Remember the 5th of November

Daily Northwestern
Northwestern University

(U-WIRE) EVANSTON, Ill. — This past weekend, the fist-waving, Koran-thumping former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death by hanging. The decision is sure to provide much fodder for debate, given the contentious nature of capital punishment and the international scrutiny that falls upon every significant development in Iraq.

Western critics of the death penalty will undoubtedly question the Iraqi court’s decision on moral grounds. Objecting voices from France, Italy, Spain, Sweden and the Netherlands are already clamoring for the sentence to be commuted to life without parole, according to the Associated Press.

Other commentators from around the world point to the possibility that Hussein could become a martyr for those who wish to see the West as fundamentally anti-Muslim. “The hanging of Saddam Hussein will turn to hell for the Americans,” the Thai Islamic cleric Vitaya Wisethrat told the AP. And the timing of the announcement seems odd. How convenient, critics say, that a foreign dictator who has been sold to a generation of Americans as the Devil Incarnate by everyone from Dick Cheney to the creators of “South Park” is sentenced to die two days before the midterm elections.
Yet few, if any, mainstream voices actually defend Hussein. Absent moral qualms about state-sponsored execution, the precedent for hanging Saddam has strong historical legs.

In the 20th century, Nazi war criminals convicted of crimes similar to Hussein’s were sentenced to die. Going back even further, it’s possible to find notable advocates of “tyrannicide,” or the killing of a tyrannical ruler. The 16th-century Spanish Jesuit Juan Mariana is a prime example. Mariana published a treatise on tyrannicide in 1599, which asserted the right of the people to execute an unrepentant despot.

So what are we to think? Perhaps history holds a clue. More than 400 years ago in England, on Nov. 5, 1605, authorities foiled a plot by Catholic insurgents to blow up a Protestant King and his Parliament.

The insurgents were executed and the event was forever associated with one man, Guy Fawkes. Nov. 5 became known as Guy Fawkes Day, a holiday marked by fireworks and the burning of Fawkes in effigy. But long after Fawkes was dead and buried and his treason reduced to sparklers and nursery rhymes, Catholics and Protestants continued to feud in Great Britain.

Likewise, what will killing Saddam Hussein accomplish on a practical level? Is death so different from spending the rest of your life in a tiny cell? And for every Shiite and Kurd who finds closure in the death, there are Sunni insurgents who will use the execution to stoke their anger.

In the controlled situation of a trial court, the answer to murder isn’t more death, in my book. Let Saddam rot, but let the God he keeps invoking decide when. He’s not worth the rope or the effort to hang him.