U.S. policies also provoked others to turn religious. Hussein's execution on Eid day, one of Islam's major religious festivals, upset Muslims all over the world. Muslim leaders have been quick to condemn the trial as unfair, arguing that he was arrested and tried by a foreign country that has taken control of Iraq. (The Iraqi government is but a representative of the U.S.)
About 15 years ago, Hussein, a secularist and Baathist, became a religious hero against Christians, predominately the U.S. and U.K. During the first gulf war, he changed the symbolic meaning of the Iraqi national flag by adding the words "Allah Akbar" (Allah is great). His reciting of the holy Quran and his jihad-related religious speeches were broadcast on state-run radio and television. After the fall of his regime, he became an extremist and always went to the court carrying a copy of the holy Quran.
On the day of his hanging, Hussein praised the mujahedin and jihad and cursed the West. Before the hanging, in a letter written on Nov. 5 and later released by his lawyers, he said, "Here, I offer my soul to God as a sacrifice, and if he wants, he will send it to heaven with the martyrs." "Long live jihad and the mujahedin." In the latter, Hussein urged Iraqis to "remember that God has enabled you to become an example of love, forgiveness and brotherly co-existence" (BBC, Dec. 28).
Hussein's execution on Eid day angered most Muslims, even his enemies. Millions of Muslims were astonished at how he was informed of his death sentence at the dawn of the Eid ul-Adha feast, which recalls the would-be sacrifice by Abraham of his son -- a commemoration that even the ghastly Hussein cynically used to celebrate by releasing prisoners from his jails. On the other hand, Arab television and radio provided a minute-by-minute countdown of events leading to Hussein's hanging. Just before dawn, Arab networks were saying preparations had been completed and that Hussein had arrived at the place of execution.
Sheik Yahya al-Attawi, a cleric at the Saddam Big Mosque, said, "The president, the leader Saddam Hussein is a martyr and God will put him along with other martyrs. Do not be sad nor complain because he has died the death of a holy warrior" (AP, Dec. 30)
Palestinians too were angered. Khadejeh Ahmad, from the Qadora refugee camp in the West Bank, said, "We heard of his martyrdom, and I swear to God we were deeply shaken from within ... But God supports us, and we pray to God to punish those who did this" (AP, Dec. 30). Hamas has also said that Hussein's execution was wrong.
Liaquat Baluch, of the MMA (Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal, also known as the United Action Front) religious alliance in Pakistan, said, "The execution of Saddam Hussein will further destabilize Iraq. There will be more sectarian violence in Iraq, and we believe that the execution of Saddam Hussein is part of the American plan to disintegrate Iraq" (BBC, Dec. 30).
Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar warned, "The only thing is we hope they will be able to contain this. Because the conflict is not going to end. This is not the answer" (BBC, Dec. 30).
Libyan declared three days of national mourning over Hussein's execution and canceled all the programs for Eid ul-Adha. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood condemned the incident and expressed its anger to the U.S.
Agence France-Presse published a report that Hussein's enemies were not satisfied because the execution took place on Eid day. Um Mohammad, an Iraqi living in Jordan whose husband and two nephews were killed in the Dujail, said the Americans had stolen our joyful Eid festival.
Except in Iran, and for Iraqi Shias, most news media in the Muslim world called the execution "a conspiracy against Islam by the U.S.," because it took place on a day Muslims offer animal sacrifices to Allah. They also highlighted the fact that Hussein was "carrying a copy of the holy Quran," and called him a "fighter against crusaders."
Prominent Western journalist Robert Fisk wrote in the British Independent (in an article titled "A Dictator Created Then Destroyed by America," Dec. 30) that "Saddam died a 'martyr' to the will of the new 'Crusaders.'"
David M. Crane, a law professor at Syracuse University's College of Law and a former chief prosecutor for the Special Court for Sierra Leone, has said that "People will be more focused on the death of a martyr who stood up to the Americans" (Council of Foreign Affairs, Aug. 29).
George Galloway, an anti-war British member of Parliament, said, "I believe a wave of attacks will be carried out against those allied with the occupation" (BBC, Dec. 30).
Israel wasn't fully happy with Hussein's fate, but is more afraid of the rising Shia influence in Iraq because they are more dangerous and fundamentalist than Hussein's followers. Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh expressed concern Saturday about Iraq's path in the post-Hussein era. "We have to be worried about what is going to happen now," he said on Israeli radio (Ha'aretz, Dec. 31).
Let's not forget the abuse of the holy Quran by U.S. interrogators at Guantanamo Bay a few years back. Then, as now, the whole Muslim world became angry with the U.S. Secular Muslim leaders did too. Even America's closest allies condemned the incident.