Saturday, December 30, 2006

Lex Taliones

Lex Taliones: literally, "Law as Revenge" (also known as "an eye for an eye").

News came late last night that Saddam Hussein was executed last night for crimes against humanity. I am still sorting out my feelings about the matter. One the one hand, I am not opposed to the death penalty; on the other hand, I think it should be used in only the most extreme circumstances. Having said that, lex taliones is not, in my mind, a good justification for the death penalty. I think that the death penalty should only be used as a means of protecting the public when no other means can be used.

I'll admit it is possible that Saddam was one of those cases. It is well-known that Saddam liked the Godfather movies and wanted to emulate the somewhat fictionalized crime-boss figure when he ruled Iraq. There is no doubt that Saddam was a bad guy and hurt -- even killed -- a lot of people wrongfully. But the question that Thomas Friedman of the New York Times asked was never answered: "is Saddam the way he is because Iraq is what it is, or is Iraq the way it is because Saddam is who he is?"

As I write this, I think of the short story The Lottery. And I wonder if Saddam Hussein became the scapegoat for an endemic problem in Iraq's culture. What if we find out that anyone who vies for power in Iraq simply becomes another Saddam-like figure?

The violence in Iraq has only gotten worse since we invaded. Law and Order have never effectively been established. You can say that it is partially our fault for taking in "just enough troops to lose." The country is falling, or has fallen, into civil war. Many Americans, like myself, cannot fully comprehend how people can have differences so great that they would be willing to kill entire neighborhoods -- even cities -- of residents because differences in race, tribal affiliation or religious beliefs. However, here in America we had a civil war over the issue of slavery -- which at the time had a connection to Southern Christians' reading of passages in the Bible that slavery was acceptable; and we enslaved an entire race of people because of the endemic belief that that race was inferior. We have come a long way since then.

Based on how things are playing out, things will only get worse in Iraq before they get better. That is, if they ever do.

***Update***

A commentator over at Daily Kos who is from Cairo, Egypt, pointed out that the execution was carried out "on the most important feast in the Muslim calendar: Eid al-Adha, or Feast of the Sacrifice." He continued: "My neighbors here in Cairo must have been slaughtering their sheep just as the trap door opened. I wonder if they appreciate the irony."

3 comments:

Teri said...

In this country, we believe that it is worth dealing with disorder to have freedom. Dictators always do a great job with law and order. If we do not want to live under those systems, then why do we think that others would be willing to do so? It would have been so easy to let Hitler stay in power and let him deal with the "Jewish problem" in his own way (much as Saddam dealt with his Kurdish problem.)

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