February 6, 2003 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 123

Arab Media Reactions to the Columbia Space Shuttle Disaster: Part II

February 6, 2003
Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 123

The Egyptian Press: 'The Columbia Victims Are Martyrs'

In complete contrast to their reaction to the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, columnists in the Egyptian government papers refrained from expressing joy over the Columbia disaster. Ahmad Ragab, columnist for the Egyptian government daily Al-Akhbar – who had mocked the U.S. after September 11 and in some of his articles went so far as to express his support for Hitler – wrote: "I feel sorrow for the space shuttle disaster and the astronauts' death. It is a scientific defeat for humanity, and I pray to Allah that Al-Jazeera television will not report, as it usually does, on a communiqué from bin Laden taking responsibility for the shuttle's explosion."[1]

Mahmoud Abd Al-Mun'im Murad, who frequently attacks the U.S. and Israel in his daily Al-Akhbar column, wrote: "There is no doubt that the crash of the American space shuttle Columbia causes a sense of general sorrow, because of the sad end of the seven astronauts who risked their lives to discover the heavens, to serve science, [and] to reveal the universe and the chance of life on other planets instead of Earth – which is already too narrow for us, and where a regression has begun in all areas of the life of the human race."

"The common man can feel only sorrow and bereavement for the painful event, and cannot conceive that there can be those who gloat or feel any other emotion except sorrow at the sad end of the seven brave heroes, including the Israeli astronaut, because they all served humanity, and [served] scientific research that may produce most important results for the future of man on the planet Earth and his future in space…"

"These astronauts' citizenship matters not at all… By Allah, there is no gloating, only a supplication to Allah that this tragic event will not recur, even if the victims are citizens of countries towards which we feel rage, for political or other reasons…"[2]

Hazem Abd Al-Rahman, columnist for the Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram, wrote: "Any large step in the life of human societies involves sacrifice that sometimes reaches the sacrifice of human life… There is no doubt that the space flight programs and the discovery of the secrets [of space] are not unusual in this… This program has brought advancement in our knowledge about the universe and the solar system and unprecedented development of communications technology… The space program's impact on human society is no less than that of the era of geographical discoveries or that of the first industrial revolution, which changed the face of the life of the human race… The victims of the shuttle Columbia are rightly considered Shahids [martyrs] of the voyage of human progress…"[3]

The Saudi Press: 'The American View of the World Crashed Even Before the Columbia'

The Saudi press was very modest in its discussion of the shuttle disaster, restricting it mostly to news coverage. However, an editorial in the Saudi English-language daily Saudi Gazette said: "… There is one more moral issue that the American public itself must reflect in this moment of grief. This is not the first time that the world public has expressed shock and grief over an American tragedy involving a few individuals. A human being is a human being and the loss of one life, according to the Koran, is the loss of humanity in entirety. Do the Americans also have similar sentiments for the people who die or are killed deliberately in much larger numbers somewhere else in the world? Relatives and friends of hundreds of thousands of people killed in the last 20 years look for an answer to this question."[4]

In his column in the Saudi daily Al-Yaum, Najib Al-Zamel wrote: "… I am not joining in the gloating. Death is always death, and sorrow is sorrow. We must face the threat of death and the sorrow that follows it before anything else. But Columbia fell from the highest layers of the atmosphere, and its fall has many ramifications – and there will be a question mark placed over the legend of NASA [and] its space programs."

"We say that the American view of the world crashed even before the Columbia. America, which sees itself as the symbol of freedom and justice, and [as having] the perfect constitution, has become an arsenal of weapons in advance of a military campaign across the entire world… The world has become a map of targets for the American arrows represented by the trinity of war – Bush, Rumsfeld, and Condoleezza – and behind them, the famous quiet man Dick Cheney. I say that we are sunk in reflection in the face of the horror of death and the sorrow that comes in its wake, and we ask America and its famous trinity to reflect on the sights of death and the funerals [that will follow] if they start the war."[5]

Islamists: 'It is a Punishment from Allah… as the Shuttle Carried Americans, an Israeli, and a Hindu, the Trinity of Evil Against Islam'

In Islamic circles, the joy over the shuttle disaster continued unabated. Dr. Abd Al-'Aziz Al-Rantisi, a Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, wrote on the Hamas Web site: "… The explosion of the shuttle Columbia is, it is reasonable to assume, part of the divine punishment of America and, together with it, Zionism – because of their massacres of Muslims, the destruction of their lives, the humiliation of their honor, and their [the Americans' and Zionists'] desire to globalize corruption…"

"… Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abd Al-'Aziz, the first Arab and Muslim astronaut, said that NASA safety is great and precise and therefore the reason for the incident cannot be a [safety] oversight… Therefore, conviction is growing that this is divine punishment. Even if there was technical foul-up, it would not rule out the possibility of divine punishment…"

"The legitimate question is whether it is reasonable that America will stop killing innocents from among the Muslims. Is it reasonable that [America] will learn its lesson and stop its conspiracies against the Palestinian and Iraqi peoples? Is it reasonable that it will stop its propaganda war against the religion of Allah, as 'Allah's religion is Islam?' Will it stop plundering Muslim resources in the Gulf and the Caspian Sea…?"

"I am convinced that America, which suffers from megalomania, will not awaken from its intoxication. But I am also certain that it will be no different from the nations that preceded it, and that the destruction [that struck] its predecessors will certainly strike it, if Allah wills it…"[6]

Abu Hamza Al-Masri, the Islamic fundamentalist leader living in London, told the London Arabic-language daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat: "It is a punishment from Allah – this is how Muslims see the incident. The target of this event was the trinity of evil, as the shuttle carried Americans, an Israeli, and a Hindu, the trinity of evil against Islam. This is a message to the American people that Bush's term is nothing but a string of curses cast upon them, and that it will lead to the exhaustion of their resources and the elimination of the false American dream… This is a divine message to the Israelis, saying that they are not welcome in space."[7]

[1] Al-Akhbar (Egypt), February 4, 2003.

[2] Al-Akhbar (Egypt), February 4, 2003.

[3] Al-Ahram (Egypt), February 5, 2003.

[4] Saudi Gazette (Saudi Arabia), February 3, 2003.

[5] Al-Yom (Saudi Arabia), February 4, 2003

[6], February 2, 2003

[7] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), February 4, 2003.

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