Cultural Revolutions

The Shiite Gallows

To taunt and curse a condemned man who is about to meet his Maker is one of the lowest forms of human depravity.  The practice, commonly associated with lynching, brings to mind the quasijudicial bestialities of Dzerzhinsky and Roland Freisler’s Volksgerichtshof, Parisian tricoteuses, and various ethno-tribal atrocities down through the ages.

The hanging of Saddam Hussein in the early hours of December 30 evoked all of the above.  The vindictive gloating of his executioners, clad in black leather jackets and balaklava helmets like members of a death squad, was captured on a clandestine camera.  They shouted, “Go to hell!” as the deposed dictator stood on the gallows with the noose around his neck.  Hardly audible above the uproar, but standing erect and composed, Saddam responded by condemning the “traitors” and the “gallows of shame.”  An official was heard appealing for calm, but the Shiite guards and witnesses responded by chanting, “Moqtada! Moqtada! Moqtada!”—the name of the radical Shiite cleric whose private militia has killed hundreds of Sunni Arabs and whose supporters are believed to have infiltrated Iraq’s security services.  “Moqtada,” Saddam replied, smiling contemptuously.  “Is this how real men behave?”

The mayhem continued through the execution itself.  A shout of “The...

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