When people ask about Arab media reaction to the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, they expect to hear one answer or the other. But like many other issues in the Arab world, reaction to events vary with nationalities, age groups, affiliations, geography, religion and many other things that play a role independently and interactively. Thus, reactions come in black, white and every shade in between.
Zarqawi was never treated in Arab media with the respect awarded to Osama bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahiri. He was mainly seen as the foreign fighter who turned the struggle against occupation in Iraq into an aimless bloodbath targeting civilians, killing, beheading, bombing and terrorizing a whole nation and even a region. Most experts and commentators on Arab media blame Zarqawi for crossing the line and committing acts that "no one in Islam approves of," not even the al Qaeda leaders themselves. He is also blamed for playing on the differences within the Iraqi culture to pit Sunnis against Shiites and fan the flames of civil war.
Arab media showed the graphic images of Zarqawi's body without a disclaimer or apology. Right there on the main pages of newspapers, TV headlines. It was the subject of discussion on talk shows and the main topic of opinion editorials almost everywhere. Newspaper headlines described the "joy in the US, Europe and parts of Iraq" but warned that "the entire region awaits Zarqawi's successor and the revenge." Others thought that the strike on Zarqawi will fuel the insurgency; they predicted "the worst is yet to come."
Political cartoonists also saw an opportunity to make their opinions known. One cartoon shows a surprised Ossama bin Laden sitting on a stool representing al Qaeda. One leg of the stool is knocked off by a US missile. The severed leg lies down lifeless with the head of a dead Zarqawi.
Another cartoon from Lebanon showed a falling statue very much like that of Saddam Hussein which became the symbol of the fall of Baghdad and the Hussein regime. The statue this time is that of a masked Zarqawi wearing his insurgent outfit with the dagger and all. Under the fallen statue are images of hostages and beheadings.
A cartoon from Saudi Arabia had Zarqawi's face of terror and pencil eraser wiping off the face. On the pencil the words "New Iraq" are written in English.
Any support for Zarqawi? Sure, there were those who called him "a courageous leader who's credited for hiring hundreds of men into the insurgency." He was called a "hero" and a "martyr" by his followers who said they are more interested in death than life and promised to continue what Zarqawi has started.
On this story, the voices cheering Zarqawi's death drowned out those cheering him on in death as they did in life. The moderate opinions prevailed over those of extremism. Both sides agree on one thing, that the road ahead remains difficult and dangerous.