DUBAI (Reuters) – Arab fury at the West intensified on Monday after images of British soldiers apparently beating Iraqi youths were aired in a region already inflamed by caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad.
Some Arabs said the video, like the Danish newspaper cartoons, was proof of the contempt the West held for Islam, the dominant faith in the Middle East. They also said the beatings, which occurred in 2004 and were publicized by a British newspaper on Sunday, exposed the ugly side of Britain’s presence in Iraq despite its efforts to put a "friendly face" on the occupation.
"This beating is all part of the same war on Islam that the West is carrying out these days," said Egyptian traffic policeman Gamal Bashir. "The (Prophet Mohammad) cartoons are part of the same war too." The English-language Bahrain Tribune said the video could not have been aired at a worse time. "The Arab and Muslim world is already sitting on a powder keg over the offensive cartoons."
"The illusion of the British being a friendly force is no longer there. The grainy video has exposed the deep-seated animosity they too have for the Iraqis," it said. The video, released by the News of the World, shows soldiers beating and kicking Iraqis, to the apparent delight of the cameraman.
MOCKERY OF DEMOCRACY
British troops have been seen as being more respectful of the sensitivities of Iraqis than U.S. forces in Iraq. Some Arabs also believe Britain, with its colonial history in the Middle East, is more sympathetic to their causes.
"Insults and degradation from so-called gentlemen," remarked popular Arab television channel Al Jazeera when it aired the video, calling the mistreatment "savagery".
"Democracy must be practiced differently inside the West from outside, otherwise how can occupation troops who came to save a country from former tyranny do such a thing?" asked columnist Hani Wafa in the Saudi daily al-Riyadh.
Yemeni taxi driver Khaled Mohammed added: "This shows Britain’s lies about respecting human rights and freeing Iraq."
British troops have been hit by abuse allegations, but none approaching the scale of the abuse U.S. soldiers inflicted on Iraqis at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison in 2004.
Qatari political analyst Abdulaziz Mahmoud said the violence portrayed in the video was similar to the "beatings that go on in police stations in the region all the time".
"The video itself is not a big deal, but it just adds fuel to the fire. Arabs are angry at the cartoons, the war on Iraq, the treatment of Palestinians and this is another incident."
Mazen Gallaf, a 31-year old Bahraini teacher, also said the video could further strain relations between Arabs and the West.
"These pictures are old … This is a time of a clash between the Islamic and Western nations and not a good time at all to show such pictures," he said.