By William Booth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 9, 2011; 5:40 PM
The shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) captivated many countries around the world, dominating the Sunday newspaper front pages and creating a buzz on social media sites, with commenters saying the attack confirmed their image of the United States as a deeply polarized nation brimming with angry rhetoric and gun nuts.
In Mexico, where vicious fighting among government forces and drug-trafficking organizations is a daily occurrence, news of the Arizona attack ran side-by-side with stories about a sensational slaughter in the resort city of Acapulco, where 15 decapitated bodies, with the heads scattered around them, were left at a shopping mall Saturday.
From Cuba, communist leader Fidel Castro in his latest "Reflections" column branded the attack "an atrocious act," and told his readers that Giffords "who was shot in the head, was in the sights of the ultraconservative movement Tea Party."
Castro noted that former Alaska governor Sarah Palin (R) published an online map targeting members of Congress who supported President Obama's health-care legislation "marked with a gun sight."
In Britain, the Guardian noted "the rise of political extremism" in the United States, while attempting to put the shooting in the context of America's occasionally violent political past. "Attacks on American politicians can happen at any time, anywhere and seemingly for any reason" the paper said.
The shooting seemed to deepen views of the United States as a gun-loving, violence-plagued nation, with even the conservative Telegraph describing the incident as "exposing" America's troubling political divide. The Telegraph noted that leading tea party figures "drew criticism for flirting with violent imagery in their rhetoric," citing a quote from Palin: "Don't retreat - reload."
In Russia, a five-minute report on the shooting led the 8 p.m. broadcast on an all-news channel; it focused on the "miracle" of Giffords's survival, on the fact that her husband is an astronaut and on the "cross hairs" on Palin's Web site. But there has been little commentary in Moscow, which is at the end of a 10-day holiday that encompassed New Year's Day and Orthodox Christmas. Russia is no stranger to political violence. At least five members of parliament have been killed in the past 12 years, and one member of the upper house was sentenced to life in prison for murder last month.
Across the Middle East, the news from Arizona registered a distant second to all-day coverage of southern Sudan's historic independence vote, and debate about the regional economic implications should Africa's largest nation split in two.
But news reports of the shooting spurred hundreds of comments on Arabic media Web sites questioning why Americans were not calling the deadly rampage a "terrorist attack," and headlines from Lebanon to Iran cast it as politically motivated. "Blood infects American politics," read the online headline in Turkey's Hurriyet Daily News. "Proxy attack on the U.S. immigration law," declared TRT, the Turkish Radio-Television Corp.
Hundreds of comments in Arabic on Qatar-based al-Jazeera's Web site focused on a perceived double standard: If the shooter had been Muslim, most surmised, it would have been a "terrorist attack." Others cautioned that it would still be blamed on a Muslim.
"Thank god that the person who did the crime his name is not Mohammed or Muslim," wrote a person who identified himself as Amr Mohammed, in posting from Egypt. "But maybe Mama America will yet conclude that the person who stimulated him to this kind of act was a Muslim."
"If the killer was a Muslim or Arab, they would say this is a terrorist attack, but because this person is not, they will describe his act as 'devastating,'" wrote someone from Saudi Arabia using the pseudonym Abu Omar.
A reader from the United States, Adnan Almao, wrote in Arabic: "I'm really concerned that the attacker's name will be found to be Jared Loughner Bin Laden."
The state-run Fars News Agency in Iran posted a statement from the head of a group it identified as Families of Iranian Victims of Terrorism denouncing the shooting.
"No doubt, the terrorist move carried out in the United States displayed that the inauspicious phenomenon of terrorism has posed a serious threat to all people's security everywhere."
In Pakistan, a country still in shock from the religiously motivated assassination of a provincial governor last week, the attack in Arizona was barely noticed. Newspapers ran reprints Sunday of international wire stories on the attack, but there was no public debate or official comment.
Pakistan has been reeling from the Jan. 4 slaying of Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer, who was gunned down in apparent revenge for his outspoken stance on the need to reform the country's harsh blasphemy law.
The killing has unleashed a frenzy of emotion among rightist Muslim groups, who are hailing Taseer's assassin as a hero and demanding that the government drop all proposals to amend the law, which makes it a capital crime to insult the prophet Muhammad.
Staff writers Anthony Faiola, Pamela Constable, Aaron C. Davis and Will Englund contributed to this report.