Don't get me wrong. The man was certainly a murderer, wanted for his crimes in several countries, and news of his passing is undoubtedly a good thing for humanity in general. Yet the ubiquitous display of his bloated, battered, lifeless face - beginning with the initial Washington press briefing, and continuing with every televised news blurb and print article since - just doesn't strike me as something a "civilized" society should be proud of.
In fact, it smacks of the basest form of animal blood-lust, no different than if Zarqawi's head were affixed to the working end of a pike, and paraded through the village for all to view. Is this what we've become, America? A people that needs to see the bloodied corpse to fully satisfy our feelings of vengeance?
For his part, the President kept his public reaction surprisingly low-key, and free of gloating or spectacle. But as I pulled my latest copy of Newsweek from yesterday's mail pile, there it was again. The "Mangled Head of Our Supreme Enemy" - in fabulous Technicolor! Can't wait 'til locks of his blood-caked hair show up on e-bay. The perfect Father's Day gift for the patriot who has everything.
Again, I certainly don't mourn Zarqawi's early demise. So what is it that's bugging me? Maybe it's the pagan, "gotta look at a car wreck" nature of the human species. Isn't the news of his targeted execution enough, without that maimed face figuratively mounted above every mantle in America like some big-game trophy?
Maybe it's the unwitting hypocrisy inherent in widely and proudly displaying the "dead body" of our enemy in the public square, while simultaneously claiming to have struck a blow for "humanity" and "civilization." What if the shoe were on the other foot? What if those who perceive George Bush as a terrorist - and, after Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, Haditha, that errant missile attack in Pakistan a few months back, and at least 30,000 Iraqi civilians dead, I don't know where anybody would get that idea - were hypothetically parading photos of his bloodied corpse throughout their mainstream media after bombing his home?
Our collective reaction would be one of condemnation for their barbarity. Their lack of common human decency. Their thirst for death and destruction. Their evil, sub-human status.
Or maybe it's the other, more obvious hypocrisy ingrained in our culture, the one that glorifies violence and instead demonizes sex and language as the great evils we all must fear. God forbid that my impressionable children might be exposed to a carelessly exclaimed "bullshit" on TV, or the glimpse of a naked human body. But they could scarcely turn around the past several days without bumping into Zarqawi's lifeless image, creepily juxtaposed with a tacit endorsement of jubilation by some exaggerated Congressional commentary, and media headlines akin to "Gotcha!"
Oh well. Perhaps this should come as no surprise in a nation whose predominant religion uses as its icon the image of a tortured, mutilated, Middle-Eastern figure nailed to two pieces of wood.
So I can't quite put my finger on it. It could be that I just have a hard time feeling celebratory about anyone's violent death, or any better informed of the importance of that death through constant exposure to pictures of the corpse. At the very least, it's unseemly, especially from a culture that touts itself as being advanced - but, ironically, is far more comfortable with "gore" than it is with "bush."
There's been a subtle barbarity afoot in the coverage of the Zarqawi story, a not-so-distant savagery that reflects poorly on our national character. For me, the news alone was more than sufficient.