Daveed Gartenstein-Ross knows:

Zarqawi’s role model was twelfth century Arab fighting king Nur ad-Din Zanki. Zanki had two missions in life: to drive the Crusaders from Arab lands and to crush Shiite rulers. Few understood the importance that Zarqawi placed on him. In interviews with Iraq and Zarqawi specialists at the State Department, Defense Department and West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center, we found no one who understood the importance that Zarqawi placed on Zanki.

A survey of the available literature on Zarqawi in English shows virtually no reference to Zarqawi’s relationship to Zanki. In the Arab world, though, there has been a fair amount of discussion about the two men.

We recently acquired a new, never-before-translated Arabic-language book on Zarqawi, Al Qaeda’s Second Generation, by Jordanian journalist Fouad Hussein, who has been linked to Hezbollah’s al-Manar television network. An independent translation that we commissioned reveals that
Zanki was in fact Zarqawi’s ideological guiding star. Hussein’s book reprints a long personal communication from Saif al-Adel, who heads the military wing of al Qaeda, about Zarqawi. Hussein and al-Adel put great emphasis on the fact that Zanki is Zarqawi’s role model.

That Zarqawi wasn’t an original thinker isn’t surprising. He simply knew the tricks of the trade. Get your message out there, give people more information to report on and be consistent. But like so many who use the media to seem larger than life, what’s ultimately revealed is an unoriginal personality who will ultimately be a historical sidenote at best.

However, the fact that Zarqawi drew strength from Zanki’s story should not be ignored. Because as Zarqawi’s life demonstrated, when you’re desperate you’ll start to grab onto anything that justifies your behavior. And in Zarqawi’s case, he certainly needed to lean on somebody else’s struggles to explain his miserable excuse for a life.

LIKE ZANKI, Zarqawi was a fighter first, and became religious only after personal reversals. In his Jordanian hometown of Zarqa, Zarqawi was known as a thug, a brawler, a gang enforcer. He was frequently arrested for petty crimes. He was fired from the only job he ever had after a few weeks, leaving him destitute and unmarriageable. The post-Soviet feuds in Afghanistan drew him there in 1993, where he immersed himself in radical Islam.

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