of human understanding? Not only were other aforementioned dictators arguably (or, in some cases, very clearly) worse than Saddam, but there are plenty of things Saddam might have done in his time as President that he in fact chose not to.
For instance, he never legalised violence. This may sound like an odd claim considering the amount of assassinations, torture and untried prisoners there were in his time. But the point is, those were all cases of state-sponsored violence. Not in any way good you understand, but at least it was limited to what he, in his ‘wisdom’, judged necessary for his security and survival. In other respects he was in favour of law and order, which are things that even the most liberal and pro-democratic politician will have a certain regard for. Well all right, there are anarchists out there who don’t, but they’re few and far between, and usually grow out of it before they’re 25 anyway.
The nation of Iraq, with the odd exception like parts of Fallujah, was generally a peaceful, orderly country during Saddam’s rule, if only because the power of the state police was so great that hardly anybody dared draw attention to themselves. Anyone guilty of unauthorised acts of violence would be arrested on the spot. That didn’t make it a nice place to live of course, but it was a redeeming quality that it was not generally chaotic. A quality, furthermore, that it sorely lacks at the moment.
Other things he might have done would be ethnic cleansing. “You wha-…?!?” I hear you cry. “But he did ethnic cleansing! The Kurds were nearly wiped out because of him.” And this is true, up to a point. When Kurds in the north rebelled against Saddam at the end of the First Gulf War (as the ‘heroic’ Coalition had encouraged them to do all through the conflict, before bravely running away and leaving them to their fate), Saddam’s response was sickeningly violent, and if it had been allowed to proceed unchecked it may well have ended in the unqualified annihilation of the Kurdish people in Iraq.
However, as is so often the case with these things, there are other matters in this we should also keep in mind. One is that, in fact, what information we have suggests that more Iraqi-Kurds were killed by Turkish troops during this period than were butchered by Saddam’s. This was because the No-Fly-Zones set up by the US and Britain were only policed against Iraqi forces, and so the Turkish army were allowed repeatedly to pour over the border unhindered to commit mass-murder against innocent, defenceless people. This is just one more item in a vast panoply of evidence that demonstrates that, for all its terrible practises, Ba’athist Iraq was no worse as a repressive regime than most of its neighbours, including some of the USA’s and the UK’s favourite allies!
Furthermore, we should consider that there are in fact four distinct ethnic groups in Iraq (arguably as many as seven) – the Shias, the Assyrians, the Sunni Arabs, and the Kurdish Arabs – rather than just two, and that Saddam only represents the Sunni. If we were to look at Nazi Germany, we all remember that Hitler persecuted the Jews to unprecedented degrees. But this leads us to forget that he was also a ruthless enemy of Catholics, Slavs, Blacks, Gypsies, and Moslems. Indeed from Mein Kampf it is clear that his long term goal was not just to exterminate the Jews, but basically to annihilate almost every non-Aryan people on Earth, plus various Aryan sub-groups whose blood had been ‘contaminated’ by ‘undesirable’ religions.
Saddam, by contrast, only seemed to be interested in wiping out one single race, even though there are three races other than his own in Iraq. That’s still a truly hideous ambition of course, any act of attempted genocide, successful or otherwise, is a crime against humanity itself. But it still shows that it is possible for a ruler to have worse ambitions than Saddam’s.
What else could be done to establish a worse tyranny than Saddam’s? Well at the risk of sounding like I’m trying to put ideas in Allawi’s head (believe me, he has plenty of brutal ideas of his own without needing to consult me), or even offering a checklist against which to measure his progress, here are some really horrible practises he could try. Some have been attempted elsewhere, and all of them are physically achievable by anyone with few enough scruples; –
1. Tax the population all of their money, lock, stock and barrel. Make state provision of enough food for the population to survive enough to do the work needed to maintain an economy, but hog all the money for himself. Even Saddam didn’t go quite that far.
2. Illegalise sleep for the working class. People could be allowed to stop working long enough to take in enough food to stay alive, but there’s no need to give them the luxury of recuperation time as well.
3. Ban private ownership of anything. Declare that all possessions people have are the property of the state and are only accessed by the little people as a privilege, one that can be withdrawn at a moment’s notice.
4. Illegalise all movement without state supervision, and make the ownership of private transport a capital offence. Anyone seen going for a walk without a permit will be shot on sight, no exceptions, no questions asked.
5. Eugenics. No elaboration necessary. (That was quite a popular branch of science in that great shining beacon of freedom, the United States of America, in the 1930’s, with encouragement from Nazi Germany. I just thought that was worth a quick mention.)
6. Here’s a silly-sounding one but in fact quite workable and utterly abhorrent. Illegalise normal food distribution to anyone below the aristocracy, then make being poor a capital offence, and legalise cannibalism. Then have all the poor people rounded up and executed, have the corpses cut up and cooked, and then use them to feed the middle classes who are no longer allowed to eat ‘normal’ food, but are now allowed to resort to cannibalism to feed themselves.
7. As an extension to the last one, create state-owned homo sapiens-breeding units in which to grow custom-made human babies ready for slaughter and middle class consumption.
8. Maintain law and order by drugging most of the population’s food and water supplies with suppressant narcotics. (See Brave New World, or more insidiously, Blake’s 7, for examples of the kinds of society that can lead to i.e. a nanny state or a fascist dictatorship.)
9. Illegalisation of land-ownership by anyone below the aristocracy… ah, and so on.
Well, I could go on like this forever of course, suggesting one more hideous, brutal policy after another that even Saddam wouldn’t touch, but there’s no need really. I’m sure you’ve got the idea already.
Yes, Saddam Hussein was bad, terrible, and Iraq certainly won’t be any the poorer for losing him. But it’s naive to think that he was exceptionally bad, as there have been worse tyrants in human history than him, even in modern human history, and indeed there are depths of obscene behaviour by rulers that, to the best of my knowledge, have yet to be plumbed at all. By the standards of the policies that I suggested above, Saddam’s brutality looked thoroughly casual and restrained.
And in no sense am I saying that Allawi will definitely be a worse ruler than Saddam. I’m merely pointing out that there is certainly plenty of scope for him to be worse if he wants to be, and, more importantly perhaps, that we have yet to see any evidence at all that should make us assume that he will definitely be better.