One headline writer in Washington proclaimed the notion “Lost in Space.”
That’s how many reacted to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden’s comments that he’s been directed by President Obama to reach out to Muslim nations to honor their technological and scientific accomplishments as one of his agency’s priorities.
Bolden, in an interview with Al Jazeera, ignited significant backlash when he said that the President encouraged him to “find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contributions to science.”
The comments have sparked much debate in the blogosphere and among pundits but have gained little traction among mainstream media outlets where Bolden’s explanation of the President’s NASA goals have been underreported at best.
Opponents have questioned the administration’s commitment to space exploration and said using the program as an appeasement for Muslim nations is a misuse of the agency.
Daniel Pipes, director the Middle East Forum, echoed the sentiments of Obama critics in a blog post that questioned why the administration would use a space agency like NASA as a feel-good for foreign policy. He called Obama’s mandate to Bolden a “farcical” and “failed” attempt to win the hearts of Muslims.
“It is inordinately patronizing for Americans to make Muslims ‘feel good’ about the medieval contributions to science,” Mr. Pipes wrote. “This will lead to more resentment than gratitude.”
He added: “Muslims at present do lag in the sciences and the way to fix this is not condescension from NASA but some deep Muslim introspection. Put differently, accomplished scientists of Muslim origin—including NASA’s Farouk El-Baz, who is of Egyptian origins—do exist. The problem lies in societies, and includes everything from insufficient resources to poor education to the ravages of Islamism.”
Pipes went on to point out that Obama has been steadily losing his public-opinion contest with Muslims—“his popularity in majority-Muslim countries hardly better than George W. Bush’s.”
Walid Phares, an author and senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, noted that the U.S. shouldn’t “be in the business of bringing religion, Islam or other to space development.”
Said Phares: “The initial policy of dealing with international relations in religious terms is faulty and in contradiction with international principles of human rights and also with the U.S. constitutional principles. The Obama Administration was very badly advised since day one on how to engage Muslim majority countries around the world.”
Mr. Phares took issue with the notion of that the “Muslim world” was one unit, separate from the rest of international society, noting that such a division “plays into the hands of jihadists.” He noted that with 1.2 billion Muslims living in 52 countries worldwide, their ranks are hugely diverse.
“The Obama narrative about addressing nation-states as one religious empire looks more like the medieval times than the 21st Century,” he said. “The U.S. can and should have a policy of technological support to as many countries as possible, including all the Muslim majority countries that needs it, inasmuch as other non-Muslim countries.
“Space exploration,” he added, “is a universal frontier, not a matter of public relations reflecting political interests. Talking about Muslims in space is like talking about Sunnis, Shia, Catholics, Mormons, or Taoists sent into orbit.
“This is a ridiculous concept. Those who enter a spaceship are humans not members of religious sects. I think what lays behind this medieval perception of space technology is a policy of partnership with Islamist regimes, most of which are oppressive of their own people.”
On Monday, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs pushed back on Mr. Bolden’s comments and said the space agency administrator misspoke. “That was not his task and that’s not the task of NASA,” Mr. Gibbs said, adding that the remarks have been addressed.