The video of Hussein’s execution is making its way around and around the globe, raising in its wake howl after howl: he deserved it, this is the way all evil people should end, I can’t believe you can see him dying right there on the screen!
The spectacle of a public execution has always been one way people in power try to distract us from what’s really true. And what’s really true, and has always been true in one way or another, is that those in whom we’ve entrusted the power to act on our behalf haven’t deserved our trust. In fact, those people are the ones who’ve put into motion many of the things they’ve been charged with fixing.
And while that video plays on millions of computer screens, Iraq plunges deeper into civil war, children die from preventable diseases, genocide continues in Africa, and the polar ice caps melt just a little bit more. But the person watching the screen is distracted by the spectacle of an actual video of a man being hanged, and fails to see that evil goes on about its insidious business while he is turned the other way, transfixed, watching something that has changed not one single thing for the better.
But here’s something else I know, something lots of people know, either deep within or right on the surface. It’s this: No evil in the world can be fixed until you call it by its proper name. So let’s start things off by calling Hussein’s execution what it really is: smokescreen. Not justice. Having done that, we can then call what’s happening in Iraq a civil war for which Americans are responsible. Not public infighting. The fact that children die from preventable diseases? Wrong. Not regrettable.
If you’re going to resolve to do anything this year it should be to insist on the right names for things. Because when you do, you will stand up to the people who want us to forget how much there is to be done, the people who this week would like us to think that this execution fixes any of the things that are tearing Iraq apart, that it has anything to do with true justice. And when you do that, you will quiet for a moment the insensible howl of the mob and replace it with the sound of your voice saying clearly the right names for the things that are wrong. And maybe then we will be able to get on with making right some of the things in the world that are wrong.