Where Was the Pitchfork?


When Saddam Hussein was escorted into a Baghdad courtroom on July 1, he looked like 'a hunted man in an alien land.' That's how New York Times Baghdad Bureau Chief John Burns described the scene to CNN.

'It took him awhile to get dialed in and find his pitch,' Burns offered. But when the former dictator of Iraq finally did get his fingers around the ball, he threw with Koufax-like intensity that must have stunned many of the millions worldwide who watched the partially televised proceedings.

It was a riveting spectacle to observe. The object of President Bush's bloodthirsty monomania, the man often described as 'evil' and 'a madman' by his American opponent, was at turns defiant, angry, contemptuous, depressed. He was, in short, rather human. Absent was any hint of Hitlerian frothing or eye rolling. He did not sprout horns from his skull, and I did not see a tail protruding from his backside nor a pitchfork clutched in his hands.

Hussein was shrewd and cunning in his 26-minute dialogue with an Iraqi judge. He became defensive when charges were read to him alleging culpability in the mass killings of Kurdish villagers. That the horrific allegations are true is unquestionable, but what Bush and his supporters do not understand--and when it comes to the Arab world, there's plenty they miss the boat on--is that Iraq 's bloody internal strife can be traced to centuries of tribal and ethnic warfare. It's not as simple as 'Saddam gassed the Kurds' so let's just get on with it and hang the bastard from the highest lamp post. There are muddy and complex social, moral, and political issues at play here. (For the Cliff's Notes version, rent 'Lawrence of Arabia' and pay close attention to the last 45 minutes or so when the British step in and begin drawing maps and borders through the Middle East .)

How many people, I wondered as I watched Saddam's court appearance, expected to see someone ranting like Hannibal Lecter? That he failed to live up to his demon's resume by acting like a raving lunatic must have been disappointing to quite a few.

And therein lies the point. Political discourse in the United States has become an ugly game of left and right. There is no middle ground. The Vice President of the United States tells a political opponent on the Senate floor to go fuck himself and then refuses to apologize or even show anything resembling regret. Fox News constantly trolls the talking head minefield to find pundits who will parrot their political perspective on issues.

But when Hussein made his first public appearance since being captured last December, he put the lie to this ridiculous either/or thinking. That he is an evil man is without doubt. Yet he also ably demonstrated that he is a complex human being who is prepared to combat the allegations against him with every ounce of his fiber. Sometimes evil doesn't look like evil and sometimes the 'good guys' are wearing hideous masks, too.

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Rodger Jacobs's picture
Columns on STR: 14

Rodger Jacobs is a screenwriter, freelance journalist, and an award-winning writer and producer of feature documentaries.