The guy who sawed off the heads of two American prisoners, Hitchens writes,
…contributed enormously to the wrecking of Iraq's experiment in democratic federalism. He was able to help ensure that the Iraqi people did not have one single day of respite between 35 years of war and fascism, and the last three-and-a-half years of misery and sabotage. He chose his targets with an almost diabolical cunning, destroying the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad (and murdering the heroic envoy Sérgio Vieira de Melo) almost before it could begin operations, and killing the leading Shiite Ayatollah Hakim outside his place of worship in Najaf. His decision to declare a jihad against the Shiite population in general, in a document of which Weaver (on no evidence) doubts the authenticity, has been the key innovation of the insurgency: applying lethal pressure to the most vulnerable aspect of Iraqi society. And it has had the intended effect, by undermining Grand Ayatollah Sistani and helping empower Iranian-backed Shiite death squads.
The father of one of al-Zarqawi’s headless victims, Nick Byrd, now running on the Green Party ticket for Congress, has said he takes no pleasure in the death of his son’s murderer, which is very Christian of him. But, alas, the al-Zarqawis of the world are not Christians, and their manners are not likely to be softened by noble gestures made by wannabe congresspersons.
How did the Salafists get this way, and are they likely to change anytime soon?
Salafism, also known as Islamic Modernism or Islamic Reformism, was a school of thought developed in the 19th Century by a number of figures (Abduh, Rashid Rida, al-Afghani, et al) at al-Azhar University in Cairo as an attempt to purify and modernize Islam, according to Trevor Stanley. The Salafis regarded the Quran and hadith collections as “instruction manuals for political reform or revolution written in an archaic language that required deciphering.”
Lately, the deciphering has been left to such as Osama BinLadin, Ayman al-Zawahiri and their muscleman in Iraq, the lately departed al-Zarqawi. For an exploration of the links between all these thugs, including Saddam Hussein, see the Middle East Quarterly article on Ansar al-Islam.
If there ever is a debate between Ned Lamont and Joe Lieberman on the war in Iraq, the moderator would do well to bone up on the subject by reading something other than MyLeftNutmeg and DailyKos.