Zarqawi as born-again Muslim

Friday, February 24, 2006 at 04:58 PM

The "born-again" concept is generally applied to Christians who experience a conversion to strict fundamentalist Christianity in their adulthood.  My very unscientific take, based on several born-again Christians I've known, is that many of them discover Christ after leading fairly dissolute lives: drinking, lots of sexual partners, maybe drugs, maybe theft, maybe violence.

But who says that this phenomenon must be limited to Christians simply because it began there and takes its name from biblical text?

A throwaway concept in the article Iraq's Jordanian Jihadis, by Nir Rosen, in the Feb. 10, 2006 NY Times Magazine notes the following of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, widely believed to be among the harshest, cruelest Muslim jihadis in all of Iraq:
Zarqawi was a criminal before he was a jihadi.  He was a wild young man according to all who knew him and have recounted his story in the Arab media.  He had no interest in religion.  A high-school dropout, he had a reputation for getting tattoos, drinking alcohol and getting into fights, and he ended up in jail in the 1980's.  After being released, he went to Afghanistan, in 1989, where the successful jihad against the Soviets had turned into a war of one Afghan faction against another.

So like an alcoholic turned teetotaler, Zarqawi appears to have turned from Godless hellion to God's warrior eager to send you to hell if you don't live up to the word of Allah.

The thread that connects the old and new lives of many born agains--Christian and otherwise--is excess.  If booze was the be-all before the rebirth, Jesus or Muhammad is the be-all after rebirth.  If promiscuity and hedonism once ruled your life, trade it in for the comprehensive set of instructions from the Bible/Koran.  Were you so angry that a cross-eyed look was enough to start a fight to the death?  Trade that in for a willingness to kill and die to defend your faith against cartoons, blasphemous paintings, the "infidels" however defined in your particular piece of born-again heaven.

Many famous American born-again Christians also have troubled pasts, including George Bush and Tom DeLay.  And few people would accuse of them of insufficient harshness.

I don't have any succinct, immaculate point here.  Just a general feeling that the extremes on both sides of this "war on terror" have a lot more in common with each other than they do with the moderate people on their own side.  And visceral revulsion at the state of the world and the sickness that may well suck it into yet another needless, ultimately purposeless, spiral into bloody hell.

But afterward, we'll all be born yet again, right?

You know, there's a character in the recent movie Palindromes who desperately asks of no one in particular, "how many times can you be born again?"   And a good related question is how many damned times would you want to be reborn? It's a damn shame we all have to live in a world where life and death always seem to be decided by people whose lack of internal control and basic sense of reality is so fundamental that they are incapable of understanding the very concepts of "life" and "death."


Hmmm. Someone doesn't totally get the whole Born Again concept.