The nature of dictatorship
Ala Bashir - Saddam's private doctor - was on BBC Radio 4 last week. His interviewer, Gill Pyrah, had come in expecting to have some juicy stories of the 'Roman Decadence' of Saddam and his family. Instead, he single handedly dispelled all the sensation and myths around Saddam and gave us some uncomfortable truths. His argument went right above the head of the interviewer and left her in a state of bewilderment. It shows that if you really want to understand a dictatorship - ask an Iraqi.
For your benefit I transcribed the full interview below. Ala is not a politician so his thesis is one of an observer. but it should be taken to heart by anyone who talks about revolutionary change.
Ala's main thesis is that Saddam is not an aberration but that his behaviour is a direct consequence of his position of power.
[Saddam] is not mad. He is a perfectly well balanced person. but I think what is wrong is the power it is the relationship between man and power. I have seen many examples like Saddam even worse than Saddam.
I would add to this that to rule Iraq you must either be truly democratic or a ruthless dictator. Essentially Saddam's Baath party had no choice but to be so ruthless. They had no popular base amongst the people so the only option was to repress any opposition totally.
Ala goes on to explain the reason why power affects people in this way.
The problem is there. This disease is there in society. ... The disease of power and hate. I mean Saddam he was just a normal consequence of what is going on in society - its the hate, its the aggression.
This is very true and I think the one fatal error of Marx. Concentrate power in the hands of a few people and the hate and power will take over - no matter how good the person is. Soviet Russia applied Marx's Dictatorship of the Proletariat to defend their new state. It worked. But once the proletariat had established itself, the dictatorship would not let go. Stalin was not intentionally a dictator but Russian society responded well to a new Tsar. Stalin did not create Stalin, Russia created Stalin. Europe had the advantage that its ruling class was divided and power could not be concentrated in the centre. Even the new capitalist classes that took over from the feudal lords had to balance the interests of the old landed gentry.
But Europe as a society is no better. When Europe had military and technological advantage over other continents did it use this to guarantee peaceful trade? I think not!
So on to Ala's solution...
I think that we need a very high dose of love.
As I said, he is no politician.
Here is the full transcript...
Q: For 20 years a plastic surgeon that specialised in reconstructive surgery Ala Bashir was private physician to the Iraqi president Saddam Hussein your story is told in insider trapped in The Insider: Trapped in Saddam's brutal regime. How were you trapped? You told you were in the UK you trained and you discovered all these marvelous new plastic Surgery techniques. You could have gone anywhere in the world could you not?
A: You mean before once I went back to Iraq ...
Q: No when you went back to Iraq and saw the way the wind was blowing, you couldn't get out?
A: But my love to the country all the time was more than my dislike to the regime and at that time I was the head of the plastic surgery in Iraq - I was involved in a teaching program and training of doctors in the field of plastic surgery. And we succeeded in graduating about 36 specialists in Iraq. I used to have 1000's not 100's of patients because of the Iraq Iran war. Many very young soldiers were left with hideous deformities and in our field usually patients need 3 to 4 operations.
Q: so you were doing reconstructive surgery and surgery on people who had terrible burns.
A: Yes and also the usual reconstructive and cosmetic surgery.
Q: Just the same there must have been many many right thinking people who would say in your place 'I would have said no to Saddam' and would not have got into bed with him.
A: No this is difficult if I could have said no this would not be a dictatorship its difficult nobody could have said no. Plus the fact we as medical doctors cannot choose our patients.
I'm telling you during the Iraqi Iran war I and my colleagues treated many Iranian soldiers and officers and we saved a lot of lives at that time they were our enemy. This was our duty.
Q: And you were close to Saddam you could be called in his black Mercedes at any minute to do a small dressing for a wound for him or come and see one of his women or perhaps come and try to repair the wounds his mad son Uday had inflicted on his sexual partners or on his friends. You were watching something that was almost Roman in its decadence.
A: Well, I'll tell you, it was a nightmare. Not for me but for the Iraqis. In fact the main factor and reason why I wrote this book - it isn't about these details of Saddam and is family and the rest of the criminal peoples - it was basically about how people how humans behave under the 2 phenomena of hate and of power. This is why I wrote this book these details are not important in the book but mainly it is about this because I read history not only in Iraq but for other countries because I believe that whatever happens in Iraq it is an experience that doesn't belong to Iraqis it belongs to human beings anywhere. inside Iraq the majority of Iraqis are good people they are innocent good people.
Q: But of course...
A: I'll tell you they are squeezed all the time between two periods one time there is a tyrant the other period the tyranny of a group of people - you know - they move under a shadow of hate and aggression. but the end result for the Iraqis the same whether it is one or many individuals.
Q: Can you give us an idea of Saddam's mental state of mind when he was for example deciding the Marsh Arabs are not real Arabs we can exterminate then, when he was deciding he was going to throw 100's of people into jail or have them shot because they displeased him is this mad or is this power that's...
A: No no it is not mad. He is a perfectly well balanced person. but I think what is wrong is the power it is the relationship between man and power. I have seen many examples like Saddam even worse than Saddam. you know you can see people very good very quiet person once they get power in their hands they will completely change. The problem is this plus the fact they start to move under the shadow of hate. This is what stands to me and I was amazed by the great influence of misuse of power on man.
Q: but you saw him misuse the power.
Q: You were very very close to him you could see that 1000's or 100's of 1000's of your fellow Iraqis were having their lives ruined by him. You were very close, you were in a position actually to see him off to give him The Injection, to get rid of the man. Did it ever occur to you that that could be the appropriate thing to do?
A: Well this is a very difficult thing to ask me to do because you are asking me to betray my profession values and principles of life.
Q: but you could of been saving 1000's of lives having done it.
A: No this is not true, this is not true because the problem is not with Saddam, the problem is there this disease is there in society.
Q: The disease of power
A: The disease of power and hate. I mean Saddam he was just a normal consequence of what is going on in society - its the hate, its the aggression.
D.R. (another guest interrupts): he created that to start with.
A: No - well he was created by the society. He was.. I mean look - Saddam he came from very poor, very poor backwards family, then he became very powerful man. How it comes? I mean if you take Saddam - and bring him here in London would he do the same - what he has done?
D.R.: he wouldn't be able to would he?
A: so there is a problem and we have to face it.
D.R.: A problem of his creation. He created that problem in Iraq didn't he?
A: No - I mean he was a normal consequence of this. He was a very bad example of this because he governed Iraq for almost 35 years. This is it. But, I tell you in 1958 on 14th of July the first revolution in Iraq some people they went to the royal family, they killed them, they dragged them through the streets, they killed the prime minister they cut him to pieces, you know there was no Saddam at that time. It is this problem.
D.R.: so where did it come from?
A: Well this is the thing - I think that we need a very high dose of love.
Q: Well this is a conversation that will continue with the people around the table. Now many people listening will have heated arguments on the basis of what you said...