Mideast Media Gripped by Another Horrible Image
By Jefferson Morley
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Friday, May 14, 2004; 9:34 AM
The online media in the Islamic world reacted with revulsion to the videotaped beheading of American businessman Nick Berg.
The deed is condemned as much for distracting world attention from the abuse of Iraqi detainees at the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison as for its brutality.
The Berg story coincided with another incident of graphic violence that went largely unreported in the U.S. media but was widely noted in the Middle East press: a Palestinian commando holding up the bloody body part of an Israeli soldier killed by a roadside bomb. In addition to the footage of the mutilation of American contractors in Fallujah and widely-seen photos of the remains of Hamas leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin after he was killed by Israeli missiles, the proliferation of atrocious images is driving the region's political realities.
Iraqis will suffer the most, according to several commentators in the English-language online media. (The reaction in the Arabic-language media, which reaches a larger and less-Westernized audience, has not been gauged.)
The "madness has to stop," say the editors of the Jordan Times. Condemning the killing of Berg as a "horrific act of the greatest magnitude," they lamented its effect on world opinion about the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
"Taking the life of a man who obviously had nothing to do with the prison conditions in Iraq only trivialises the Iraqis' ordeal and plasters the repulsive face of the occupation with a mask of acceptance of such gross violence," they said.
But in Iran, the state-run radio network charged that Western news organizations were coordinating their coverage to play up the Berg story and obscure the Abu Ghraib revelations.
"Following the disgrace suffered by the occupiers for torturing Iraqi
prisoners, Western media have broadcast pictures concerning the killing
of an American national so as to create news propaganda," the Tehran Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran said Thursday. The Iranian report did not mention that Berg had been beheaded, according to the Foreign Broadcast Information Service, an office of the CIA that monitors media around the world.
The Iranian commentator blamed al Qaeda for confusing world opinion.
"This is the umpteenth time that in the wake of increasing global pressure
and public opinion dissatisfaction with America's actions in the so-called
fight against terrorism, the al-Qaeda group resorts to an act of
terrorism. As a consequence, in line with the propaganda wave of the
Western media, the world public opinion is misguided."
The reformist Iran Daily (PDF format) in Tehran played the story more straightforwardly.
"Iraqi Violence Turns Gruesome," said the newspaper's page-one headline on Thursday. The accompanying story reported that residents of Baghdad had greeted the news of Berg's decapitation with "condemnation and excuses."
In Saudi Arabia, the editors of the Arab News said the photos of Berg's murder, along with pictures of Palestinian militants holding the bloody body part of a slain Israeli soldier alongside a copy of the Koran "are not only revolting, they are also devastatingly damaging."
"At a stroke, all the international good will and sympathy for the Iraqis and anger with the Americans that followed the prison photos has been dispelled. Washington has been delivered from its shame by ignorant, malevolent hands, acting with as little principle or morality as the Americans who took the prison photos."
© 2004 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive