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March 31, 1998

Mind Games

by David Underhill

The war that is and isn't. For the moment it isn't again. Yet its supposed spark -- the fiendish Saddam Hussein -- survives to plot the next ignition whenever pyromania seizes him. And the US military's all-volunteer fire brigade waits around Iraq to douse his madness with rockets and bombs.

Compare this standard American picture of the crazed, murderous Saddam with his other image. Yes, some demonstrations of support in the streets of Baghdad look about as spontaneous as a Fourth of July parade. But elsewhere in the Arab world crowds gather in defiance of police to chant his name and bear his portrait through the streets like an icon. Planeloads of Russians rush to offer themselves as human shields, along with Iraqi faithful, against American attacks on his palaces. And UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, returning from the negotiations with Hussein that squelched war for now, describes him not as deranged or deluded but as "calm" and "well informed."

Words like propaganda and brainwashing come to mind as reasons for this gulf between such opposite impressions. And barring assassination or a meteorite strike, Saddam seems likely to remain a cause or excuse for war. If those flames sprout again, expect the demonizing of him to resume.

As an antidote to that, imagine how the world and his role in it must appear to him, although this cannot actually be done. Hussein has been cast as such a bogeyman in America that information to sketch any different personality scarcely exists (except perhaps among the psychological profiling specialists inside the CIA). But let's try anyway, if only as a half blind lunge of resistance against the campaign to portray him as a loony demon and all -- here and over there -- who decline to agree as dupes or demi-demons.

I am Saddam, the beggar who beseeches at the door for shelter from the darkness. I am Saddam, the shield of the people, who must ask them to shield him. And they welcome me into their homes with joy and thanksgiving that they have been chosen as my refuge this night. For they know that the eyes of the Great Satan are ever in the sky, seeking me out to rain down death upon me. They know that His spies are among us, disguised as inspectors for the United Nations, marking the locations of my palaces and buried command centers to target for attack.

Like the creatures of the fields and birds in flight, each night I must find a new place to hide from the evil that pursues and would devour me. And this is good. For my people take me in, and I am at one with them and they with me.

I am Saddam, whose name means he who confronts. Hence by day I am ever moving, and no day is like the one before or after so that my enemies may not find and corner me. For I must survive to confront them all.

I am not Saddam the fool or the braying jackass that freezes in fear at a shadow. I know who my enemies are, and they are not dreams or imaginings. They are afar in the lair of the Great Satan. And they are here -- in my realm, in my retinue, in my family. Even among those who love and obey me traitors lurk, not knowing this of themselves. They are weak and fearful or too hungry for wealth and ease. So when threat or opportunity beckons they will betray me. I perceive these sons and daughters of Judas and know what they will do before they know it. Therefore I remove them from my presence and from my lands.

For I am Saddam, the guardian of these lands, who must confront every thief and conqueror that would wrench them from me and send me to the grave. What then, my people! Some of you would cringe and cower in your homes. Others would flee to hide yourselves in the hills and marshes. And others would line the streets to cheer the arrival of the impostors and usurpers. But all of you, though you had preserved your bodies, would be dying in your souls. From this living death I will rescue you.

For I am Saddam, the student, who has learned the lessons taught about this place by time. I learned them from the elders of my family, who instructed me by word and deed to always, always keep your heart brave and hard against the foe of your home, although events would often shackle your hands -- and to strike if your hands came briefly free!

As a young man I learned to plot against the puppets I despised who would sell their honor to be installed in seats of borrowed power by their foreign protectors. Yet these indebted eunuchs of the mind and spirit were guarded well. Courage and desire would not avail to cast them down from their thrones of corrupt, illusory rule.

And so in exile after the failed attempts I learned from writings and from the great Nasser in Egypt. I am but a page and this era but a chapter in the book of ages. In my youth the barbarians from Britain came to impose false rulers upon us and to divide and plunder our lands. In my latter years came their barbarian cousins, the Americans. And with them both came the Zionists, a dagger in the body of my people.

This three-headed monster is the Great Satan of my time, and I have been called in turn to stand against it. Before me in this era others were called. And before this era came the Great Satan in other guises. The Turk to kill, steal, and command. The Romans before them. The Greeks. The Persians. Always the Persians. Even now the remnant of them, called Iranians, suffers the last spasms of a corpse remembering its lost glory and attempts to rouse itself against me.

I am Saddam, the cunning. Do I not know that I must make a pact with the Devil so I may survive to later conquer this same Devil? Thus, in league with the Great Satan, I drive back the Persians into their own shrunken realm and take due revenge upon their Kurdish hirelings. And once this is done my hands are again unshackled to strike at the foe of my home.

For who are the princes of Kuwait -- and all others like them -- but mock monarchs crowned by the Britons to serve in their stead when the armies of their empire could no longer dominate my lands and people directly? It was my mission to reclaim that lost province. And if this provoked the Great Satan to great fury, so be it.

I am Saddam, the survivor. Although many among the people did not survive, still the people survive -- even as agents of the Great Satan infest the land like a pestilence, even as they seek to starve us, even as they foment strife with our Kurds, even as they try again to buy the souls of those who would submit to serve as puppets.

And does the Great Satan truly suppose Saddam, the one who confronts, would truly consent to being disarmed? My naked breast would be exposed to the sword He wields. I am accused of having and hiding weapons of mass destruction. Accused by those who do indeed possess weapons of mass destruction! America, Britain, Israel. All have and adore their nuclear bombs that can invert the earth and bring the fires of hell to the surface. Against this and the other deadly spawn of their cauldrons they expect me to stand defenseless and do their bidding, because they can slaughter my people but I cannot do the same to them?

Others may accept this yoke forged for them, but I am Saddam and will not. The Great Satan's science that makes Him the master of death. His food. His clothing. His cities and civilization. In the beginning it all sprang from here. This place, these people. Who could deny us our inheritance if we resolve to reclaim it?

We are now named Arabs and bow to Allah. But before that was not Baghdad the storied Babylon? And before that was not this the land of the mighty kings of Mesopotamia? And before that was not this the home of the Sumerians who stood astride all the known world? And before that was not this the Garden of Eden from whence at the dawn of time came all that is?

The sun was never to set on the British empire, and yet it did. The Americans yearn to resurrect it but will learn that they cannot. And without them the Zionists are but a candle that will burn out.

Yet all of these are subject to the folly of believing their passing power to be eternal. Dare they to unleash it, and fire and plagues will consume them also. Then they will vanish from this place. But my people will remain, as they always have.

For they are Saddam.

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