"THE EXECUTION of Saddam, a human-rights monster, turned his unspeakable record upside down." So we are informed by Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch, which issued a statement calling the monster's hanging "a significant step away from respect for human rights and the rule of law in Iraq."
You may not agree with that -- you may be one of those squares who think the death of a mass murderer makes the world a better place -- but Tim Hames does. A columnist for the Times of London, Hames declared himself over the weekend with "those who find the notion of this execution offensive." He recognizes that "the evidence of Saddam's atrocities is overwhelming," but, like Dicker, he is sure that the government that hanged the dictator did something as evil to Saddam Hussein as anything Saddam did to his innumerable victims. "Mainstream middle-class sentiment in Europe," Hames tells us, "now regards the death penalty as being as ethically tainted as the crimes that produced that sentence."
As ethically tainted. Got that? The quick and painless death meted out to the Butcher of Baghdad after a reasonably transparent trial is morally equivalent to the horrific brutalities that earned him his nickname.
The chronicling of those brutalities will go on for years, but here is a reminder -- one minuscule fragment of Saddam's record, plucked almost at random from Kanan Makiya's 1993 book about Iraq and the Arab world, "Cruelty and Silence":
"Children who would not give their parents' names to soldiers" -- this was in 1991, during Saddam's suppression of the Shi'ite uprising -- "were doused with gasoline and set on fire. Some were tied to moving tanks to discourage sniper fire from the rebels. Security forces also burned entire families in their houses when they would not give or did not know the location of the head of the household. . . . Some rebels, it has been alleged, were forced to drink gasoline before being shot. It appears that instead of crumpling into an undramatic lifeless heap, the victim explodes and burns like a torch for a short while. "
If "mainstream middle-class sentiment in Europe" equates burning children alive with hanging the man responsible for burning them, then mainstream middle-class sentiment in Europe, to quote Mr. Bumble, "is a ass -- a idiot."
And so you might conclude from the headlines and the official European reactions to Saddam's death. "The EU condemns the crimes committed by Saddam and also the death penalty," said the spokeswoman for Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign-affairs chief. "Europe condemns death penalty," announced the German paper Deutsche Welle. Dutch and Belgian officials called the execution "barbaric." The Vatican declared it "tragic."
With opposition to capital punishment so firmly entrenched in Europe's worldview, it came as no surprise to learn that US officials tried in vain to convince the UN, the European Union, and a host of countries to assist with the tribunal that judged Saddam. "They all refused," The Boston Globe reported last week, "because they opposed the tribunal's use of the death penalty."
But what if Europeans don't oppose the use of the death penalty? When the German magazine Stern commissioned a poll on whether Saddam should be executed, it found 50 percent of Germans in favor and only 39 percent opposed. A poll conducted last month for Le Monde found that most Americans (82 percent) favored hanging Saddam -- as did most Spaniards (51 percent), most Germans (53 percent), most French (58 percent), and most Britons (69 percent).
In fact, once you get past the leftist elites who run the media and staff the foreign ministries, other industrialized nations may not be nearly as implacable in opposing the death penalty as we're commonly told. "Polls show that Europeans and Canadians crave executions almost as much as their American counterparts do," wrote Joshua Micah Marshall in The New Republic in 2000. "It's just that their politicians don't listen to them."
In Canada, for example, support for reinstating the death penalty ran between 60 percent and 70 percent. Two-thirds to three-quarters of Brits, about half of Italians, and even 49 percent of Swedes (according to a 1997 poll) felt the same way. "There is barely a country in Europe," Marshall concluded, "where the death penalty was abolished in response to public opinion rather than in spite of it."
"Mainstream middle-class sentiment" abroad, it turns out, may not be such an ass after all. When European men and women look at Saddam's hanging, they, like us, see an act of moral hygiene. If their politicians and journalists see something different -- well, what else is new?