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Islamists round the globe bemoan the fall of ‘Butcher of Baghdad’

By A.H. Jaffor Ullah

“The world is full of people who are not wise enough.”

— La Fontaine in ‘Fables’

 A pall of depressed feeling hung over many Internet forums that have become the denizens of cyber Jamaatis, Islamists, Islami-pasand (loving) moderates and what have you from such countries as Bangladesh, Pakistan, etc.  The reason for this grief is the fall of Baghdad on April 9, 2003, to American hand and along with it its important denizen, Saddam Hussein—the butcher of Baghdad. If you happen to venture out to Baghdad’s famous Firdos Square today or in the near future, you will sorely miss Saddam’s famous statue there.  Most western media have shown the demolition of that statue over and over again on April 9, 2003, when Saddam’s army fled away from Baghdad only to make room for the U.S. marines.

Please do not forget for a second that mere mention of Baghdad to an Islam-loving person conjures up images of faded glory; this is the city that often symbolizes the achievements of Islam during Abbasid period.  However, we do not live in the mediaeval period.  This is the dawn of the new millennium.  The ground realities are very different now say from even quarter century ago.  These realities are frightening from the viewpoint of Ummah-oriented Muslims from South Asia and the Middle Eastern nations.

Within 16 months of the Afghanistan War by the U.S. and Britain to wipe out the vestiges of Taliban-led government the same force has moved into Iraq this time to efface the traces of Baathist regime that captured power in Iraq in the late 1960s.  Of all Baathist politicians, Saddam Hussein was the worst one. Like other leaders from the Arab world, he also invoked Islam in a big way after being thrashed in 1991 by the U.S. soldiers.  After getting pounced by the allied force in Persian Gulf War, Saddam Hussein changed his tactics to subjugate the Iraqi people.  He even changed the flag of Iraq by borrowing the first kalima from Saudi Flag.  This is the way Saddam Hussein not only fooled his folks but also the rest of Islamic nations.  How can you not like a leader who placed the first pillar of Islam -- kalima taiyeb -- on Iraqi flag?  Thus, many Islamists until recently have defended Saddam Hussein.  Many writers bearing Islamic name was soft on Saddam Hussein.  They saw in him the Pan Arabist leader.  The faded glory of Gamal Abdel Nasser of 1950s Egypt was emblazoned on him.  While Saudi royal family represented the interest of rich Arab, they opined that Saddam Hussein was the champion of "Poor Arab" such as Palestinians.  Therefore, many Arab intellectuals sided with Saddam in the early eighties as his beleaguered nation fought a decade-long no-win war with the Iranians.  The Islamic intellectuals knew fully well how vile this despotic ruler was or how ruthlessly he managed the fate of Iraqi people; however, they never uttered bad words about Saddam Hussein, as he was becoming a monster.  I don't think I read any article critical of this despotic ruler written by Arab or Islamic think-tank folks when he massacred en masse Kurds in the aftermath of First Persian Gulf War.  The Arab and Islamic writers have always considered Saddam Hussein their own blood brothers.  They may have privately said that his actions were erratic but they thought that Saddam Hussein was one of the few Arab leaders who stood tall in front of Americans.  For the reason alone, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat initially rejoiced when Saddam forcibly occupied Kuwait in August 1990.  However, Arafat later regretted his action vis-à-vis his undying support for Saddam Hussein in the aftermath of the first Persian Gulf War. 

Many folks from South Asia who sport Arabic name also behaved like Yasser Arafat.  I vividly remembered reading newspapers that many folks in Bangladesh and Pakistan took to the streets to support Saddam Hussein in January 1991 when American soldiers were poised to attack the occupied Kuwait.  Twelve years later in 2003, the same Islamic minded folks also protested carrying banners fearing ensuing American attacks against Iraq.  These protesters knew that once America attacks Iraq, the Baathist government of Saddam Hussein would fall.  The thought that Saddam Hussein is a living demon never crosses their minds.

There are historical reasons for not trusting the western power vis-à-vis Islamic rulers of the world.  The Muslims have not forgotten for a long time when the Turkish Empire was dismantled in the wake of World War 1.  We know from history that a new movement by the name Khilafat was engendered in the Islamic world ever since Türkic Empire ceased to exist in 1918.  Muslims all over the world then thought that they lost their Khalifa (leader).  Since then, no single political power came into existence centering whom the Muslims can build their Pan Islamic community or Ummah.  In 1950s, Gamal Abdel Nasser had that vision.  Nonetheless, with his demise in 1970, that vision died down prematurely.  The Islamists worldwide looked up to Col. Muammar al-Gaddafi for taking the lead on pan Arabism when he overthrew Libyan monarchy in 1969 through a coup d'état imposing socialist policies and Islamic orthodoxy on the country.  However, the Islamists perceived Col. Gaddafi as an erratic leader with myopic vision.  In early 1980s, the Shiite leader Ayatollah Khomeini was an emerging Imam but because he was not a Sunni Muslim, the bulk of Islamists looks for another leader.  And they found their man in Saddam Hussein.  The Baathist Iraqi leader also played the game very well.  From his oil revenue rich coffers, he started doling out money to many Muslim organizations all over Muslim nations.  It is a common knowledge in Dhaka that Bangladesh's prominent news media man Maulana Mannan who runs a parochial vernacular newspaper "Inquilab" was in the receiving end of Saddam's largesse.  Very recently, we read in the western press that Saddam Hussein promised to offer about $ 30,000 to any Palestinian family whose kid would become a suicide bomber and blast a bomb.  Such were the lore of deposed Iraqi firebrand by the name Saddam Hussein.

Many from the Muslim world will lament the sad departure of Saddam Hussein from world politics.  They will remember him being the one lone figure who stood tall in front of Americans and the Europeans.  In him, they saw a glimpse of hope to have the elusive Khalifa the Muslim world has been looking ever since the West had retired the Ottoman King in 1918.  That may explain why many Islamists are passing a melancholic day knowing that Saddam Hussein has fallen into a crevice of history from which he cannot climb to retake his "rightful" place in Arab world.  Until another Saddam Hussein is identified in Islamic world to assume the power of Khalifa, the Islamists have to pass many sleepless nights.  The cyber writers who gave their heartfelt support to Saddam in these trying times will now lament for the loss of their Khalifa.  The sad part is that when Saddam Hussein came into limelight 1979 he came with a lot of bang but now to paraphrase American poet T.S. Eliot Saddam's political life ended "not with a bang but a whimper." 

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Dr. A.H. Jaffor Ullah writes from New Orleans.  His e-mail address is - [email protected]

 

 

 

 

 

 

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