Sunday, January 21, 2007

Saddam's Forgotten Legacy

Huffington Post
Merrill Markoe
Saddam's Forgotten Legacy

Well, now that the dust has settled and all the cell phones have been put away and the heads picked up off the floor in the gallows room, and all the extra rope put back in to storage... I thought it might be time to look back with a little more perspective at the bright side of the long unsettling secretive reign of Saddam Hussein.

So I Net-Flixed my favorite movie on the subject; a documentary called "Uncle Saddam" which was filmed under false pretenses in the year 2000. Probably a lot of you youngsters don't remember the old pre-American invasion Iraq. To have access to his subject, the director Joel Soler, a Frenchman, claimed to be making a pro-Saddam documentary about architecture. A lot of the footage he shot ended up having to be smuggled out of the country.

Among various highlights, the movie contains a fascinating tour of Saddam's 21 palaces, one of which was totally underground and had an underground airport runway! And one of which came complete with an entry hall floor mosaic of George Bush's face labeled with the inlaid mosaic tile words "Bush is Criminal."

As insane-dictators-freed-from-budgetary-restrictions go, Saddam scored pretty well on the creativity scale. For instance, he really knew how to celebrate a birthday. For his birthday in April 2001, he completed The Umm al-Ma'arik mosque -- translated as the Mother of All Battles mosque -- which he had decorated with four minarets each 43 meters tall, each shaped like a Scud missile and meant to represent the 43 days of conflict with the US during Desert Storm. PLUS (talk about an original idea) a pool shaped like the Arab world and laden with a 24 foot-wide mosaic of the surface details of Saddam's thumbprint! And on his 61st birthday he authorized the construction of a personal artificial lake accessorized by a resort town full of gold domed pyramids linked by beige and pink marble arches! Perhaps concerned that this wasn't enough of a party, 280 couples held a mass wedding.

Compare this to George W. Bush's 56th birthday that included a round of golf with his father.

A lot can be learned about the weirdness of life in Iraq under Saddam in the course of the movie. There's footage of Saddam demonstrating his fishing technique by throwing grenades. Which I guess has nothing on the hunting techniques of Dick Cheney.

And much is said about Saddam's bizarre sado-masochistic family relationships. For example the way he put his two daughters under house arrest after having both their husbands killed. Pretty outrageous. But then again, history may note that Dick Cheney forced his pregnant daughter to have a baby out of wedlock after he campaigned for a law that forbids her to ever marry.

Obviously drawing parallels between the present administration and the presidency of Saddam is a reach and can only go so far. Everyone agrees that Saddam was much, much crazier. For instance, he believed that Mohammed advised him where to put his missiles. Oh wait a minute. Bush takes orders from God .

Well, back to my main point: The film also includes footage of Saddam delivering a rather lengthy discourse on the topic of personal hygiene. A germaphobe, who made sure his office temperature was readjusted daily to match his physical temperature, Saddam woke up every morning at 5 AM to attend to his personal toilette. Cleanliness was very important to Saddam, because, as we can see on film for ourselves, he liked his fellow countrymen to greet him by kissing him in his armpit.

"It is not appropriate for someone to attend a gathering or be with his children with his body odor trailing behind him emitting a sweet or stinky smell mixed with perspiration..." Saddam begins earnestly, from his position behind his desk, looking kind of natty in a light grey double breasted jacket and a white Panama hat with a black hat band," This will take away some of the son's love for the father. "

"Its preferable to bathe twice a day but at least once a day." He continues. (author's note: I personally believe that if he were alive and asked to elaborate, he would agree that this depends on the lifestyle details and levels of filth of the individual male. Much as it does for each of us when we contemplate the instructions to lather, rinse, repeat")

Saddam goes on: "And when the male bathes once a day, the female should bathe twice a day. The reason is that the female is more delicate. And the smell of a woman is more noticeable than the male." (author's note: I would have asked Saddam if he didn't agree that body odor is less a matter of gender than it is about who is doing the smelling of what and from what angle.)

(And for that perhaps I would have been put to death. Oh well. As Jack Bauer said last week when he thought he was being sacrificed to terrorists: "At least I would have died for something.")

But Saddam is not yet finished.

"If a woman can't afford to brush her teeth with tooth paste and a toothbrush, she should at least use her finger."

So, as it turns out Saddam did have a few sensible thoughts upon which we can all agree: Bathing is good. So is brushing your teeth. And when caught without the proper equipment, improvise.

I wonder if, when all is said and done, and we are looking back at the current group in The White House, and are examining the teachings of a very destructive presidency that often looks like it wishes it could have been a free-wheeling dictatorship (albeit one without any insane but entertaining performance artist touches like a pool made to look like somebody's thumb print), we will ever discover any footage of George Bush or Dick Cheney saying anything that made even half that much sense.