Tariq Aziz was to Saddam Hussein what Josef Goebbels was to Adolf Hitler. Willing servants of dictators, both men had the trick of presenting crime as though it had virtue in it. Rather than acknowledge their contribution to the calamity of Nazi fanaticism, Goebbels and his wife preferred to kill their children and then themselves. The founders of the Baath Party of Iraq were under the influence of Nazism, copying its ends and its means. Born in 1936, Tariq Aziz joined the Baath as early as 1957, and never acknowledged his contribution to the present calamity of Iraq. Arrested and brought to court, he did not commit suicide. Found guilty of crimes against humanity, he deserved to be hanged like his master, Saddam Hussein. In the Iraq of present turmoil, the sentence was never carried out and he had the good fortune to die in hospital last Friday.
Many a useful idiot used to describe Goebbels as charming, witty, and intelligent, a good host and a great orator. Other useful idiots praised Tariq Aziz as foreign minister skillfully handling President Reagan or being remarkably rude to James Baker in an encounter that sealed the invasion of Iraq. In one persona, he affected to be a military leader, wearing a well-pressed denim uniform. In another persona he affected being a man of the world with a taste for expensive cigars. Jon Snow, one of the large company of British television commentators who invariably confuse image and reality, in an obituary applied the word “nice” to Tariq Aziz.
Nice he was not, and yet it is possible to guess at mitigating circumstances wholly absent in the case of Goebbels. Tariq Aziz was a pseudonym. Born Michael Yuhanna in or near the city of Mosul, he was a Christian. At one time there were about one and a half million Christians in this most ancient community. Many of today’s Christians have fled abroad and there may be no more than 200,000 left. An archbishop has been kidnapped and murdered. Churches are vandalized. Hardly a murmur can be heard in the West as Middle Eastern Christianity comes to its violent ending. Perhaps the career of Michael Yuhanna illustrates the protective coloring minorities need if they are to survive under Islam.