What is the significance of Saddam Hussein holding a Koran as he headed to the gallows Saturday morning? It’s not the first time a brutal tyrant reached for religious symbols as the people he formerly ruled sent him to his Creator. And it won’t be the last. The job of the journalist is to tell us what it means and how the Iraqi people perceived the symbol.
First off, notice how a Reuters article placed the Koran in the lead and the Times of India website placed it in the headline:
Clutching a Koran and refusing a hood, Saddam Hussein was hanged at dawn on Saturday. It was a dramatic, violent end for a dictator who ruled Iraq for three decades before he was toppled by a US-led invasion in 2003.
Note the Koran’s treatment by the Associated Press in the sixth paragraph:
His jet black hair was carefully combed, his salt-and-pepper beard neatly clipped. He carried a Koran.
Is the Koran a mere detail to be added along with the (dyed) color of his hair? What message is Saddam trying to send? Is it wrong of me to suggest that perhaps the Butcher of Baghdad, despised by so many for his secularism, had something of a reconversion to Islam before he was executed?
The more likely story is that Saddam, recognizing like Charles I that people would scrutinize his final actions, wanted to send some sort of message. But what message did he want to send and what message did the Iraqi people and Arab Muslims at large receive?
These are just a few questions that I’m hoping are answered in the coming weeks as we watch the fallout of the execution of one of the world’s most brutal dictators.
I thought it was interesting that The Washington Post did not mention the Koran until about 30 paragraphs into its magnificently detailed account of the execution:
Hussein carried a dark green Koran in his clasped hands, witnesses said. At the steps to the gallows, he turned to [prosecutor Munqith al-Faroun] and asked him to give the book to the son of his co-defendant Awad Haman Bander. Bander, like Hussein, was sentenced to death for the killings of 148 Shiite men and boys from the northern town of Dujail.
“What if I don’t see him?” Faroun asked.
“Keep it until you meet with any of my family members,” Faroun recalled Hussein saying.
The significance of the Koran, or lack thereof, is a story in and of itself. But it’s only the surface story. The deeper story is Saddam’s spiritual state as he headed to the gallows. The clutched Koran is a good place to start.