The Common Good
September/October 2006

First Day on the Job

by Ed Spivey Jr. | September/October 2006

Welcoming al Qaeda's dynamic new leader in Iraq.

Congratulations to Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, the new head of al Qaeda in Iraq. It’s a challenging job, but he clearly has the right stuff to lead, such as knowing which end of the gun the bullets come out of. We mention this only because apparently this fact was not known to his predecessor, Abu Musab “Big Al” al-Zarqawi, who was shown in a video requiring assistance from henchpersons before he accidentally shot off a toe. (It’s hard to inspire allegiance from international jihadists when you shoot yourself in the foot. Somebody else’s foot, maybe, but not your own.)

President George W. Bush immediately gave al-Muhajir the official United States seal of approval by publicly announcing he is “on our list to bring to justice.” That pretty much makes al-Muhajir the poster boy for thousands of young men in the Islamist world, so heckofajob, Mr. President. (White House officials privately conceded their relief at having a new face of evil in Iraq. They hadn’t had one since Dick Cheney left after his last visit.) Badumbump.

In case the world had any doubts about the virility and resolve of the new terrorist leader, a photo recently released by al-Jazeera (motto: “All the news that really annoys Americans”) shows al-Muhajir firing an AK-47 outfitted with an extra large ammunition magazine. He didn’t come right out and say it, but his message was clear: “My ammo clip is bigger than your ammo clip.” The photo also revealed that al-Muhajir is quite the man of fashion, cutting an impressive figure in his slate gray skullcap with matching boot-cut pants, accented by a dark beige bullet-proof vest. Terrorism is not pretty, but nobody said it has to be ugly.

Al-Muhajir’s first day on the job was probably typical of what any new hire would experience at the office. First on the itinerary is finding out where the office supplies are kept; you know, copy paper, Post-it notes, rocket-propelled grenades. And then he met with his staff:

Intern: We who are about to die salute you.
Al-Muhajir: Well said, young man.
Intern: Actually, it’s from Gladiator. Russell Crowe is, like, my favorite actor.

Here at Sojourners we celebrate an employee’s first day by serving bagels and coffee in the lunchroom. Then we go outside and, in typical Sojourners fashion, we fire our Kalashnikov rifles into the air. Sometimes we get carried away and forget to hurry back inside, which means getting bonked on the head when the bullets fall back down. It’s really funny when that happens.

No doubt al-Muhajir was similarly welcomed by his colleagues. Although we heard it got a little scary when an overly enthusiastic new recruit—not wanting to be left out of the celebration—tried to set off his own explosive vest. Fortunately, it was quickly pointed out to him that this might defeat the purpose of the event, which was definitely not to turn the new boss into little al Qaeda bits.

WE DON’T KNOW what qualifications al-Muhajir brings to his new job, or why he was chosen over other equally ambitious al-Wannabes. Maybe he caught the attention of al-Zarqawi by bringing him coffee and newspapers each morning. Or maybe he displayed initiative by painting a large bull’s-eye on the roof of his boss’s house. (It was just his way of reaching out to the new Iraqi government or, more specifically, the American fighter-bombers circling overhead.) Regardless, he got the job and he’s ready to continue the work, even though the job description is pretty vague. After all, al-Muhajir has little precedent to follow since al Qaeda didn’t arrive until after the U.S. invasion, Mr. Vice President!

Sorry.

Al-Muhajir’s first order of business, as he attempts to establish rapport with his colleagues and collaborators is—under absolutely no circumstances—to be mistaken for a Sunni. Or, for that matter a Shia, depending on the neighborhood. Let’s face it, it’s not easy being a terrorist when you’re constantly avoiding sectarian animosities. “The violence is just so random and purposeless,” the new al Qaeda leader was overheard saying. “It’s getting so I can’t go anywhere for fear of being blown up because I’m in the wrong religion. What IS it with these nuts?!”

I can understand his frustration, since sectarian rivalry was rampant in my own life when I was a young Southern Baptist. I remember my Sunday school class used to go downtown and hurl sacramental grape juice at the Northern Baptists. We were incensed because they ... umm ... I forget what they did, but it was definitely a heretical abomination. Fortunately, I gave up such caustic prejudices when I became an adult and would never think of hurling grape juice at anybody, unless it would improve their general appearance. (Karl Rove comes to mind, for some reason.)

Ed Spivey Jr. is art director of Sojourners.

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