It’s the day of one of my favorite 2 year old’s birthday party. It’s also the day that Saddam Hussein has been sentenced to hang. I’m trying to wrap my mind around that.
I minored in Human Rights Studies in college. This required, in part, the reading of scores of disturbing books and articles on torture, child labor, arms deals, and state-sanctioned murder. I also remember struggling through a few particularly dense books on international law and globalization. It built character. I say that phrase a lot– “It builds character”– as a sort of snide answer in my work when my young charges ask why they must clean up their toys after they play, and as a joke when a friend complains about one of the trivial hassles of adult life. Why did the universe conspire for it to be subzero weather the day I needed to move all my belongings out of my apartment? How come the wireless mic always dies on the kid in the play who has the biggest stage mother, and how come she’s on her way over to accuse us of sabatoge right now? Why do four year olds always have to go to the bathroom the minute you zip up the snowsuit? It builds character. It’s my answer for when I have no answer. But this liberal arts view into the intracies and history of human rights really did build my character. I really believe I am a better person having been asked, at the threshold of my adult life, to examine the challenges of finding justice in the face of great evils and the efforts of governments, religious leaders, and individuals throughout history to define and act on a respect for the humanity of others that might be, as a professor of mine once said, “a means to our own evolution.”
I’m a little afraid right now to turn on the news, because don’t want to hear reports of all the rejoicing over Saddam’s sentence. I’m afraid of hearing our President declare this as a good day for America. I’m very afraid that while random jerks on the street, who never cared about human rights abuses until the Bush Administration found it politically convenient to do so, go to bars to toast Saddam’s demise while American men younger than me are half a world away, perhaps facing a greater threat of violence, and Iraqi families that have already been broken so many times over already steel themselves for further pain. I think of my sister’s ex-boyfriend in the Navy. I worry for her worry, and for his safety.
This day makes me think of a time, about 6 months or so before March 19, 2003 I happened to have a meeting with my pastor, as I was a new visitor to what would later become my church. The getting-to-know-you session at some point became a discussion of the political events of the day, and our shared worries (yes, at that time) about the talk of invading Iraq. Suddenly everyone was talking about how outrageous it was that “Saddam kicked out the weapons inspectors in 1998,” (which by the way, never happened) that American people (and its media) were revving up for a war in much the way they rev up for the Superbowl. Suddenly there were all these signs around saying “God Bless America”– and it had occurred to me that there’s something exclusive in that saying, especially in the way it was being thrown about in those days. God Bless America, I told him, that’s great. Is it okay if I also get a bumper sticker that says God Bless Iraq? Because honestly, I want Iraq to be blessed and I know that the Creator I believe in would to. But the fact is that my country has shot missles with the phrase God Bless America emblazened on them IN MY NAME, and those missles have destroyed whole communities, including young children. If that is how Fox News thinks that God blesses America than I’d rather be an atheist.
I happen to be against the death penalty. I imagine there will be lots of reports of people who will say they are against the death penalty except in a case such as this. I’m not one of them. In fact, I might even be against the death penalty especially in a case such as this. How is the world made better when a murderous torturing dictator is given the opportunity to be a martyr? Many, if not most, people I know flatly disagree with my views on this subject, even find them naive, and that’s okay. I have a different vision for the world, and in the words of John Lennon, I’m not the only one.
I am going to a party today for a beautiful little blonde haired girl, who I hope will enjoy the Polar Animal Baby book that I have bought for her. I’d like to be a part of creating a better world for her. I’m curious to see what this day in history will amount to. Maybe, in the end it is just another day where the character of a human being is built in the everyday struggles to get along with each other and define justice. God bless us all.