Asked what should be done with the captured Saddam
would be a public hanging.
"If you put him in the streets [of Baghdad] now, in a little while you
would find him in pieces," said Fadhel Al-Sahlani, the imam, or spiritual
leader, of the Al-Khoei Benevolent Foundation mosque off the Van Wyck
Expressway in Jamaica.
"The Iraqi people would like to see him hung in Baghdad, at the least,"
added Al-Sahlani, who fled to New York from Iraq in 1989, leaving behind a
brother who spent 25 years in prison under Hussein.
Opinions in the local Muslim community varied yesterday on what should be
done with Hussein. The judgment depended largely on the national origin of the
person interviewed. For instance, one woman of Palestinian descent said that
Hussein, despite his many faults, was a hero to many people in her community.
But those who lived in or around Iraq - and knew his brutality firsthand -
were harsh in the judgment of the deposed dictator. They said Hussein had
opened many wounds in that part of the world. And they hope those wounds can
now be healed.
Dr. Qais Al-Awqati is an Iraqi-born physician and professor at Columbia
College of Physicians and Surgeons, whose brother-in-law, Abdullah Khayat, a
journalist, was hanged on Hussein's orders in 1972.
Al-Awqati said he is personally against the death penalty and would like to
see a South Africa-like truth commission that would examine all the crimes
committed by Hussein so that people could at last begin to feel some closure.
"I don't think there's a family that hasn't suffered under him. There have
been so many purges, even of his own people," said Al-Awqati, saying Hussein
frequently turned against his associates and cronies. A public trial of
Hussein, even though it could take a very long time, will be emotionally
satisfying to most Iraqis, the doctor said.
Asked for his thoughts, Shahram Hashemi, who lived in Iran when Hussein was
using chemical weapons against that neighboring country in the 1980s, said he
was ecstatic that the ex-dictator was captured and hopes Iraq and Iran can live
in peace in the future.
"I was a young teenager at that time and I spent many nights in the
basement because of bombardments," said Hashemi, a senior majoring in finance
at Adelphi University's Honors College in Garden City. Hashemi, 29, sadly
recalled visiting different neighborhoods in Iran and seeing homes draped in
black flags commemorating those killed by Hussein's bombings.
As to whether Hussein should be executed, Hashemi said, "I should say I'm
against the death penalty. Please don't ask me that."
Linda Sarsour, who is American-born and of Palestinian descent, said many
Palestinians viewed Hussein as a hero because he steadfastly supported
Palestinians in their struggle against Israel. She and other Palestinian New
Yorkers felt humiliated by the way Hussein was caught and shown, disheveled and
pathetic-looking, on international television, Sarsour said.
"I think he's done a lot of things he shouldn't have done, but I was hurt.
My Arab pride was hurt," said Sarsour, 23, of Bensonhurst. "Palestinians are
under so much oppression and no other Arab country ever helped them."
Yesterday, city officials said the reaction to the dictator's capture was
generally positive among New Yorkers from Arab or Muslim countries.
"As a matter of fact," Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said at news
conference on public safety in the wake of the capture, "we hear that people in
certain communities we are concerned about, and that we listen to, are happy
that it happened, to a certain extent. Others are somewhat dismayed as to how
he gave up, that there wasn't a fight, that there wasn't an ultimate jihad at
the end. But the fact that he was captured in the first place was cheered."
Still, Fahim Sadat, a Queens College student working for a private company
as an emergency medical technician, said he had questions about whether the
United States was right in invading Iraq. But the removal of Hussein benefits
the Muslim world, said Sadat, who was born in Afghanistan.
"I think it's a good thing they caught him because he's a criminal," said
Sadat, 22, who lives in Flushing.
Staff Writer Glenn Thrush contributed to this story.