By far the most detailed and perceptive profile of the recently killed jihadist al-Zarqawi was published in Atlantic Monthly. The article has numerous insights into what the jihad has to offer to people like al-Zarqawi, described by a fellow militant as a “zero” when he came to Afghanistan.
The article also throws fascinating light on the uncomfortable relationship between al-Zarqawi and Osama bin Laden.
In December 1999, al-Zarqawi crossed the border into Afghanistan, and later that month he and bin Laden met at the Government Guest House in the southern city of Kandahar, the de facto capital of the ruling Taliban. As they sat facing each other across the receiving room, a former Israeli intelligence official told me, “it was loathing at first sight.”
According to several different accounts of the meeting, bin Laden distrusted and disliked al-Zarqawi immediately. … Bin Laden … disliked al-Zarqawi’s swagger and the green tattoos on his left hand, which he reportedly considered un-Islamic. Al-Zarqawi came across to bin Laden as aggressively ambitious, abrasive, and overbearing. His hatred of Shiites also seemed to bin Laden to be potentially divisive—which, of course, it was. (Bin Laden’s mother, to whom he remains close, is a Shiite, from the Alawites of Syria.)
The article is very critical of the way the Americans, in their simplistic need to have an incarnation of evil, built up al-Zarqawi. For a start, he was not the missing link between Al-Quaeda and Saddam Hussein as Colin Powell claimed to the United Nations.
One can only imagine how astonished al-Zarqawi must have been when Colin Powell named him as the crucial link between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s regime. He was not even officially a part of al-Qaeda, and ever since he had left Afghanistan, his links had been not to Iraq but to Iran.
“We know Zarqawi better than he knows himself,” the high-level Jordanian intelligence official said. “And I can assure you that he never had any links to Saddam.
The same official went on:
“The Americans have been patently stupid in all of this. They’ve blown Zarqawi so out of proportion that, of course, his prestige has grown. And as a result, sleeper cells from all over Europe are coming to join him now.” He paused for a moment, then said, “Your government is creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
The piece also provides a chilling window into the dangerous cocktail of petrodollars and fanatical religious faith.
I asked Azzam [another Jordanian jihadist] if he knew who was funding al-Zarqawi’s activities in Iraq.
He thought for a moment, and then replied without answering, “At the time of jihad, you can get vast amounts of money with a simple telephone call. I myself once collected three million dollars, which my father had arranged with a single call.”
If Zarqawi is captured or killed tomorrow, the Iraqi insurgency will go on. There is no such thing as ‘Zarqawism.’ What Zarqawi is will die with him. Bin Laden, on the other hand, is an ideological thinker. He created the concept of al-Qaeda and all of its offshoots. He feels he’s achieved his goal.” He paused for a moment, then said, “Osama bin Laden is like Karl Marx. Both created an ideology. Marxism still flourished well after Marx’s death. And whether bin Laden is killed, or simply dies of natural causes, al-Qaedaism will survive him.”
A council in the Australian city of Sydney is taking radical measures against car-revving youths - the calming tones of singer Barry Manilow.
Officials in Rockdale say that local youths have been hanging around in car parks, revving their engines and generally annoying residents.
So the council has decided to strike back.
From July, Barry Manilow's greatest hits will be piped into one car park in a bid to drive the youths away.
Deputy mayor Bill Saravinovski said the decision was taken because the youths were intimidating local people.
"They are just hanging out and causing a nuisance to the general public," he told the AFP news agency.
Thanks John -- never thought I'd have a photo of Barry Manilow on my blog ...
The performance of the opera “Spoliarium” at the National Museum last night was a colorful and entertaining romp through the events that led to Juan Luna, perhaps the Philippines’ greatest painter, murdering his wife and mother-in-law in a fit of jealous rage. This real-life melodrama could have been made for opera and the cast and crew did a wonderful job of bringing the Filipino community in 1890s Paris to life. Let’s hope that this is the beginning of a renaissance for the National Museum, which has been in a tatty state for many years. Luna’s Spoilarium is the highlight of the museum’s permanent collection and is being restored at the moment. I understand that the restored version will be unveiled in October--if you haven’t seen this vast allegorical painting of dying gladiators being dragged into the “Spoliarium” beneath the Roman Coliseum it is worth a visit.
Sitting a few rows in front of me was Mita Pardo de Tavera, social services secretary under President Aquino and great granddaughter of Trinidad (T.H.) Pardo de Tavero, the brother of Luna’s murdered wife Paz.
The fact that one of the country’s greatest artists, friend of Rizal, fully paid-up Filipino ilustre, and brother of General Antonio Luna was a serial spousal abuser and double murderer has posed some difficulties for art historians. Art Philippines: A History (1521–present), for example, ignores the murder completely, saying only that: “After a domestic tragedy and a 17-year absence from home, Luna returned to the Philippines in 1894”. Carlos E. de Silva (disregarding the eyewitness account from T.H. Pardo de Tavera) has claimed that Luna was in fact trying to open the door but in firing his pistol at the lock accidentally killed his wife and her mother. That one seems to be labeled “pull the other one, it’s got bells on it” and is not mentioned by other authorities, except by Ambeth Ocampo, in passing. Contemporary newspaper accounts commented on Luna’s “abyss” and “misfortune”, while E. Arsenio Manuel noted only that the “tragedy … arrested to a marked degree his artistic activities”.
Yet all the evidence points to Luna being a classic paranoid bully, only too happy to assert his physical dominance over his wife -- “he provoked ugly, terrifying scenes”. Luna claimed that a French neighbour was having an affair with Paz and challenged him to a duel, although the supposed liaison was vehemently denied by the neighbour. According to T.H. Pardo de Tavera, on the day of the murders Luna “threw all my sister’s dresses in the fire saying ‘I want you to live simply, to behave simply, … it’s not your dresses that I love, it’s you … plus you will not attract the looks of other men’”. In fact, the murder was provoked by a visit from members of Paz Pardo de Tavera’s family who were increasingly concerned about the impending departure of Luna and Paz to Vigo in Spain (where of course Paz would have had no protection from his rages).
Why then was Luna found not guilty and ordered to pay only a fine of only 1 franc? We will never know for sure because the official records of the trial were destroyed in a fire, but the usual assumption is that the French court accepted the defence plea that this was a “crime of passion”, a concept unique to French jurisprudence. Given the well-documented accounts of Luna’s systematic abuse, this seems a rather odd verdict to me, and Mita Pardo de Tavera herself has come up with another intriguing theory: “you know why Luna was exonerated? On the basis of a law—a provision in French law which says that native people, very primitive people, have this tendency to run amuck. And so it was considered that he, coming from a primitive race, was pardonable because that is a trait of primitive people … as if we were monkeys hanging by our tails (interview with Ambeth Ocampo, recounted in Looking Back).
The fact that the controversies of that day in Paris are still very much alive came home to me as we left the museum and I heard Howie Severino interviewing Virgie Moreno: “But didn’t he get away with murder?” asked Howie, as if the events had taken place last week.
Note: This post relies heavily on the most detailed account I could find, the essay by Ruby R. Paredes, “The Pardo de Taveras of Manila” in An Anarchy of Families. Incidentally, the Wikipedia piece on Juan Luna is very short and inaccurate (e.g., on the location of the Spoliarium), so if any art historians read this, please edit and improve the entry.