News from the Middle East today speaks of continued controversy over the execution of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. CMP has learned from sources in China that television stations there have been warned to tread carefully around news of Saddam’s execution, making reports only according to Foreign Ministry statements and without expressing sympathies for any particular party. This does not necessarily reflect the situation at print media, but it is safe to suppose they were also warned to keep things cool, and particularly not to inflame religious tensions in China. [pdf_hussein-execution-editorial_the-beijing-news.pdf: January 7 editorial in The Beijing News opposes manner of Saddam Hussein’s execution].
Notwithstanding, there has been notable diversity of opinion in the Chinese media over the execution of Saddam Hussein. Once again, we have the usual suspects — the editorial pages at more independent-minded commercial newspapers, mostly those in south China, farthest from the ministers in Beijing. CMP found editorials from, among others, 21st Century Business Herald, Southern Metropolis Daily, The Beijing News, New Express, and Beijing Youth Daily. While coverage from the party papers (the X Dailies) focused on the barest facts of Saddam Hussein’s execution, and offered only quoted opinions from various state leaders outside China, the commercial newspapers sought to represent a broader cross-section of views in editorials from academic experts and engaged readers. CMP has noted before that one can look to the commercial newspapers for dissenting opinion on issues of domestic importance in China, but editorial coverage of this most recent news story suggests at least some of these newspapers are pursuing a professional goal of representing diverse opinion rather than simply offering a single dissenting opinion.
CMP has translated three editorials below. The first, written by U.S.-based scholar Shen Rui, ran in The Beijing News on January 7, but appeared on the author’s blog on January 1. The next two editorials appeared in Southern Metropolis Daily on January 3 and 4,and take sharply different views on such issues as democracy, justice and capital punishment. In the matter of context, it should also be remembered that China dealt recently with its own high-profile death penalty case.
“I Am Angry: Opposing the Execution of Saddam Hussein”
Shen Rui (U.S.-based scholar)
The Beijing News
January 7, 2007 [available from January 1, 2007, at Shen Rui’s blog]
In my own name, I oppose the death of a tyrant; I oppose employing such a barbaric method, hanging, to deny a life, regardless of how unworthy that that life may be.
Saddam has been executed. Amidst the myriad celebrations leading up to the New Year, following the harvest of autumn, as people across the world settled down to welcome the coming of a new year, as thousands upon thousands of people made their pilgrimage to Mecca, as thousands upon thousands enjoyed the leftovers of Christmas dinner, as all endeavored to pass the holidays in joy, Saddam was hanged.
I do not grieve for Saddam. But I feel the death penalty meted out to him was unjust, the time chosen to execute him repulsive, and the method used to end his life horrifying. So, altogether, I feel angry. Angered into shutting off my television, and using my own way to resist, resist this execution of Saddam — to express my wrath in my own way. I am angry because this cowardly act of hanging Saddam proceeded without the least hindrance. I am angry because I feel deeply despondent about human reason.
I remain thoroughly convinced it was wrong to sentence Saddam to death. Apart from the fact no one has the right to seize the life of another person — this is for me an extreme article of faith, my highest belief about people and humanity — I want to ask what sense there is in putting Saddam to death today? There is perhaps no sense in it at all. With the execution of Saddam, the situation in Iraq will grow only worse, not better, as thousands upon thousands thirst for revenge. The execution of Saddam, aside from exposing the basic cowardice and narrow-mindedness of humankind, will do nothing to make the world a safer place. Why must things be done in such a way?
I am angry, because I have always believed that in the 21st century we should be more enlightened, more rational and more capable of creating a world governed by reason than we were in the 20th century. But I understand now how naïve is this faith of mine, how unrealistic. I realize suddenly that perhaps the 21st century will offer nothing better than the terrors of the 20th century. I am deeply troubled, because in the 20th century the West had two major wars that brought the destruction of civilization. Facing the 21st century, I felt certain we had learned our lessons, that we could take comparatively rational and moderate positions in dealing with complicated affairs. I know now that this was probably a fantasy, and that we perhaps still face in the 21st century a barbaric world devoid of rationality. I don’t know whether the Iraq War begun in 2003 was merely a prelude, and whether more destruction lies ahead. But in the future we cannot see, the shadows [and signs] of greater destruction are already over our heads. This means we must look very carefully at ourselves.
I am angry, because the timing of Saddam’s execution was chosen in such a calculated manner, and with such cowardice. Can those people who planned this execution not see that the time, timing and times of this execution (时间、时机和时代) have created a hero for all times? Do they think they’ve accomplished a wonderful feat, to take a captured and captive despot up onto the gallows? During these times of holiday celebration, to make the people of the world face the death of an old man who perhaps no longer has any power to inflict harm — this is quite plainly to manufacture romantic heroism. Saddam’s silence gives no peace to those who carried out the sentence. The death of a person of such great guilt and extreme evil leaves people in the end only to feel that they’ve somehow been wrong. Now, thousands of people go to see Saddam’s grave. From January 1, 2007, how will history and those who come after remember and judge this man who was supposed to be the worst kind of despot? 100 years from now, how will people view what we’ve done today? Our silence and our tolerance [for this act]?
My anger is also about my extreme disappointment with the actions of America, this country in which I’ve chosen to live and work. Its democratic principles and ideals are being destroyed and challenged by the unscrupulousness of the current administration. We must take responsibility for the fact that we could not keep them from taking the stage [in elections], that we could not prevent an unnecessary war, that we could not prevent the senseless waste of the lives of our sons and daughters and our resources, that we allowed a small coterie of warmongers to mislead this country. These are the things for which we bear responsibility: we stirred up greater hate, manufactured more death, made the world less safe, and made the terrorists more aggressive. This is our responsibility, a responsibility no American can avoid: how do we face the founding fathers, and how do we face the reason and ideals that they upheld? How do we face the future?
My son gave me a phone call from an island in the Pacific and said, “Mom, I feel really angry about the execution of Saddam, and I feel seriously let down by America”. Hearing my son’s words, on the last day of 2006, I had no words, only tears. Anger set my hand to writing this small article to oppose, in my own name, the death of a tyrant, to oppose this barbaric use of hanging to take a human life, regardless of how unworthy that life may be, to oppose the American invasion of Iraq, and, as a mother, to weep for the tens of thousands of lives tragically lost in this war.
“Must the Flowers of Democracy Be Nourished With Blood?”
Xiao Shu (笑蜀)
Southern Metropolis Daily
January 3, 2007, A02
In the end there was no way for Saddam Hussein to escape death. When the news [of his execution] was released, welcoming cheers echoed across the Web.
I understand that jubilation. Saddam was a man of many crimes, with the fresh blood of his brothers on his hands. But understanding does not equal agreement. Even if Saddam’s actions merit a thousand deaths, I do not believe that to execute him now is the best possible decision. Had Saddam been executed amidst the crimes of his violent politics, had Saddam been murdered as he resisted capture, I would have been overjoyed. The problem is Saddam did not die in such a way. Saddam was an old man captured, having lost all power to resist, presenting no danger to anyone. That is to say, he had already become an ordinary person, defenseless, posing no danger whatsoever in the real world. The life of this ordinary Saddam should be respected. Of course he was guilty of serious crimes, and to not hold him accountable would be an affront to justice. But for Saddam, to have lost his power and be held captive was already the gravest of indignities, was already the best of all possible forms of retribution. What need was there to make him pay by robbing him of his life?
For an old man with one foot in the grave to be marched up on the gallows is a most inhumane act, however one looks at it — it’s not something that I can accept. Notwithstanding, many of my friends believe Saddam’s hanging will become the nightmare troubling despots everywhere, and therefore accelerate the process of democratization – or, in other words, the flower of democracy can be nourished only with the blood of despots. This sort of logic may seem airtight at first glance, but I’ve always found it specious.
Why do we need democracy? Or, why is democracy preferable to despotism? There are many reasons, but the most important reason of all is that despotism destroys humanity, that the rule of despotism turns human beings into beasts. Under despotism no one is secure, anyone may, at any time, be preyed upon, and people live in a state of fear. Not so with democracy. Democracy upholds humanity, because under democratic systems, life itself becomes the most precious value of society, and intruding on the life of another becomes the greatest evil and is prohibited. The life of each person receives the strictest protection of the law.
Democracy does not relish the blood of despots, but rather cherishes every drop of blood. This is what separates democracy from despotism. Of course there have been democracies in history [or democratic movements] that have not cherished blood [IE, in which blood was shed], as with the French Revolution, as with the Russian Revolution. Whether it is democracy that does not respect every drop of blood, or democracy that does not respect human life, or democracy marked by violence, all lie just to one side of despotism. It is simply a question of one man’s despotism versus a regime of collective political violence.
Democracy does not trade blood for blood, or seek to slake every thirst for revenge. An eye for an eye, this ancient concept of revenge, long ago became incompatible with modern civilization, and is not what we should seek. The idea that we must fight against evil with everything in our power cannot bring us true fairness and justice, but in fact will lead only to the plundering of morality and reason, multiplying violence by violence, bringing about civil strife. Democracy stresses humanity. Democracy also stresses clemency, stresses compromise. Yes, crimes must be accounted. But accounting for crimes does not mean asking for blood. Taking the example of Saddam, life imprisonment would have been in keeping with the principle of holding him to account, would not have prevented justice, and would also have meant sparing his life, showing the high moral values of moderation and compromise. Is this not the best of both worlds — virtuous and wise? To not employ such well-advised policies, to insist that Saddam pay with his blood to lay the foundations of democracy in Iraq. This extreme mode of action is, in my view, unbefitting to the work of creating a democracy in Iraq.
In an age of fairness — even if he was a despot, and so long as he has lost all power to harm others — we should give him the benefit of the doubt. If Saddam had been handled in such a way, this would have made a good demonstration to other despots, warning them stop the killing and change their evil ways. But sadly this opportunity has already been lost. Perhaps because of this other despots will resort to further extremes, and the price paid by the process of democratization will be even more serious. Therefore, in my view, the death of Saddam is not only an unhappy note for democracy in Iraq, but equally an unhappy note for the world.
“Saddam’s Regret, Iraq’s Progress”
Xu Yiwei (余以为)
Southern Metropolis Daily
January 4, 2007, A2
The wild image of a Saddam captured, who had not committed suicide, made many of Saddam’s sympathizers lose hope. Now that he has quietly gone to his death, Saddam can be said to have regained some of the dignity he lost with his capture. Saddam knew the death penalty was unavoidable. His only regret was that they did not opt for a form of execution in which his blood would be spilt.
In contrast to Saddam’s own regrets, yesterday’s essay by Xiao Shu in this esteemed newspaper, “Must the Flowers of Democracy Be Nourished With Blood?”, seems far too poetic. Saddam was hanged, and his blood was not spilt. I emphasize this not only because Saddam demanded before the court to be executed by firing squad (shedding blood), but because before Saddam was captured he had an opportunity to take his own life but did not wish to inter himself in earth stained with his own blood.
There are many forms of execution, from Japan’s dissection of living people, to ancient China’s beheading, cutting of victims in half at the waist, splitting of people by horse carts, the inflicting of 4,200 death cuts. We should all be familiar with these from our school history textbooks. The replacement of execution by firing squad with lethal injection is still going on, and is a process not yet completed. To use a comparatively civilized method, taking all possible care to ensure the criminal’s dignity in executing Saddam, represents major progress for Iraq. Iraq’s national dignity was also restored through the process of this sentencing, as the decision of Iraq’s special court was respected.
For the Iraqi government to resume the capital punishment that Saddam abused during his rule, and to which the American, British and U.N. forces put an end, is criticized in those countries where the death penalty is already a thing of the past. While Iraq has returned to rule of law for only a short time now, the openness of the trial process, their serious treatment of capital punishment (requiring the president’s signature) and relatively moderate way of carrying it out, should be praised and studied.
Democracy doesn’t seek perfection. The cleanliness of democracy is only a mirage in the process of democratization. What democratization requires is rationality.
[Posted by David Bandurski, January 9, 2006, 1:25pm]