Arab media reacted cautiously Wednesday to the videotaped beheading of an American civilian by Islamic militants in Iraq, with some newspapers conspicuously playing it down or even ignoring it.
The biggest pan-Arab satellite television channels broadcast an edited version of the gruesome video, not showing the actual killing of Nick Berg, 26, of West Chester, Pa., a Philadelphia suburb. The businessman was abducted in April.
In one of the most explicit displays, Kuwait’s Al-Siyassah daily ran a photo of a masked militant holding up Berg’s severed head.
The video of the execution was released on the Internet too late for some Middle East newspaper columnists to react to it. The killing, attributed to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s group, appalled many Arabs, including Iraqis who said described it as just the latest atrocity in a cycle of violence that is driving them to despair.
Some condemn slaying
Some opinion-makers condemned the killing.
“This shows how base and vile those who wear the robe of Islam have become,” said Abdullah Sahar, a Kuwait University political scientist.
Some said it surpassed the American military’s abuse of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison, which has been the top story for the past 10 days in the Middle East.
“We were winning international sympathy because of what happened at Abu Ghraib, but they come and waste it all,” said Abdullah Sahar, another political scientist at Kuwait University, referring to the Islamic militants responsible for the killing.
In the video, the masked militants said they were taking revenge on Berg because of the abuses at the Baghdad prison.
Mustafa Bakri, editor of Al-Osboa weekly newspaper in Egypt, said Berg’s death will only hurt efforts to expose American offenses against Iraqis.
“Such revenge is rejected,” Bakri said of the execution. “The American administration will make use of such crimes just to cover their real crimes against Iraqis.”
Bakri spoke as he took part in a Cairo demonstration by about 50 Egyptian journalists and lawyers against American human rights abuses in Iraq.
Satellite networks broadcast edited tape
Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, the big two satellite networks, aired carefully edited versions of the video. In Al-Arabiya’s edit, a militant is seen drawing a knife and jerking Berg’s body to one side. The rest is not shown.
“The news story itself is strong enough,” said Jihad Ballout, spokesman for Qatar-based Al-Jazeera. “To show the actual beheading is out of the realm of decency.”
Lebanon’s private Al Hayat-LBC station led its bulletins Wednesday with the video. Its news presenter said: “We apologize to our viewers for not showing the entire tape because of the ugliness of the scene.”
Kuwait state television broadcast the news of the execution late Tuesday but not the video.
Iraqi newspapers reported nothing about the killing, although the story may have broken too late for them.
Egypt’s leading daily, Al-Ahram, ignored the beheading Wednesday. Two other major pro-government newspapers ran news agency reports on their inside pages, without photos.
An Al-Ahram editor, Ahmed Reda, said the news came too late Tuesday night for the paper to confirm the video’s authenticity with the U.S. government.
Syrian media ignore story
Newspapers in Syria, where the government controls the press tightly, did not report it at all.
A professor of journalism at the American University in Cairo, Hussein Amin, said the handling of the story by Egypt’s pro-government papers was political and appropriate.
“I think that the government does not want to show this on the front page as a main item because it shows a very poor — poor is not the proper word; disgusting maybe is the better word — example of revenge,” Amin said. “There is also the threat that it could be happening to other Americans. If they put it on the front page, (it could be seen as) they are favoring this kind of action.”
Jordanian newspapers, state television and radio reported Berg’s killing, but without commentary.
Most Lebanese newspapers, such as the left-wing As-Safir, published the report and a photograph of Berg sitting in front of the militants. As-Safir ran the headline: “Al-Zarqawi slaughters an American to avenge Iraqi prisoners.”
In many Arab newspapers, the beheading received less display than the news of America’s imposing sanctions on Syria and the killing of six Israeli soldiers in Gaza City.