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World Opinion Roundup: Breaking News

Jefferson Morley
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 22, 2004; 1:00 PM

In his weekly show, washingtonpost.com Staff Writer Jefferson Morley conducts a freewheeling tour of the best of Internet news sites from Afghanistan to Beijing to Mexico City to Paris to Zimbabwe.

Al Jazeera, the Arab television network, has reported that Korean hostage, Kim Sun Il, has been killed.


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Readers Are Talking About...

S. Korean Worker Reportedly Beheaded by Kidnappers (AP, June 22)

Read today's column:Kidnapping Adds to U.S.-Korea Woes

World Opinion Roundup brings the diversity of the global online media to your screen, presenting today's news and views from journalists, pundits and commentators from every continent. We'll talk about America in the eyes of the world, compare journalistic practices, analyze politics and perspectives, examine the nature of news and debate styles of journalism.

A transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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Jefferson Morley: Hello everybody.

I am sorry to say that we have heard the Korean hostage was killed. I get up to date information while we have the discussion.

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Chapel Hill, N.C.: Thanks for taking our questions. This may be slightly off-topic, but how often do the Arab or Muslim media discuss/condemn Muslim conflicts that don't involve the U.S., Europe, or Israel, such as in the Xinjiang region of China and Darfur? How often do Muslim governments and citizens condemn China or other Muslim governments?

Jefferson Morley: There's very little reporting from Xinjiang. Its not a place journalists get to much, thanks to the Chinese government and the remoteness of the territory. So there's not a lot of commentary.

Darfur, on the other hand, is the subject of almost universal concern and condemnation.

If the gist of your question is, Do the Muslim media single out Israel and the United States for criticism? I would say that Palestine is a unique situation for both Arabs and Jews.

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Jefferson Morley: An update to my column.

BBC is reporting that Al Jazeera is reporting that it has received a video of the beheading of the South Korean hostage Kim Sun Il. The BBC is linked below.

More on this later in the show.

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washingtonpost.com: BBC on the Execution of the Korean Hostage

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Woodbridge, Va.: Why does the media keep harping on these beheadings? There was a beheading of a couple of kids in Baltimore last month and a gang-related chopping off of a teens hands in Fairfax County, yet the media didn't go off the deep end about those incidences, tragic as they were. Where is the balance? I am sure there are horrible things being perpetuated by horrible people in Iraq (just as there is every single day in the United States) but I am equally sure that there are a lot more good people over there trying to just live their lives but are being persecuted because they have the same skin color as the people doing the hostage taking.

Jefferson Morley: Its good question. Does the media cultivate terrorism by playing up the macabre means of execution? I don't think so. We respond to human emotion. I thought the coverage of the horrific headings in Baltimore was appropriate.

I agree with you that there are a lot more good Iraqis than political killers. To keep up with daily life in Baghdad above and beyond the stories of political violence, I read the Iraqi Press Monitor, a daily summary of what is being written in Baghdad's leading print publications.

I recommend it highly. Link below

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Washington, D.C.: As a Muslim, I am as shocked and dismayed by the insanity of these animals. Across the Muslim world there is total disgust for this kind of barbarism. No one is dancing with joy.

At the same time, like Spaniards, Koreans, Brazilians, I do hold the Bush administration accountable for creating a global context where elective violence is becoming acceptable. Sure the barbarians were doing this, but we they don't set the rules for what is and isn't acceptable. The U.S. has greater responsibility to hold the moral high ground. The U.S. has lost that high ground, and I hope Americans punish President Bush in November for this.

Jefferson Morley: Thanks for your thoughts.

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washingtonpost.com: The Iraqi Press Monitor

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Dulles, Va.: You have confirmed that the hostage was killed?

Also, how do you think this (the Korean execution) might affect Korean-U.S. relations in general?

Jefferson Morley: Yes. We do have confirmation. See the link to the BBC story above.

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Bethesda, Md.: Al Jazeera, the Arab television network, has reported that Korean hostage, Kim Sun Il, has been killed. It seems to me that it is time to take the network of choice for Islamo-fascists off the air for good. Make them all tune in CNN or even BBC instead for their latest behadings-for-Allah (even the biased BBC would be an improvement for their warped minds). But of course we don't have the guts to do that and, besides, we are so inept we could not keep Iraqi TV off the air during the invasion. It is not the "solution" to our problems but I am all for good starts. I am sure you and your ilk out there disagree.

Jefferson Morley: Yes, I'm sorry to say I do disagree. The people who run Al Jazeera did not kill Kim Sun Il. They did not approve of his execution. They reported what happened. That's what a news organization is supposed to do.

The aljazeerah.net Web site, the site of the Arab cable news channel, is not responding. It is probably overwhelmed with visitors from South Korea.

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washingtonpost.com: South Korean hostage 'beheaded' (BBC News, June 22)

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St. Louis, Mo.: So why beheading as a means of execution as compared to shooting or hanging? Is this a cultural mid east thing? A Muslim thing? Just for maximum shock/horror effect?

Jefferson Morley: Decapitation has become a favorite tactic of Muslim radicals in recent year in conflicts as disparate as Chechnya, Bosnia and Algeria. It also occurs in the guerrilla wars elsewhere as a way of instilling terror.

Decapitation is also standard method of capital punishment in Saudi Arabia. It may also be used in China. Can anyone enlighten the discussion on whether decapitation is used to execute criminals in China?

I will put a link to an interesting story on the tactic below.

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Centreville, Va.: One simple one:
Just when is the killing's by these extremists going to end.
They said they can't find the group that is doing this, what gives?

Jefferson Morley: The campaign of killing foreigners will probably continue indefinitely. The nominal end of the U.S. occupation later this month will probably not result in a reduction of violence. The election of an Iraqi government next January might.

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Chicago, Ill.: How do Arab governments and news media respond to such brutality? Do they just report or pass judgement on the act? If they do opine, how harsh are they?

Jefferson Morley: Go look at Al Jazeera (link below) and see for yourself.

If you can get through to the site, you will see that are playing a one line banner announcing the death of the hostage. I expect they will have a full story in coming hours.

As for commentary, virtually all of the English-language Arab news sites express outrage about the cruelty of men who carry out such deeds. They are quite harsh. At the same time they have little sympathy for the U.S. occupation.

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Tampa, Fla.: Unfortunately, the terrorists are achieving their goals with the kidnapping and beheading of their victims. With their despicable acts, they are putting political pressure on the coalition members to evacuate all of their citizens

Hopefully, on June 30,2004 when we turn government over to the Iraqis, this will stop.

Jefferson Morley: I doubt it. The goal of the insurgents is to drive U.S. troops from the country. As long as U.S. troops are exercising authority in Iraq, I expect the killing of foreigners will continue.

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St. Simons Island, Ga.: It would appear that the mainstream media is giving credibility to the case presented by these "thugs" as to their justification for the barbaric behavior. Is not the bottom line that by the very nature of their actions the media should call them just what they are? Any attempt to compare what seven soldiers did in humiliating prisoners at Abu Ghraib and what these animals are doing is absolute lunacy.

Jefferson Morley: Help us out here St. Simon's: Where in the mainstream media is anyone justifying this crime? Who isn't calling the execution of civilian hostages a crime? Who is comparing such savagery to the torture at Abu Ghraib?

It may be out there. If so, send me the link and I will share with readers.

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washingtonpost.com: The Straits Times (Singapore) on beheading as a terror tactic

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Arlington, Va.: After 9/11 we were treated to scenes of spontaneous celebrations throughout the Arab world celebrating the carnage. After the prison scandal, more spontaneous protests broke out over the fact that an Arab man was subjected to the indignity of being photographed with a pair of women's underpants on his head.

Have there been any protests against the kidnapping and butchering of Western civilians?

Jefferson Morley: Excuse me but its just not true that there were not "scenes of spontaneous celebration throughout the Arab world" after Sept. 11. I was watching the international media an there were some such scenes. The one I saw involved a small crowd of Palestinians on the West Bank. But there were other outpourings of sympathy for Americans and the victims. In Tehran, Iran, there was a much, much vaster outpouring of condolence and spontaneous memorials for the victims of that historic crime.

Universalizing Osama bin Laden's appeal to Arabs is not a favor he deserves.

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Chicago, Ill.: Do you really think these insane people really believe in governments giving into their demands, just because they hold one of their countrymen captive? Perhaps I have already said they are insane, makes them immune to anything that is logical. It is indeed unimaginable what humans can do to other humans. Your thoughts.

Jefferson Morley: I think the Islamist strategy in Iraq is to attack the United States' alliances. The idea is to discourage any friends from joining us. First the Jordanian embassy was bombed, then the U.N. offices, then the Madrid trains. The insurgents don't make such threats because they expect to the governments to actually comply (though some might). They make the demands so that the media will publicize them and thus spread word of their cause.

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Wheaton, Md.: It seems that Americans don't understand why so many people in Arab countries oppose our policies, except that those people, even those who aren't Islamic fanatics, hate Israel and/or all things Western. I doubt that many people here know the history of conflicts in the region before 1948 (e.g., colonization by Western powers). The media are great on reporting details of day-to-day events but could do a lot more in letting us know the background of disputes that affect our lives.

Jefferson Morley: Its a very good point. I think Americans generally know the experience of the Jewish people before 1948, ie The Holocaust. But very few Americans know the history of the Arab Muslims before (or after) 1948.

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Chantilly, Va.: I think barbarism will continue, especially now that they have found a cheap and effective method of spreading chaos and terror. All they have to do is kidnap a foreigner and they get media coverage all over the world. I know media is simply reporting the facts, but indirectly it seems to be used as propaganda tool by the terrorists.

Jefferson Morley: I share your concern. We can't NOT cover the acts of violence waged in the war against U.S. occupation. I'm thinking maybe we dwell too much on beheading. What's wrong with just saying "executed."?

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Washington, D.C.: On the theory that some al Qaeda cells are enjoying the long-awaited Jihad, was there any wavering of South Korean support for the Iraq occupation before the latest beheading? Sometimes attacks like that will stiffen resolve in an eroding situation.

Jefferson Morley: South Koreans, by all accounts, sent their combat engineers and specialists as a favor to the United States, not because of any sympathy or understanding of the Bush administration's ambitions there. With so many U.S. troops in the country, even the current left-wing government felt obliged to send a force.

But they are not a country that has any familiarity with sending people abroad to achieve goals. Americans have been reading about their fellow countrymen being taken hostage in foreign countries for 25 years. Its a new and shocking experience for Koreans.

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Ann Arbor, Mich.: I have a serious, honest question: WHO are the "Iraqi insurgents" fighting? I think it's apparent that the U.S. is poised to leave. How, then, do we interpret this constant violence? What's the message?

Jefferson Morley: The Iraqi insurgents are fighting the U.S. occupation. The United States is NOT poised to leave. We still have 138,000 troops in the country and will continue to do so for the indefinite future. The constant violence is an effort to force the U.S. government to withdraw these soldiers from Iraq.

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washingtonpost.com: The latest news: S. Korean Worker Slain by Kidnappers in Iraq (AP, June 22)

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Anonymous: How much does world opinion count to most Americans? It seems that for most people here, foreign opinion is welcome if it supports U.S. policy but quickly discarded if it does not (and is often seen as affirmation that we're right).

Jefferson Morley: Many people don't care about any events beyond the scope of their world. Many people do. And among those who do, I think there is a great deal of interest in how American actions appear to others.

As for your observation that many people take foreign criticism as a sign we are right, that's a very astute observation.

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Madison, Ala.: Jeff,
Here's my question. The beheadings of both American's was shocking and awful, yet I don't recall a real sense of horror coming from nations outside the U.S. and Britain. Now that a South Korean has been beheaded, do you think we'll see a change in attitudes in regards to the escalating violence to individuals around the world?

Jefferson Morley: I disagree. The execution of Nicholas Berg was widely denounced in the Arab media. So I don't think we'll see change. I think we'll see more revulsion.

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Philly, Pa.: I'm a little confused by S.K.'s reaction to our removing some troops. It seems a year ago, there were massive protests wanting us to leave. Now that we are leaving, we're going too soon.

I understand there's a diversity of opinion, but it seems that once again we can't win.

Jefferson Morley: You have identified the split in Korean public opinion. In general, the older generation looks favorably on close relations with the United States. The younger generation is looking for more independence. While there is widespread desire for the U.S. troops to leave, there is widespread fear of North Korea. This ambivalence is a political reality the U.S. government has to live with.

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Paris, France: In the mind of an ordinary Iraqi how would or he or she view the beheading of the Korean translator?

Jefferson Morley: I think the vast majority would condemn it as cruel and unjustifiable crime.

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New York, N.Y.: You say: "As for commentary, virtually all of the English-language Arab news sites express outrage about the cruelty of men who carry out such deeds."

English-language. What are they saying to their Arab audiences? There are many examples of Arab spokesmen speaking out of both sides of their mouths (Hamas, Arafat, the imam who condemned 9/11 in America, then gave an interview to an Egyptian newspaper praising them)-- what are they saying to their Arab audiences? Until the people unequivocally condemn these atrocities and then ACT to stop the savages, they will continue, sure in the knowledge that they have support.

Jefferson Morley: The problem is which Muslims are going to support the United States it seeks to act against Islamic terrorists? The U.S. government is an occupying force which steadfastly resisted Iraqis who called for quick elections after Saddam Hussein was ousted. The U.S. wanted to appoint a government that would appoint some caucuses who would eventually vote for a constitution. American officials had many explanations of why this was essential. But for Iraqis who hoped the Americans would bring security and democracy, 2003 proved to be a bitter disappointment. The U.S. brought neither security nor democracy. So when the insurgents started attacking, few Iraqis felt a stake in helping.

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Washington, D.C.: Is there any measurable public response to the ambush and execution of the four Marines yesterday? The photos of dead soldiers stripped of their gear (including boots) were shown in the media, but there was no outcry from war supporters as there had been over flag-draped caskets just a few months ago. What should we expect in the months ahead?

Jefferson Morley: I haven't seen anything on the killing of the Marines. We can expect more such attacks. Few believe that the formal transfer of sovereignty at the end of this month will change the situation much. But it might.

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Washington, D.C.: Just a comment on beheadings. Don't forget the guillotine in France was invented to make beheading less painful for the victim and more efficient for the executioner. And that was in the 1790s, not very long ago in human history.

Secondly, many find our execution of criminals -- by injection, electrocution, or other means (I believe Delaware had its last hanging in the 20th century) just as objectionable as we find beheadings. I'm not saying they're equal, but it's all where you're coming from.

Jefferson Morley: Thanks for the history lesson

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Silver Spring, Md.: I read that the execution of the Korean national was delayed and there were negotiations ongoing for his release. Yet none of this came to any fruition. What could have led to the abrupt act given that things appeared to be moving forward in a more acceptable direction?

Jefferson Morley: This is not clear from the early reports. Apparently there was some communication that did not pan out. The kidnappers clearly preferred to terrorize than talk.

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Washington, D.C.: You said that Arab media covers these events, but if you investigate, only their English pages cover it. I know Arabic, and they ignore the beheadings. What do you say about that? They only focus on what the USA does, in order to enrage the Arab street, and ignore things like innocent people getting beheaded. Why?

Jefferson Morley: Send me one example please. A story that appeared on an English language site and not on the Arabic equivalent. I'm not saying it doesn't happen. I just want to see one case where it did.

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Annandale, Va.: Media as terrorist tool:

When the Japanese workers were abducted, the threat was made that they would be abducted three days from the broadcast of the terrorists demands. We all know one of the leading goals of the terrorists is to maximize the public exposure of their activities. So why is the media, Al Jazeera especially, so quick to comply? The editors and publishers know they're being played as patsies, rights? You all know you're doing more than just "reporting," you're aiding the terrorists by giving their acts the broadest possible coverage.

Jefferson Morley: I'm sorry to say we don't "know" that we are aiding terrorists. We are covering events that many millions of people want to know about it. People in American wanted to know if Paul Johnson would really be killed. That's a good and natural curiosity and news organizations meet public demand. Why would we seek to aid terrorists?

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More on al Jazeera: Al Jazeera is not as blameless as you imply. They do some news broadcast, but airing tapes unedited, such as bin Laden's rants, is not news -- it's propaganda, and it's aiding and abetting the Islamist terrorists. Al Jazeera is not just a news organization.

Jefferson Morley: I disagree. I find Al Jazeera pretty useful source of news. I don't watch the TV version but I do frequent their Web site and recommend it to anyone seeking to keep up Middle East news.

Link below

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washingtonpost.com: Aljazeerah.net, Web site of the Arab news channel

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Lisboa, Portugal: Hi, first of all let me tell you World Opinion Roundup is one of my favourite columns of the W. Post.

About this situation: What were you expecting? By invading Iraq, the Americans would "call" to all terrorists/fundamentalists/other "ists" to go there and make a jihad and bring turmoil to Iraq. How come not anyone with responsibilities has predicted that, when it was so obvious?

I would like a comment of the above and an answer: This was not a war of civilization; could it became one in a nearby future?

Jefferson Morley: Thanks Portugal.

Many well-informed people predicted that a U.S. invasion would result in a dangerous and unstable situation beyond the control of optimistic U.S. policy makers and pundits. Those people have been vindicated.

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Chicago, Ill.: I heard that many Koreans are against Iraq war. Then why they decide to send more troops to Iraq to result this hostage death when every country including U.S. try to withdraw from Iraq mire?

Jefferson Morley: Many South Koreans are against the war and against the sending of troops. I think the execution of the hostage will strengthen this opposition and could doom the troop deployment.

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Washington, D.C.: If the U.S. withdrew all it's forces immediately, there would probably be a civil war in Iraq. Do the they (Iraqis) realize this?

Jefferson Morley: I think they realize it all too well. On the other hand, they resent the U.S. presence and the terrorist attacks that it provokes. They want a degree of security while they elect a government that enjoys widespread support and can muster a nationally unified army. Its a hellish complex task that faces democratically minded Iraqis and it was made hellishly complex by the administration's spectacularly inept post-war planning.

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Jefferson Morley: I am sorry to say that we are out of time.

Time flies when you are getting good questions.

Tx to all for writing.

Next up for a Live Online discussion is Walid Phares, Ph.D Professor of Middle East Studies, Ethnic and Religious Conflict, Florida Atlantic University. I'm looking forward to hearing his perspective on the Iraqi war. He'll be on at 3 pm.

Look for the next World Opinion roundup on Thursday morning.

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