I'm going to admit something that might make you think less of me: I took time on my birthday to search the internet for video of Saddam's hanging. It might sound demented, but I was fascinated at the quickly fulfilled execution of the former Iraqi dictator. It caught me a little off-guard. I knew that Hussein had been convicted of approving a massacre and was sentenced to death but had no idea it would happen so quickly.
It seems like the circumstances surrounding the execution, the taunting he endured, as well as the hasty manner in which it was carried out, almost made Saddam out as a sympathetic figure. But an encounter I had a few years ago led me to view the man in a different light and, in turn, my recent Googling for video of his demise.
About four years ago, when I first started working at Christ's Church, I was involved in helping arrange different elements of the worship service. Coinciding with a message theme, we were looking to interview someone with an international view of the Christian faith. It just so happened that an Arabic family had started attending the church; they were from Iraq. We brought him in to do a preliminary interview in the middle of the week. I don't think I was prepared for his testimony.
His father became a Christian as an adult and reared his family as believers. Out of fear of the Islamic majority, they were forced to hide their faith and practice it in secret; Iraq wasn't a safe place to worship Jesus. The man told me about a Christian family he knew growing up. Soldiers showed up at their house in the middle of the night to take the men in for questioning. They never returned. This is what it was like to be a Christian under Saddam's rule.
So when the man had an opportunity to defect, he took it. He hadn't seen or spoken to his family in over fifteen years. He didn't even know if they were still alive. It was an eye-opening conversation. And it was the kind of testimony that the people in our church, some too comfortable in their own Christianity, needed to hear. But they never heard it.
The day the man was supposed to share his story he arrived for services an hour early. He said he wouldn't do the interview. He was afraid that someone who heard his story might somehow tell someone who could send word back to Iraq. If that were to happen, he said, his family there could be in danger. It was a risk, he said, he was unwilling to take.
And that's when I started to comprehend what it was like to live in a country ruled by a ruthless dictator. This man feared Saddam despite living on the other side of the world.
I know this story doesn't justify me trying to watch the man's death but it should add some perspective on the whole incident.