Erin Brockovich did not work for al-Qaeda

Today, the US military identified the successor to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. His name is Abu Ayyub al-Masri (المصري), who they say is the same individual that al-Qaeda had called Abu Hamza al-Muhajer.

The al-Masri bit at the end refers to his Egyptian origin (Masr means Egypt in Arabic), just as al-Zarqawi referred to the city of Zarqa, in Jordan, from whence came the former al-Qaeda leader of Iraq. Such terrorist organizations, since they recruit followers from across the Islamic world, seem to be fond of using these geographic identifications of origin explicitly.

But the use of geographic monikers is actually a common and historically-rooted phenomenon in the Arab world. In past times, when a family would move to a new area, bringing with them the accent and traditions of their previous home, they would be nicknamed as such. Or perhaps one son who traveled to a different city for trade or schooling, would return to be nicknamed for his erstwhile home.

Sometimes, this would result in a new family name. In fact, the nickname given to al-Qaeda's new leader in Iraq, al-Masri, also spelled Masry or Mosry, is a common surname in Greater Syria. Some ancestors of mine also carried that name, probably because of a journey to Egypt on the part of one family member.

The most famous Syrian to carry this name was the superstar trial lawyer Ed Masry, whose story was told in the film "Erin Brockovich" starring Julia Roberts. Masry's father emigrated from Syria to the USA in 1912, and the family eventually settled in California.

Ed passed away last year after a distinguished and highly successful career. Ms. Brockovich should be proud to have worked for one of the many honorable people to have carried the name المصري, which most certainly does not include Mr. Zarqawi's successor.


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