Saturday, December 30, 2006

Opposition to the hanging of Saddam Hussein - liberalism or paternalism in action?

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that I'm on the hanging and flogging wing of the Party, although I do have some good friends who might well enjoy that sort of thing. It's just that I wonder what right we have to fuss about the decisions made by a sovereign nation in pursuit of justice and/or retribution.

I have become increasingly bored over the years by listening to politicians telling me that such and such a country is corrupt or undemocratic or simply backward because it fails to adhere to our ever-so-perfect template for a modern society. We talk about encouraging condom use in the developing world, or about democratic shortfalls, or about the failure to provide education, or healthcare, or 101 other things that we western Europeans take for granted, and never ask the obvious question, which is, "What can we do to help these nations to help themselves?"

Hanging is a particularly cruel way to judicially murder an individual, and judicial murder is exactly what it is. At the same time, there are a variety of ways of doing the job, most of which are unpleasant or brutal. However, it comes down to selecting a method which is the least unhumane and consistent with the cultural values of the state. There are also the questions related to deterrence, although in our 'modern' society, I am increasingly convinced that it has very little.

Saddam Hussein had to die, lest he act as a focal point for further insurgency. Whilst I personally believe that the sorts of people leading the insurgency actually care little for him, he acts as an excuse. Indeed, although displaying photographs of Saddam pre- and post-execution is fairly ghastly, there should be little doubt that he is dead, conspiracy theorists not withstanding. Those who mourn his passing are no friends of a peaceful civil society in any event, and I have little or no sympathy for their fate.

When a corrupt, vicious regime falls, the most successful transitions are those where an internal solution is found, from South Africa at one end, where the Truth and Reconciliation Commission acted to lance the boil of those crimes committed under apartheid, through Chile's move to provide a degree of protection to the junta in return for a commitment to respect democracy, to the more drastic acts in Romania. These were solutions which took into accounts the needs of the reborn nations, and they worked. Did we approve? Not always.

We need to be more willing to support nations in designing their solutions, provide them with the means to build the civic structures that will sustain a better, more open, freer society, and if Tony Blair fancies having a real legacy, he might want to think about how we could fulfil that role more effectively...

1 comment:

Tom Papworth said...

I agree, Mark, and have posted accordingly.

When a sovereign nation dispenses justice within the law, we should take a pause before lecturing them on our own culturally-specific notions of right and wrong.

I don't think it will help pursuade the Iraqis of the benefits of a liberal society if we associate it with clemency for genocidal maniacs.