- The Washington Times - Friday, September 24, 2004

LONDON — The beheadings of two Americans in Iraq this week have been treated as unwelcome developments in the Arab press, but the concern has been more for the image of Muslims than for the victims.

Most organizations continued to cast the outrage as a small part of a wider conflict in which the United States is seen as the prime culprit.

“There has been little sign of the outrage that greeted the kidnapping of two French hostages last month and none of the soul-searching prompted by the … siege” at a school in Beslan, Russia, said Sebastian Usher, who monitors the Arab media for the British Broadcasting Corp.

A survey of the Arabic press in the past few days found that almost all reported the kidnappings of two Americans and a Briton and the Internet posting of statements and videotapes depicting the grisly killings of the two Americans. Appeals for mercy from the family of British hostage Kenneth Bigley also were widely reported.

But in most cases, the stories were quickly overtaken by extensive and colorful reports of bloodshed elsewhere in Iraq or in the Palestinian territories.

Al Jazeera, the most widely watched Arabic television channel, conducted a telephone poll during its top debating program, the Other Direction. In it, 93 percent of viewers said they approved of kidnapping foreigners in Iraq — even though by then, one of the two American hostages had been decapitated.

In Baghdad, law professor Adnan al-Jabbari described the beheadings in a telephone interview as “a distortion of Islam.”

“There should be organized demonstrations against these acts,” she said. “But there has also been violence against those who speak out, and that’s why many people are afraid.”

Laborer Mohammad Jassem, however, defended the right of Iraqis to kill and terrify Americans and those who work with them.

“Who told them to come here and sell our fortunes?” he asked. “I would not only kill an American, I would slaughter him and drink his blood. We’ll never forget what the Americans have done to us. …

“Every honorable Iraqi approves of killing Americans and beheading them. They should get out of our country.”

The debate on Al Jazeera, which did not poll viewers on beheading as a tactic, featured a fiercely anti-American political analyst, Talat Rumayh, alongside a moderate Iraqi politician, Karim Badr.

Mr. Rumayh described the kidnappers as Iraqi resistance fighters and complained that too much emphasis was put on the relatively small number of hostage killings.

“Two thousand people have been killed since the beginning of the attack on Fallujah, which is dismissed in one report, one line or just a couple of words … while we keep hearing about the hostages. It’s the hostages and the terrorists, always the terrorists,” he said.

Mr. Badr retorted that all of Iraq was disgraced by the beheadings.

“We have to prove our humanity. I am addressing my brethren in Iraq: These are masked creatures that resemble humans, who I am certain are uglier than their deeds,” he said.

“Is the kidnapping and murder of people in this manner an act of resistance? I am certain they do not represent the Iraqi conscience in any way at all.”

Al Watan, the official newspaper of the Qatar government, which hosts the U.S. Central Command, condemned the kidnappings.

“The Muslim world should adopt a moderate attitude towards Islam and curb militants who are distorting Islam’s image,” it said.

But Egypt’s semi-official Al Ahram newspaper turned the blame onto the Bush administration.

“The main reason behind this phenomenon is the foreign occupation of the country,” it said. “It has brought to the country a circle of chaos and instability.”

The Egyptian daily Al-Akhbar noted the same “underlying” cause but suggested that hostage-taking was counterproductive.

“The occupation forces have not managed to bring peace and security to the country,” it wrote. “As for the groups in Iraq which claim Islam and raise Islamic banners, they should stop their abductions. They should show charity in not tarnishing Muslims’ reputation.”

The Algerian newspaper Echourouk el-Youm took a tough line, saying, “For Arabs to focus their debate on crying over foreigners’ abductions rather than rallying around the Iraqi resistance is a strong indication that the American policy to uproot the resistance is working.”

But other Arab newspapers reported that an imam in Liverpool, England, home city of Mr. Bigley, had joined with a Christian leader there in appealing to the kidnappers to imitate Allah’s “all merciful” quality and spare the remaining hostage’s life.

• Borzou Daragahi contributed to this report in Baghdad.

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