Saddam execution: What have we learned from it?

January 9, 2007

This post compares the instant reactions posted on this site of Saddam Hussein’s execution, with stories which have subsequently emerged.

I posted my immediate and personal reactions to Saddam’s execution hours after learning the news. My intention was to compare them with subsequent reactions world-wide, and to incorporate discussion points raised on this site.

The World-wide reactions

Since that posting, two inter-related aspects of the actual execution have generated an enormous level of interest and violent reaction around the world.

The first of these were the unofficial and graphic images of the execution. These were rapidly diffused through the internet, with traditional news media following-up with varying degrees of censorship.

The second issue, indisputably revealed in the unofficial videos, was what has widely been judged as unacceptable conduct at the scene. This involved the taunting of someone about to die, by some witnesses at the execution.

Chuntering and churning

Much of the web traffic captured the way so many people are turning to the internet to find some comfort for expressing deeply held emotions. There is a sharing of anger, pain, indignation, frustration.

The pay-off is through instant release rather than any evidence that there will be much re-appraisal of ideas or beliefs. In another context (Management of change) this has been referred to as churning not changing. Perhaps this is more chuntering than changing. The web offers some therapeutic solace.

The messages on this site

In contrast, the messages posted to this site offered more scope for unearthing fresh perspectives. That sounds smug. If so it’s to do with the limited access to the posting. The quality of the comments has much to do with the way in which a new site has its earliest visitors through a quite small network of contributors, a high proportion of whom have been actively solicited and selected from the Bogger’s existing network. They tend to be selected as people who are respected for their capacity to make such contributions.

The discussion explored the dilemma facing ‘insiders’, who must have struggled with the possibility of creating a martyr. Moral issues were raised, including a 11th century moral principle of subsidiary and ‘stealing other people’s decisions’.

Other elements of the discussion touched on the social constuctivist argument that we create and ultimately destroy our heroes and anti-heroes. Poets from Donne to T S Eliot were invoked. One poet that might have been invoked was Oscar Wilde. During his famous stay in Reading Gaol there was an execution, and Wilde wrote movingly of imprisonment, in the Ballad of Reading Goal:

Yet each man kills the thing he loves,
By each let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss
The brave man with a sword.

Note on comments

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Just another Old Firm battle?

January 9, 2007

Historically, Scottish football has been dominated by the two Glasgow clubs, Celtic and Rangers. The battles between the so-called Old Firm have the added passion of a sectarian split between Catholic Celtic and Protestant Rangers. In the last decade, the fortunes of Rangers have declined. Under such circumstances leadership battles are as inevitable as the other on and off pitch struggles. In the most recent crisis at Rangers, chief coach Le Guen removed the on-field leadership from local hero Barry Ferguson, and was then himself fired. The episode echoes other football stories of a manager confronting what is seen as a damaging drinking culture among the players.

Rangers and Celtic divide

The wider rivalry between Glasgow Rangers and Glasgow Celtic has been a dominant theme in writings about Scottish culture, the Protestant Catholic divide, sectarianism, football violence and much more beside. One further episode can hardly shed a great deal of light on the nature of the historic divide. However, the episode can hardly be understood without reference to the wider historic perspective of what has been described as the World’s most passionate feud.

The current leadership battles at Rangers

The current leadership battles at Rangers have come to a head over the last two weeks. The story has been billed as a struggle between an authoritarian French coach, and a drinking culture. A BBC account of the Rangers leadership battles noted

‘On one side was an authoritarian French manager used to having the final word and working with clean-living, tee-total players .. On the other was a passionate Scottish captain who enjoyed talismanic status with the fans and liked to work hard and play hard’.


It is not hard to find parallels. The article mentioned two that involved high profile French coaches addressing alcohol problems on arriving to manage English clubs. A French football journalist who is very close to Le Guen told BBC Sport:

“He would have liked the players to stop drinking alcohol – it was a big problem for him. Arsene Wenger discovered the same problem when he arrived at Arsenal of Gerard Houllier’s first acts at Liverpool was to ban alcohol on the team bus.”

An earlier story that has entered folklore has the young Alex Ferguson (not unknown for enjoying a drink himself) arriving at Manchester United and acting swiftly to deal with a drinking culture at the club.

Wenger and Ferguson succeeded gloriously. Houllier briefly survived at Liverpool but eventually departed the club with more regrets that recriminations, from fans and commentators.

Leadership battles against the prevailing culture

The stories illustrate a recurrent leadership challenge for football managers which they share with business leaders. In particular, they address the topic of transformational leadership . Arriving from the outside, the leader sees clearly the urgent need to confront a dysfunctional culture. The efforts may or may not be rewarded with success, but they have to be tried. For Le Guen, the struggle seems to have been in vain.

The parallel may also be made with transformational political leaders. A recent example would be Tony Blair’s efforts to rescue the British Labour movement from a culture that made it nearly unelectable, and the emergence of New Labour.