Uniya Jesuit Social Justice Centre Uniya
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Date: 15 December 2003

Patty Fawkner SGS, Director of Uniya, comments on the treatment of Saddam Hussein

Like millions of others I was curious to catch sight of a captured Saddam Hussein. And I was not disappointed. The figure of a disheveled, bearded Saddam, his head being inspected (for lice?) by a gloved US medico was sensational television. The images satisfied my curiosity but caused me pause.

Captured in a hole in the ground, Saddam looked for everything like a vulnerable old man rather than the arrogant and powerful tyrant we were used to seeing. And that's the point. Before any other words we use to describe Saddam, he is first and foremost a human being, and as such is worthy of our respect.

There is no more basic principle in the Catholic social vision, based on the teaching of Jesus in the Gospel, than the dignity of the human person. It's the bedrock issue, the place where the church and Christians stand when addressing questions of justice in the world.

This fundamental principle is grounded in the idea that the person is sacred, made in the image of God. The human person is the clearest reflection of God among us.

Yes, we know that Saddam failed utterly to honour this same principle of human dignity. We acknowledge the acute suffering he visited on his own people. And there may be some value in detailing, as the Prime Minister John Howard has suggested, what Saddam did, the 'slaughter by slaughter, death by death, so that the world understands what kind of man he was'. Yet, none of this disqualifies him from receiving from his captors and us our deepest respect, simply because he is a human being.

Would not the evil of Saddam's actions be highlighted if, rather than an eye for an eye, he was accorded respect, courtesy, and a just and fair trial. He must be brought to account. All fair thinking people would concur. But demeaning television images and cries from politicians and community leaders calling for the death penalty, demean us rather than him.

Every person, even the cruel tyrant Saddam Hussein, is a reflection of the sacred and is worthy of respect.

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