A grainy video showing Saddam Hussein being taunted by witnesses to his execution has sparked outrage around the world.
There’s no question that the footage is disturbing. The video shows Saddam Hussein standing on the gallows, with the noose around his neck, his plunge as the trap door is opened, and then his face as he swings back and forth.
The BBC offers this translation of the Arabic subtitles provided by Al Jazeera along with its broadcast of the execution footage:
[Saddam Hussein] Oh God.
[Unidentified Voices] May God’s blessings be upon Muhammad and his household.
[U.V.s] And may God hasten their appearance and curse their enemies.
[U.V.s] Moqtada [Al-Sadr]…Moqtada…Moqtada.
[S.H.] Do you consider this bravery?
[Unidentified Voice] Long live Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr.
[U.V.] To hell.
[U.V.] Please do not. The man is being executed. Please no, I beg you to stop.
Then Saddam Hussein recites the Muslim statement of faith. Halfway through his second recitation, the trap door opens and he drops toward his death.
It is a sad and shameful thing that the just and necessary execution of a human being was marked by such indignity.
According to The Washington Post, Iraq has launched an investigation into who hurled the taunts and how the video was leaked.
But the source of the problem is deeper than who did what and how.
The problem is human depravity. People do not naturally appreciate the sanctity of life, the value of the individual person, or the power of grace. It takes time and training, in a supportive culture, to inculcate a regard for these things.
Sadly, the Middle East does not seem to embrace such a culture. Middle Eastern culture is marked by violent rage and vengeful resentment. That’s why hijacking, kidnapping, beheading, bombing, and crashing planes so often take the place of reasoned discourse and respectful diplomacy.
Dignified sorrow at the necessity of executing a tyrant like Saddam Hussein would have been out of cultural character.