The Iraqi Way of Justice: Lessons for Americans

'A visibly shaken Hussein was sentenced to death for crimes against humanity for his role  in ordering the deaths of 148 Shiite villagers in the town of Dujail in 1982.'   —— Deutsche Welle

We've been waiting a long time to read those words. Despite delaying tactics, threats, judicial misconduct, international interference, and three dead defense attorneys (if any one thing underlines the abject irrationality of the Iraqi opposition, it's that), the legal process has been completed, and the sentence has been handed down. Saddam received a fair trial, and now he is going to hang.

To avoid any imputation of victor's justice, the original intent was that the trial be carried out by Iraqis, according to Iraqi procedures and norms. And that, in the end, is how it was done. It's doubtful that anybody on our side had any real idea what this actually meant. The American conviction that everybody has a little Yankee in him, that we're all alike except for our accents, was unquestionably in play here. What we expected was a proceeding on the Western model: precise, dignified, and unimpeachable.

What we got was something very much in the Arab tradition. It is a tradition in which all matters of import are subject to a process that is lengthy, convoluted, and slow. A process in which emotion and theatricality play as much a role as rational consideration. A process in which the most important aspects occur in private, negotiated between principals out of sight of the public. Except for that last, there is virtually no point of congruence between the Arab method and the Western style of everything—according—to—the—book. It's a tradition so alien that we don't recognize it when we see it, and instead attribute the results to incompetence, stupidity, or sabotage.

But it's not any of those things. It's quite simply the way business of all sorts is handled in much of the world, throughout Africa, across the Middle East, and into Asia. It's a way of  guaranteeing, in cultures in which the idea of contract is suspect, a disinterested judiciary  nonexistent, and enforcement often at sword's point, that all the 'i's' are dotted, all interests are addressed, all potential for disagreement and violence are ironed out before any final decision is made. And despite our impatience and incomprehension, it appears to work, as it has worked in this case.

And having worked in this case, the possibility arises that the Iraqi way will also work in the larger case of a nation ablaze. The battle for Iraq has its similarities with the legal proceedings against Saddam —— the same apparent irrationality and confusion, the same stop—and—go character, the same glacial tempo. Suppose the same reasons lie behind both? That what has been taken by some  as fecklessness, cowardice, and even treason is, in fact, another aspect of how the Iraqis handle things? 

It's crossed my mind several times in recent months that what we're seeing is the slow playing out of a cultural paradigm, one well known to history, if forgotten by most of our elites. (To be sure, it's something that would be more familiar to the British, who used to run much of the region.) Cultural demands must be met, and nobody — not the UN, not Karl Rove, not even Amnesty International, knows Iraqi culture better than the Iraqis do. What appears to us illogical and even counterproductive may nonetheless both embody a form of logic and produce results.

We may not like — or understand — the method, we may not like all the results, but the  Iraqis will all the same get to where they're going, under their own steam and according to their own schedule. To demand that they do otherwise is to ask them to become something they are not. We can ask many things of the Iraqis, but we cannot ask them to give up their cultural identity. We need to keep in mind that to a Muslim Iraqi, the most down—to—earth American actions look like the behavior of howling maniacs. (Have you ever considered how the Iraqis must think of our practice of allowing reporters to roam at will, just to give one example?)

And if this is mistaken, and the Iraqis actually do have no idea, and the situation is  hopeless, then at the very least we can paraphrase what a Utah cop said of Gary Gilmore following his well—earned execution: when somebody at last blows up Manhattan, we'll know it ain't Saddam Hussein.

J.R. Dunn is a frequent contributor to American Thinker.

'A visibly shaken Hussein was sentenced to death for crimes against humanity for his role  in ordering the deaths of 148 Shiite villagers in the town of Dujail in 1982.'   —— Deutsche Welle

We've been waiting a long time to read those words. Despite delaying tactics, threats, judicial misconduct, international interference, and three dead defense attorneys (if any one thing underlines the abject irrationality of the Iraqi opposition, it's that), the legal process has been completed, and the sentence has been handed down. Saddam received a fair trial, and now he is going to hang.

To avoid any imputation of victor's justice, the original intent was that the trial be carried out by Iraqis, according to Iraqi procedures and norms. And that, in the end, is how it was done. It's doubtful that anybody on our side had any real idea what this actually meant. The American conviction that everybody has a little Yankee in him, that we're all alike except for our accents, was unquestionably in play here. What we expected was a proceeding on the Western model: precise, dignified, and unimpeachable.

What we got was something very much in the Arab tradition. It is a tradition in which all matters of import are subject to a process that is lengthy, convoluted, and slow. A process in which emotion and theatricality play as much a role as rational consideration. A process in which the most important aspects occur in private, negotiated between principals out of sight of the public. Except for that last, there is virtually no point of congruence between the Arab method and the Western style of everything—according—to—the—book. It's a tradition so alien that we don't recognize it when we see it, and instead attribute the results to incompetence, stupidity, or sabotage.

But it's not any of those things. It's quite simply the way business of all sorts is handled in much of the world, throughout Africa, across the Middle East, and into Asia. It's a way of  guaranteeing, in cultures in which the idea of contract is suspect, a disinterested judiciary  nonexistent, and enforcement often at sword's point, that all the 'i's' are dotted, all interests are addressed, all potential for disagreement and violence are ironed out before any final decision is made. And despite our impatience and incomprehension, it appears to work, as it has worked in this case.

And having worked in this case, the possibility arises that the Iraqi way will also work in the larger case of a nation ablaze. The battle for Iraq has its similarities with the legal proceedings against Saddam —— the same apparent irrationality and confusion, the same stop—and—go character, the same glacial tempo. Suppose the same reasons lie behind both? That what has been taken by some  as fecklessness, cowardice, and even treason is, in fact, another aspect of how the Iraqis handle things? 

It's crossed my mind several times in recent months that what we're seeing is the slow playing out of a cultural paradigm, one well known to history, if forgotten by most of our elites. (To be sure, it's something that would be more familiar to the British, who used to run much of the region.) Cultural demands must be met, and nobody — not the UN, not Karl Rove, not even Amnesty International, knows Iraqi culture better than the Iraqis do. What appears to us illogical and even counterproductive may nonetheless both embody a form of logic and produce results.

We may not like — or understand — the method, we may not like all the results, but the  Iraqis will all the same get to where they're going, under their own steam and according to their own schedule. To demand that they do otherwise is to ask them to become something they are not. We can ask many things of the Iraqis, but we cannot ask them to give up their cultural identity. We need to keep in mind that to a Muslim Iraqi, the most down—to—earth American actions look like the behavior of howling maniacs. (Have you ever considered how the Iraqis must think of our practice of allowing reporters to roam at will, just to give one example?)

And if this is mistaken, and the Iraqis actually do have no idea, and the situation is  hopeless, then at the very least we can paraphrase what a Utah cop said of Gary Gilmore following his well—earned execution: when somebody at last blows up Manhattan, we'll know it ain't Saddam Hussein.

J.R. Dunn is a frequent contributor to American Thinker.