While some Arab media expressed sorrow over loss of the seven-member space shuttle Columbia crew, many publications viewed the death of Israeli astronaut Col. Ilan Ramon as cause for celebration.

“Ramon can go to hell” was the title of a column by Hamed Salamin in the United Arab Emirates daily Al-Bayan, who said the Israeli’s death “is enough to arouse joy in every heart that beats
Arabism and Islam.”

Israeli Col. Ilan Ramon (NASA photo)

The media accounts were translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute, or MEMRI, in Washington, D.C.

Salamin said that “perhaps the sight of the Columbia shuttle’s crashing in the town of Palestine, Texas reminds the Israeli people of the daily tragedy of the Palestinians – of the sorrow, the blood, and the massacres that the army of the [Zionist] entity carries out on the occupied lands.”

“But it would not appear that the vast majority of Israelis have feelings for others,” he said. “The Columbia disaster is a loss to all, even though emotions are conflicting. Sincerest condolences to the American people and to the families of the six American astronauts, and Ramon should go to hell. There is no sorrow for him whatsoever.”

Nur Al-Din Sati’, a columnist for the Lebanese pro-Syrian daily Al-Safir, wrote in a similar vein.

“Although the disaster will not change imperialist American behavior across the world,” he wrote, “the loss caused by the crash of the Columbia is not restricted to America, which will continue to be a center of attraction for the minds and geniuses of the entire world, six of whom were lost two days ago; as for the seventh, his expertise was in destroying homes and pinpoint strikes at civilian targets, so he should not be classified [as a genius].”

Columnist Bater Muhammad ‘Ali Wardam in the Jordanian daily Al-Dustour criticized the American media coverage of the disaster.

“The explosion of the shuttle did not cheer us; we share the American people’s sorrow over the death of the six American researchers and scientists,” he wrote. “Naturally, we feel no sympathy for the Israeli fighter pilot who bombed the Iraqi reactor and participated in the 1973 war … . But there was undoubtedly cheap media exploitation of the Israeli astronaut’s death in the explosion.”

Wardam said he followed CNN’s coverage, “and it shocked me that the expression of sorrow and horror regarding the Israeli astronaut was much greater than that for the six Americans.”

He complained that CNN “had to point out repeatedly that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and the most technologically and scientifically advanced country, which enabled it to launch an astronaut in cooperation with NASA.”

“What we are saying does not originate from jealousy or from deprivation; in the Arab world we have excellent scientists who surpass Israel’s,” Wardam said. “NASA itself has hundreds of Arab scientists. But the [coverage] attests to the spread of Zionism and of pro-Israeli streams in the American media.”

Blaming bin Laden?

Some columnists ridiculed the tragedy, said MEMRI, including Fateh Abd Al-Salam in the London Arabic-language daily Al-Zaman, suggesting that Americans were looking for a reason to blame the event on terrorism.

“Had the explosion of the space shuttle taken place during liftoff, like the Challenger, another reason would have been added for advancing the war against Iraq,” he said. “But it was destroyed on its return from space. Yet it is not inconceivable that thoughts are arising in the American mind about terrorists and rogue states on other planets.”

Khaled Ghalam, in the Libyan newspaper Al-Zahf Al-Akhdhar, said Americans, “whose administration has set them at odds with the world due to its blind policy, found no one to comfort them, even in this bleak moment.”

“What will Bush say to his people this time, Al-Akhdhar wrote. “Did bin Laden fly in a space shuttle like Columbia and crash into it? … Or perhaps Hamas used short-range Qassam rockets to explode it? Perhaps [the disaster was deliberate] so as to serve as a pretext for [U.N. weapons inspectors] Blix and Al-Barad’i to explain the danger of nuclear warheads that cross the atmosphere and hit shuttles?”

The Libyan paper said, “Our only condolences to the American people are for its administration … which has lost human feeling and genuine love in its attitude towards the world’s governments and peoples.”

In a speech delivered in Beirut, Hezbollah Secretary-General Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said that what happened to the Columbia is “a message for all humanity, and especially for Arab and Islamic peoples and the peoples of the Third World.”

“This is a message to all those who in recent years thought that the U.S. was God,” he said. “America the superpower, with its navy, its science, and its invasion of space threatens the Planet Earth with war … . Yet, yesterday it stood stunned as the space shuttle exploded in the skies and fell to earth without anyone being able to do a thing. Whether it wanted to or not, the U.S. stood submissive to the will of Allah.”

‘Every believer leaped with joy’

A variety of joyous responses were seen on Islamic websites, MEMRI said.

A posting on www.alfajr.com by Sheikh Dr. Ali Al-Tamimi, an American citizen said: “The whole world heard about the shuttle crash. Undoubtedly, the heart of every believer leaped with joy at the disaster of his greatest enemy.”

Al-Tamimi said, “In my heart arose some thoughts that I would like to share with my brothers: First, the name of the shuttle, Columbia, is from Columbus, who discovered the American continent in 1492 following the fall of Grenada, the last of the strongholds of Islam in Andalusia. It is known that with the discovery of the two American continents, the Byzantines, that is, the Christians of Europe, exploited the resources of both these continents in order to take over the Islamic world. With the fall of the Columbia, a thought arose in my heart that this was a powerful sign that the supremacy of the West, and particularly that of the U.S., which began 500 years ago, is about to fall precipitously – Allah willing, as happened to the shuttle.”

The American continued, “Second, the shuttle crew included an Israeli astronaut, about whom the Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. said that he bore with him all the hopes and aspirations of the Israeli people. Thus, these hopes and aspirations burned up, Allah willing, in the fall and burning of the shuttle.”

Third, he said, “CNN announced at the beginning that the shuttle fell near the city of Palestine, Texas. I said to myself: Allah is great; thus, Allah willing, will America fall in Palestine.”

Al-Tamimi said that “Texas is the state of the stupid president George Bush Jr., about whom we hope, Allah willing, that, like the shuttle fell on his country, his idiotic policy will collapse the foundations of his country on his head.

Finally, he said, “in the president’s eulogy, to the American people … he quoted from the Book of Isaiah … . I said to myself: Allah be praised, in this book there is a prophecy regarding the coming of the Prophet Muhammad and the destruction of the Jews at the end of time … . Anyone who sought to elevate the Jews on whom Allah has cast humiliation and misery … will be struck by humiliation and by divine wrath.”

Sorrow and condolences

Several papers published editorials expressing sorrow and condolences.

An editorial by the London-based Saudi-owned Arabic daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat declared that, “The shuttle’s fall shocked the entire world. The seven astronauts killed in this tragedy represented the human race with their aspirations to unlock the secrets of the universe. This is part of the collective dream that died with them.”

The Jordanian daily Al-Dustour expressed similar sentiments in its editorial: “There is no doubt that the crash of the space shuttle Columbia is a shock to all humanity, not only the American people.”

Also in Al-Dustour, columnist Arib Al-Rantawi responded to the displays of joy on Islamic websites.

“Only the sick and mentally feeble dance with joy at the Columbia space shuttle disaster,” he said. “This is not an occasion for gloating. After all, the American space program is part of the scientific heritage of humanity.”

Al-Rantawi said that “the rejection of the ‘nationalist terrorism’ theory behind the Columbia disaster apparently did not please some, and they hastened to develop a theory of ‘divine retribution’ against the arrogant infidels.”

“Once again, the Arab mind was revealed as an unfathomable storehouse of ‘illogic,’ as if we were a nation that does not learn from its defeats and catastrophes and hastens to bring up myths at every juncture,” he said. “This is what happened in 1967; it recurred, tragically, in the Gulf War … and here we are, repeating the same tales now.”

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