'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Tuesday, January 04, 2005


So rumor has it that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has been captured by the US.

This news is completely untrustworthy at the moment. The news sources reporting the story are of the Xinhua variety, and the western press is only touching the story from a "this is what unreliable sources are saying" stance.

But if it turns out to be true, here are my thoughts...

I'm curious to see the effect of Zarqawi's capture on the standard boilerplate for coverage of terrorist acts in Iraq. It's instructive to look at the timing of Zarqawi's rise to prominence in media accounts of the Iraq occupation: Zarqawi became head boogey-man only after the arrest of Saddam Hussein. Is it possible the propaganda machine will attempt to create another criminal mastermind responsible for all that goes wrong between the Tigris and Euphrates?

It will be interesting to see what this turn of events does to the poll numbers for Bush and for the Iraq War. My guess is it won't do a lot. I don't think the hyping of Zarqawi ever caught the popular imagination the way that bin Laden and Hussein did. There was always a sort of boy who cried wolf quality to it.

In fact, the most noticeable effect of the media and the Bush administration's Zarqawi fixation was on bin Laden. Despite what the Bush administration would have had us believe, Zarqawi was never clearly "a member of al-Qaeda". In fact, bin Laden and Zarqawi had been something of rivals, competing for the hearts and minds of the same pool of Muslim extremists. In his last tape, we see the media's year long orgy of Zarqawi hagiography and mythification apparently took its toll on bin Laden; he seemed to say "If you can't beat'em, join'em" and officially deputized his former rival.

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