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Michael Shaw Headshot

Reading The Pictures: Hitler And ... Zarqawi?

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hitler-saddam-time.jpg

zarqawi-time-X.jpg

Talk about pro-Administration propaganda.

If TIME was more self-respecting, it would have used Zarqawi's death to detail the Administration's inflation of this thug into the ultimate mastermind. Instead, however, they had the idea to somehow elevate AZ to the level of a Hitler or a Saddam.

Ironically however, perhaps this piece of visual hyperbole actually does manage to get at the true story here -- how, in his life, and even more so, in his death, Zarqawi served as the ultimate poster child for the Administration's war on terror.

If you look at less politically intimidated or histrionic publications, you will find the articles (such as Mary Anne Weaver's Inside the Jihad in The Atlantic, or Dahr Jamail's piece last year in Mother Jones) which deconstruct the elevation of AZ. Of course, Zarqawi was a deadly figure, having been behind the Amman hotel bombings and possibly even the deadly attack on Iraq's U.N. headquarters. Zarqawi's political platform, however, derived from the relatively minor Ansar al-Islam. Otherwise, he was never closely aligned (let alone, a driving force) in either the Sunni resistance or al-Qaeda, and has been consistently described as a "symbol" of the resistance, rather than a leader of it.

Beyond the comparison to great madmen in history, however, let's look at what other subtle devices make this illustration an outstanding piece of propaganda:

>> To enhance his dangerousness, this drawing depicts Zarqawi as much younger and more fit than he was. (Showing him as a young man also bumps his stature -- framing him as having been an eternal threat, and a person who grew -- supposedly, on his own and naturally -- into someone legendary.)


>> The illustration also boost AZ's aura through cosmetic enhancements. If you like, you can compare this drawing to this famous photo of Zarqawi (which seems to be the model for the TIME version). Notice how his off-center mouth with the almost swollen lower left lip has become more shapely and symmetrical. Notice, also, how his eyes have been given more softness and "personality." Psychologically, symmetrical features are equated with attractiveness and personal confidence. Also, the soft eyes and the direct gaze force us to more directly engage with and personify Zarqawi.


>> Take a look at the the two hats. In the original photo, it is more a generic wool cap. In the TIME cover, however, its finer quality and detailing now lends it the ascetic feel of a skull cap. (In another way, it even suggests the dome of a mosque.) Of course, Zarqawi claimed allegiance to Salafism, a radical form of Islam, but the cap -- like the overall stereotype of Islamic "evil doers" -- seems to pull for a more religiously-based fanaticism than was demonstrated by Zarqawi's actual behavior.


>> This "version" of the boogeyman is much "tidier" and better groomed (more clean shaven, no hair over the ears, less scruffy) than the original -- consistent with the U.S. fantasy that Zirqawi was more methodical, organized and pulled-together than he was documented to be.


>> If Zarqawi tended to be credited by the U.S. for almost any significant attack that took place in Iraq over the past few years, the disembodied head also evokes (and exploits the mythic status of) one of Zarqawi's most notorious and actually verifiable terrorist acts -- the decapitation of American Nicholas Berg.

Because Zarqawi was no Hitler or Saddam, the "X" in dripping blood makes for a fantastic exhibition of blood lust. Worse than its reference to the historical covers is how this twisted image stands alongside TIME Magazine's previous cover depicting the killings at Haditha.

Perhaps this is what America has come to stand for in the world, however -- the tendency to project our fears beyond ourselves; the ability to create enemies on an absolute scale; and a "killer instinct" showcased in art as well as life.

For more of the visual, visit BAGnewsNotes.com.

(revised 1:24 pm PST -- hat tip: smitallica)

(image: Tim O'Brien for TIME. June 19, 2006. TIME Magazine. Cover. hat tip: John R.)