Zarqawi began life as a street thug but found respectability by adopting Islamic extremism. He was probably a sociopath from the start, and it is a hard truth about 21st-century Islam that it makes spiritual room for those who desire a religious mantle for their homicidal fantasies. Through a combination of unusual brutality and charisma, Zarqawi became leader of the Islamists in Iraq before the U.S. invasion in 2003. It was Zarqawi who personally beheaded Nick Berg. He and others did the same to countless others. As Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld noted in his press statement, 17 severed heads had been discovered in Bakuba in the past week, close to the scene of Zarqawi's death. Zarqawi was also behind the bombing of the United Nations building in Iraq, the destruction of the al-Askariyyah mosque in Samarra (which triggered a wave of sectarian violence), the wedding bombing in Amman, Jordan, as well as hundreds of other attacks on innocents that caused the deaths of thousands. Osama bin Laden called him a "prince of al Qaeda."
The price of oil as well as the price of gold fell on news of his death -- evidence that an agent of chaos is gone.
It would obviously be a mistake to pin vast hopes on the death of one monster -- even one so prolific as Zarqawi. On the other hand, this boost has come at a critical moment for Iraq and for the war on Islamic extremism in general. As Gen. Douglas MacArthur reminds us, "In war, there is no substitute for victory."
Before Zarqawi's execution, the vultures were circling. The Council of Europe, the continent's official human rights watchdog group, issued a report declaring it a scandal that Poland and Romania seem to have cooperated with the CIA in jailing terrorists captured in Afghanistan. Translation: It is morally repugnant for the United States to defend itself, and any European who cooperates in the effort is tainted. The American press was gearing up for a gigantic hanky twist over Haditha. And the likes of The New York Times' Bob Herbert were blaming America for the violence in Iraq. "Why should ordinary citizens (good people, religious people, patriots) consider their role in -- and responsibility for -- the thunderous, unending carnage?"
Bob Herbert may not see it this way, but yesterday's attack on Zarqawi was a victory for civilization.