If you want to determine how desperate a group of people are, just look at their heroes. So Saddam’s shiny new posthumous status as martyr surprises me not. As Saudi Arabian TV personality, Ahmad Mazin al-Shugairi relates, “The Arab world has been devoid of pride for a long time. The way Saddam acted in court and just before he was executed, with dignity and no fear, struck a chord with Arabs who are desperate for their own leaders to have pride too.” That is a mild way of putting it. Hussein had pride akin to a herpes epidemic: raging, incurable, and destructive of men, women, and children alike. Nevertheless, the infectious spirit of Mr. Hussein has given the news media and others pause. Are his new fans merely satiating an aching hunger at any cost, or is there something else amiss?
There is, in fact, another possibility: it could be we have misjudged Saddam Hussein. Where one says ruthless killer, God-sent martyr can be just as easily substituted, and if it is true that great men are not appreciated until they are in the grave, then this example does not deviate far from tradition. If you squint your eyes and tilt your head to the left, Hussein is just another misunderstood genius, and not bad on the eyes either. He was a visionary ahead of his time. As proof, he rounded up those of his citizens who he knew were going to die in the future (read: the Shiites) and then killed them in the present. That is not vicious oppression and murder; that is giving the gift of tomorrow, today. Like Mr. Bush, Hussein had a pre-emptive policy: pre-emptive fate, and a little hand chopping too, just to keep those Shiites awake.
But that alone could not motivate devotion. It seems improbable that such a large population of people could so acutely grasp the nuances of his forward thinking public policy decisions. I spent much time thinking on this problem, and then, I finally found my answer: poetry. That’s right, Saddam Hussein, the poet. A softer side to be sure, but legitimate nonetheless. Who can resist a strong man with a sensitive side? Yes, resting my eyes on section A8 of The New York Times, I met destiny in the beautiful lyricism of Saddam Hussein. It may be silly, but I felt he was speaking to me when he wrote those lines:
Unbind your soul. It is my soulmate
and you are my soul’s beloved.
No house could have sheltered my heart as you have
If I were that house, you would be its dew
You are the soothing breeze
My soul is made fresh by you
Naysayers will point to the line immediately following these verses, “And our Baath Party blossoms like a branch turns green,” and claim this song is not about me, but I’m not jaded, I’m not satisfied, and I’m holding out for a hero. Oh, Saddam! You melted my heart the moment I saw you peering out of that rabbit hole like an anointed gopher peering out of the depths of one of those old Bop the Gopher arcade games. Oh, prophet! What would my restless heart not do for you, if you were not dead? But stay, feeble self: I am yet able to please my noble man, my most gracious leader, for “blood is cheap in hard times.” So I will fight, unendingly, in the memory of my newfound soulmate, Saddam Hussein.
People will point out his faults, but let him among us who is without sin be the one to cast the stone at the woman who flashed her tits. Maybe the problem is jealousy. Hey, if we’d all known the quickest way to become a hero was by being a complete and utter asshole one’s entire life and then standing up straight and praying the people you’ve hurt would exhibit poor taste at your funeral, who wouldn’t have slipped on the dictators cap and killed a few hundred thousand people? Blood is cheap: get it wholesale, and you’ll be able to save up enough for a legacy, so it seems. And so for you jealous, uncultured, poetry-haters out there, I will never apologize for meeting the man I love in the A section of The New York Times Thursday edition.
But does this theory still not satisfy you? You insist on believing the whole ‘desperation’ bit or something else, beyond the clever theories I’ve offered you? I underestimated you, dear reader. But I wouldn’t disregard my poetry theory just yet. A good man being pretty damn hard to find these days, a crush on an executed capital criminal wouldn’t be beyond even me. But this is no romantic comedy, this is a story about a whole lot of people feeling desperate about the same thing. It might be tempting to say it is America’s fault since we went in there and screwed things up. But it isn’t. And if it isn’t our fault and it isn’t the fault of a disillusioned poet and it isn’t the fault of the people themselves, whose fault is it? Who is to blame? Our generation has been marked by cataclysmic events that beg for inspiration and beg for hope, in the midst of our questioning, our answers, our leaders, are uninspired, mundane, and uncouth, at best. If you think the Iraqis are the only ones out there who are desperate, think again. Salinger wrote once that somewhere down the road there was a good poet dying and it brought his character unbearable grief. Maybe we ought to blame the good poets or whatever the hell is killing them or letting them die.