Video: Arab media's coverage

By Producer
NBC News
updated 5/14/2004 12:17:51 PM ET 2004-05-14T16:17:51

From Baghdad to Cairo, the brutal beheading of American contractor Nicholas Berg in Iraq by militant extremists was widely condemned, yet it was also seen as an unfortunate, but inevitable act of revenge for the revelations of U.S. prisoner abuse at the Abu Gharib prison.

In Cairo, university student Mohamed Mwafiq saw the news on TV. "It's a very terrible thing," he said, but "it's action and reaction." 

Fellow student Amin Hanouris extended sympathy to Berg's family but said, "Let me be frank with you, this is because of revenge." 

Mohamed Hamdy, an Egyptian engineer saw the entire video on the internet. "As a human being, we see these scenes [of the beheading] and feel incredibly sorry. He is a human and [the Iraqi prisoners] are humans, but the [U.S.] started it." 

From East Jerusalem, academic Abdel Hadi called the killers human beings "in a state of madness" but warned, "if you create a culture of war, you have to expect revenge.”

The CIA said Thursday that analysis of the videotape released by the killers indicated the murder was committed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian who has been linked to a series of attacks in Iraq and is believed to have links to al-Qaida.

Violated precepts of Islam
Among those interviewed about the killing, all said it violated the precepts of Islam, and denied that the perpetrators acted out of religious conviction. 

"They don't have any religion…all they have is killing and blood," Mwafiq said. 

"All of this cannot be accepted in Islam or Christianity or Judaism," added Hanouris.

In Baghdad, Majid al Azawi, felt restrained by his religion. He said that if it was up to him, he would burn all Americans, "not just cutting one head, because the Americans killed our people and destroyed our country.”

But, he said, the Quran prohibits Muslims from killing one person for the mistakes of another.

On the other hand, Hamdi in Cairo found some religious justification in the saying - "a tooth for a tooth." 

"They didn't do this for the sake of God," Hamdy said. "What Islam said is ‘a tooth for a tooth’ and whoever started is the oppressor. [The U.S.] started in Iraq and did worse than that. " 

A few voices unequivocally condemned the act.

Mustafa Abu-Lebdeh, chief editor of Jordan's Al Rai newspaper said they didn't run pictures with the story because it would offend readers.  "This is a case where we feel that there is no logic in such a case except if you analyze it or understand it in the context that it is brutal." 

The chief editor of the Arab News, Khaled Al Maina, also condemned the brutality of the crime.  Jehan Jafar, a Baghdad resident, said she was ashamed of being Iraqi if the killers called themselves Iraqi. "We are against what happened no matter who he was. He was a human being and nothing justifies his death," insisted Jafar. 

Most Arab governments – silent, but officials outraged
From most Arab governments, there was silence, although officials from four nations decried the murder. 

Saudi Arabia, embroiled in its own war against terrorism, issued a statement from the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S., Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, who said "killing detainees and mutilating the remains of the dead are acts which are condemned by all religions and are contrary to the morals of all nations and peoples." 

APTN via AP
This is an image from video posted on an Islamic militant Web site affiliated with al-Qaida showing a group of five men about to behead  Nick Berg.  

He called the al-Zarqawi group "a criminal deviant and un-Islamic group, allied with [Osama] Bin Laden and the criminals of al-Qaida who are killing even Muslims and Arabs for no reason."

Jordan's Embassy in Washington condemned the barbaric act and said that Jordan had issued a death sentence against al-Zarqawi who has plotted terrorist acts in Jordan which threatened to kill thousands.  

The Information Minister of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahayan, called it a "heinous crime against the civilized world."

In a statement he said, "We are ashamed because these terrorists carried out this revolting and inhumane act in the name of our religion and culture…This disgusting brutality can never be justified and has nothing to do with Islam or with our Arab values."

The Iraqi Human Rights Minister Bakhtiar Amin called the perpetrators "psychopaths" who should be brought before justice very rapidly.

Media coverage- dismissive
Yet, in marked contrast to the massive and continuing coverage of the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal, Arab media treated the brutal murder dismissively.

Timeline: Iraq prisoner abuseMost Arab newspapers gave the story short shrift, carrying it as brief news item among other Iraq related stories.

The headline in Al Hayat, a prestigious pan-Arab newspaper, seemed to imply the murder was a result of Iraqi prisoner abuse. It read, “’Al Zarkawy’ Executes an American in Revenge for the Prison Torture: The Red Cross and Amnesty International both Consider Prison Abuse to be Methodical and not Exceptional.”

Al Wafd, an Egyptian tabloid, was even blunter: "A Revenge Operation for the Victims of Abu Gharib.” 

Egypt's leading newspaper carried the story on the fourth page, but was more circumspect: “Abu Zarqawi's Group Executes an American Hostage by Decapitating Him With a Sword: Washington Denies the Link between the Operation and the Torture Crimes…”

TV coverage scant, but sympathetic
TV coverage was scant but sympathetic, with the two major Arab networks, Al-Jazeera and Al  Arabiya, carrying the story as a brief news item for half a day. 

Although the U.S. government has been sharply critical of what it perceives as biased coverage from Al-Jazeera, the network's editorial commentary criticized the action rather than offering justification for it. An Iraqi political analyst interviewed by Al-Jazeera called it a stupid, angry, individual action that worsened the plight of the Iraqi people.   

Al Arabiya, another popular Arab network, had a panel discussion in which participants condemned the act, and contended that it cost Iraqis the sympathy they gained in the wake of the Abu Gharib prison scandal.

Gamal Nkrumah, foreign editor of the Al Ahram Weekly, voiced the same opinion. "In the past week, there was a resurgence of sympathy for the Iraqi people, and for the Arab and Muslim world generally in the West, and so this evil deed doesn't do the Arab cause any good." 

Nkrumah and many others suggested that those who committed the atrocity have a different agenda than the Iraqis. "I don't think the person who did this has the same cause as the victims of U.S. occupation in Iraq." 

From Baghdad, Dr. Abdel Wahab, political science professor at Al-Nahrain University agreed. "This has nothing to do with Iraq.  Nothing to do with the Iraqi agenda."    

Charlene Gubash is an NBC News producer based in Cairo. NBC News' Rachel Levin in Baghdad, Moufaq Khatib in Amman, and Ara Ayer in Tel Aviv also contributed to this report.  

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