Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Arabs’ Feelings of Love and Hate for Saddam Hussein

By Ramzy Baroud

"......Saddam, in his eccentric ways, symbolized the last drive for pan-Arab nationalism. In many ways, he was unrivalled. He was one of very few who dared to stand up to what many people in the world see as a harsh and domineering United States. To many people living in the Middle East, Saddam Hussein was simply the "lesser of the two evils."

Arab nationalism, even under the shabby state of the former Iraqi leader, remained important, for it represented the only collective political identity Arabs aspired to attain. Politically fragmented and easy prey to outside interests, many Arabs, especially in poorer countries, held tight to the fading dream of unity.

But as the dream of unity was dying, irate alternatives were forcefully offered; the "Islamic option" had suddenly augmented from its minimal, symbolic presence to the only intellectual substitute to pan-Arabism. Both ideologies championed the recourse of revival, liberation even, from within, and a full-fledged unity as the only shield in the face of the self-seeking invaders from without.

As youths growing up under a brutal Israeli occupation, my peers and I inanely believed that a collective Arab determination was the only solution to oppression and humiliation. Often, I went to sleep, during an Israeli military curfew in my refugee camp in Gaza, finding comfort in the thought that an Arab army could cross at any minute to set us all free from this prison. It never came.

As I grew, I realised that things are not as simple and pure as once thought. Arab rulers were no Saladin, but in fact, they were just as guilty for their people’s plight as those foreign powers that see Arabs as faceless numbers, associated only with every negative stereotype one can envisage. Although I must admit that I was strongly moved by the last words Saddam proclaimed, calling on Iraqis to forgive, to strive to be driven by the love for freedom, rather than disdain for ones enemies. Of course these words also were disregarded by western mainstream media.......

In Gaza, my sorrow of losing countless friends and family members to the Israeli occupation forces was the shared destiny of well over one million refugees in Gaza’s camps. With each new innocent casualty, the desire for a collective Arab will became stronger. But time has passed, and the dream of a collective Arab will has yielded to collective Arab chaos.

Despite the uncertainty awaiting Arab nations, most Arabs were never so clear as to the source of their misfortune. They loathed the imperialism that finally culminated in an up-front invasion of the prized "jewel of Arab civilisation," Iraq. They protested "client regimes" and subsequently marched behind (irrationally, may I add) whomever disassociated himself from such a rule.

Maybe this explains the reason behind the love-hate relationship many Arabs had towards Saddam: He was a brutal dictator, and yet he defied the United States and its imperialist designs in the Arab world. It was not hard for me to fathom why many Iraqis celebrated when Saddam was executed, while others vowed to carry on with their attacks against US-led occupation forces. That same paradox struck me watching Saddam’s glum photo on my computer on that morning of uncertainty......"

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