BROOKE GLADSTONE: From WNYC in New York, this is NPR's On the Media. Bob Garfield is away. I'm Brooke Gladstone. This week, a new picture of horror from Iraq. American Nick Berg sits in front of a group of hooded men, his captors. They announce that they will kill him in retaliation for the abuse of Iraqis at Abu Ghraib by the U.S. military. He's thrown to the ground and decapitated. Martin Walker is senior editor of United Press International, and he joins me on a semi-regular basis to talk about what the world press is saying about America. Hello, Martin.
MARTIN WALKER: Hello there.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:So first of all, what's been the response in the European press both to the alleged abuses at Abu Ghraib and also the beheading of Nick Berg?
MARTIN WALKER:Well, it's been pretty predictable. I mean there's been absolutely appalled reaction in, in many of the newspapers. I was struck by the former East German newspaper, the Dresden Nachtricten: "Now both sides have the visual proof to stigmatize the other as the villain. Both now believe they are morally superior to the other. Such logic can lead only to the very clash of civilizations we have been warned about." Another of the leading German dailies, Die Velt, is being very much more on the American side. It says "The terrorists don't need to have a moral reason for their behavior, because they don't have any morals. Now a competition of visual horrors is breaking out, and the West, even though it is honest enough to be transparent about its faults, will almost certainly lose this war."
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well what about the transparency of the process in America? Is much being made of that?
MARTIN WALKER:Well, yes. In Le Figaro, the French daily, they have an editorial which says: "One must respect America for the way in which it's reacted to the scandal. The transparency and the dignity and the self-criticism of the country are honoring in this occasion a great democracy. However, this may not be quite enough. If Bush thinks that this will suffice, he is mistaken. The public debate and the commissions of inquiry are not going to be enough to persuade the Arab world of the superiority of democracy a l'americain."
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What about the British press? They seem to be under the same spotlight that we are.
MARTIN WALKER:Well, I was absolutely staggered by the current Spectator, a very conservative and very well-written magazine. "Today, there is no pleasure in being British. We're almost a pariah nation. We have been collaborators with the Americans in something so gross, murderous, barbaric and obscene that it defies belief. It's no excuse that American troops have been responsible for the most bestial of the atrocities. We are part of a joint command in Iraq, and thus share the joint shame."
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Let's move to the Arab press. Arab satellite television doesn't flinch when it comes to images of gore. Did anyone print the pictures of Nick Berg's decapitation?
MARTIN WALKER:Yes. A Kuwaiti paper, Al Sissi Al Kuwaiti, had a front page story with a photograph of Mr. Berg's severed head being held up. There's been an extraordinary contrast between some Arab papers which just ignored it -- for example, in Egypt - Al Ahram ran nothing - Al Akbar, which is a quasi-official paper just had it inside -- it was on page seven, a very small news report about this. In the gulf states where several papers ignored it, they have been giving the excuse subsequently that I've heard on radio programs that the information arrived too late for their deadlines, which is kind of hard to believe because they did manage to get in the news about the sanctions being announced on Syria, which was announced after the first breaking of the story about Mr. Berg.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So it's your suspicion, perhaps, that they don't like seeing an American cast as a victim.
MARTIN WALKER:No, it's my suspicion that they were actually waiting for instructions from their governments, and their governments don't know quite what to do. On the one hand, they want to be in support of the Bush administration in a general sense -- they don't want chaos to emerge in Iraq - they want to maintain a kind of an American protectorate in the region. On the other hand, they're terrified of President Bush's talk of trying to democratize the Middle East, and they're terrified of their own people who seem to be getting angrier and angrier about the Americans.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:I know that the Bush administration says that because of our transparency, it's clear we embrace a higher human rights standard; the wrongdoers will be punished. The abuses will end. How is that playing over there?
MARTIN WALKER:Well, not very well in most of the Arab press. They see this through the prism of their historical experience, which is to say they see this as confirming what Al Safir of Beirut calls "the colonial attitude of superiority that the British and the Americans have towards Arabs and towards Muslims in general." And the final word, I think, comes from Egypt's Al Akbar which said: "Bear in mind, this is not some unusual aspect of America that we are seeing now in the prisons of Baghdad. Most of the ugly pictures we recently saw against Iraqi prisoners are methods used almost on a daily basis in America's civilian prisons where rape and killing and torture appear to be fairly common."
BROOKE GLADSTONE: All right. Martin, thank you very much.
MARTIN WALKER: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Martin Walker is editor in chief of United Press International.