By sacrificing our ideals – the source of our humanity – do we reduce ourselves to the level of the dictators themselves?
After many disagreements with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in October 1981, Colonel Gaddafi declared his assassination a national holiday proclaiming it a worthy “punishment”. Thirty years on Gaddafi’s death has sparked worldwide attention with a side helping of controversy. Similarly in the last decade, the deaths of Saddam Hussein and Bin Laden have brought a mixture of resentment, relief and rejoicing across the world. Thousands of aggrieved families have celebrated in the streets, exulting in their mob-abetted executions. The ravaging and abuse of their bodies has been a symbol of national pride, pleasure and liberation. Yet I felt something innately unsettling about the trophy-corpses, brutality and disfigured photographs. Are we in danger of reveling too much in the death of another human? Is this animalistic desire for retribution an ideal which we should really advocate in our ‘civilized’ society? Or is it just an overdeveloped sense of self-righteousness?
Now just to be clear, Gaddafi, Saddam and Osama were certainly no angels. Political suppression, oppression of women, wars, social upheaval, terrorist attacks and mass murder are just a few of the items on their CVs. Thus by celebrating the end of their life, we are not delighting in the nature of their deaths as such, but merely expressing our joy at the end of their rule. In short we are celebrating an end to tyranny and oppression. The hundreds of thousands of families affected can finally lay their fears to rest and breathe a sigh of relief. The fight is over. Justice has prevailed. Their loved ones’ loss perhaps cannot be avenged nor their grief alleviated, but the ulcer within, the thought that the tyrant is still out there at large, has been soothed by the Bonjela that is the US and Nato armed forces.
Extending this to rejoicing in the death and brutal treatment of a villain in his last moments of life is where the controversy lies. I am not arguing that Osama, Saddam and Gaddafi didn’t deserve to die; let’s remind ourselves of those illustrious CVs. As an Iraqi, I know many who would say that to ravage Saddam’s body, batter him senseless, then drag his rotting corpse through the streets would have been absolutely justifiable. Yet actually performing this act robs us of our humanity. The difference between ourselves and animals, between us and the tyrants themselves, is that we subscribe to a set of morals. We respect one another; we uphold ideals that take us away from oppression, corruption and injustice. By sacrificing those ideals which are the source of our humanity, we reduce ourselves to the level of the lowly dictators themselves.
So should we celebrate their deaths? In short, yes, but only for the right reasons. We should celebrate the end of oppression and injustice, not the death of the man. The fall of a tyrant should be translated into positivism; it should boost the national spirit, liberate the once-oppressed, and instil determination within people to strive for a more promising and brighter future.