What sort of person would work for a dictator

Wendell Steavenson: The Weight of a Mustard Seed. Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2009. ISBN: 9781921520068

Weight of a Mustard Seed, by Wendell SteavensonWhat sort of person would work for a dictator, and why? These and other questions are considered in Wendell Steavenson's The Weight of a Mustard Seed.

The title comes from a verse in The Koran, that refers to weighing up just deeds on the Day of Judgment, even if the deeds are small like the mustard seed.

Steavenson went to Iraq as a journalist in 2003. On this and later visits she met the family of Iraqi General Kamel Sachet, who was executed by Saddam's orders in about March 1999 after years of service to Iraq in the military.

Sachet was a 'hero' from the Iran/Iraq war, having displayed bravery under fire as a young officer. He gradually was promoted to the rank of general but at the same time he clearly was more disenchanted with the rule of Saddam. As he tried to withdraw from active service, he became more religious and was an observant Muslim.

In the book, Sachetl's story comes from interviews by the author with family, friends and colleagues. This 'story of the story' has a life of its own as the war in Iraq becomes more violent and the insurgency develops. Sachet's sons  become involved in the new war, with one seeming to get involved with Sunni insurgent groups in Baghdad, at the same time as Steavenson is trying to interview him and the family about his father.

The book is quite readable and is not heavy going like many other books about Iraq. We learn a good amount about Sachet, but by the end you wish there would be some way to ask him what he really thought of Saddam and that regime. Was his increased interest in religion partly due to the pressure of living under Saddam?

Living in the west under a democratic government, it is hard to imagine life under a dictator, and how you could be loyal to your country and its people without selling out to the dictatorship. This struggle has been written about in the context of Nazi Germany, but Iraq's story and experience are quite different to those of Germany.

Steavenson does well in presenting Iraqis and their story both under the Saddam regime and currently, without judging those who worked for the Ba'athist regime. It helps us to understand the rich and diverse cultures of Iraq as well as the complexities of life there in the last 20 years.

Steavenson leaves it to others to judge General Sachet. I imagine that she would hope that the weight of the general's good deeds will be seen to exceed that of a mustard seed.

Kerry MurphyKerry Murphy is a partner in the firm D'Ambra Murphy Lawyers where he represents clients at all stages of the Australian immigration process. He is a student of Arabic, former Jesuit Refugee Service coordinator, and one of Australia's top immigration lawyers recognised by last year's Australian Financial Review Best Lawyers survey.

Topic tags: The Weight of a Mustard Seed, Wendell Steavenson, 9781921520068, saddam hussein, iraq war, Kamel Sachet



submit a comment

Similar Articles

Lessons in empathy for racist Australia

  • Tim Kroenert
  • 07 May 2009

Samson and Delilah is an ode to Alice Springs and its extremes; an ethereal love story against a backdrop of addiction, violence and displacement. Racism is not an explicit presence, but it is there, a foul breath that muggies the air. 


The tyranny of difference

  • Susan Hurley and Grace Yee
  • 05 May 2009

even if we spent the next hundred years .. carving roast lamb on Sundays .. buttering white bread .. and boiling Brussels sprouts .. we could never be them .. nor they us



Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up