It was during Saddam Hussein’s disastrous annexation of Kuwait in 1990 that I had an idle daydream of what a tired old tyrant sitting on the throne of Iraq might be persuaded to do towards the end of his life. Like many observers I realised that the organised looting of the wealthy suburbs of Kuwait City by units of the Iraqi army was not playing well to the newly ‘liberated citizens of the 19th province of greater Iraq’ or to the other Arab states stretched along the Persian Gulf. It looked shoddy, the operation of a bored mobster, a gangster up to his eyebrows in debt without imagination, style or finesse.
And then in an instant I knew what council a Machiavellian Vizier should whisper into the ear of Saddam, if he was going to successfully cloak his crimes and gather to himself the mantle of history. As his first troops crossed the frontier posts he should have simultaneously unfurled the black banners of the Abbasid Caliphs from Baghdad and the ruins of Samara. He should have sent out a public invitation to all the Muslim community leaders of the world whilst appealing to each Islamic nation to send one delegate for every million of their people, and so gather together to elect and acclaim a new Caliph. To complete this propaganda coup he would then publicly resign as President of Iraq and then publicly recite the humble oath of the first Caliph Abu Bakr in the courtyard of his hometown mosque at Takrit whilst modestly stepping forth into the television cameras as a mere Emir – allowing others to make what they would of his newly adopted name of Saladin and the gift of an ancient cloak-like mantle. His armies would have also been renamed after the first great Arab generals: such triumphant heroes as Khalid ibn al-Walid, Saad ibn Abu Waqqas and Amr ibn Al-As. The long wireless whip cords of the tank columns would be decorated with black and green silk pennants and their sides painted with swirling calligraphy and loaded down with cheering children and ululating women. National frontiers within greater Arabia would be abolished and his armies told not to stop until all the oil pipelines of Arabia had been switched off, in advance of negotiating a fair, pre-1967 physical frontier between Israel and Palestine. Brotherhood would be declared between Sunni and Shia, who would have been acknowledged as the fifth school of the Sharia tradition. As an act of contrition for the foolish border wars with Iran he would penitently be filmed walking barefooted across the land of Iraq to serve as floor sweeper in the shrine-mosques of Najaf and Karbala. The equality, egality and universalism of women with men, black with white, south with north, Arab with Turk, Muslims with all the peoples of the book would be declared as the cornerstone of every state wishing to claim to be Islamic. Oil revenues would be poured into a brand new worldwide Bayt al Hikma foundation, setting up free hospitals and universities with a network of hospitable courtyard library-schools which would be open to all who walked in with the open mind of a scholar or the tattered cloak of a dervish. Eternal Jihad would be declared against just three enemies: ignorance, disease and poverty….