Recorded in Boston University on Thursday 13 September 2012
It started on Tuesday, September 11. Islamic militants armed with rocket-propelled grenades stormed the American embassy in Benghazi, Libya, killing ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. The violence, reportedly sparked by anger over a YouTube video that mocked the Prophet Muhammad, has since spread to 20 cities in the Middle East, and American and European diplomatic outposts have been attacked from Cairo to Jakarta.
Initially, the source of the video was shrouded in confusion. It was purported to be the work of an Israeli living in California, then it was attributed to right-wing Christians. It now appears that one of film’s makers was Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a Coptic Christian from California who was once imprisoned for intent to manufacture methamphetamine and for fraud. Google, the owner of YouTube, defended its posting of the video, but blocked access to it in Egypt and Libya.
The true source of the Benghazi assault was also unclear. There is speculation that the attack had been planned in advance, with special meaning for the date: September 11. As violence appears to wane, BU Today spoke with Egyptian-born Farouk El-Baz, a College of Arts & Sciences research professor of archaeology, a College of Engineering research professor of electrical and computer engineering, and director of the BU Center for Remote Sensing. El-Baz, who was science advisor to the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat from 1978 to 1981, is a frequent guest on National Public Radio, Public Radio International, and on NECN.
BU Today: If the U.S. State Department had previous knowledge of the defamatory film, as recent reports say, should it have acted in some way?
El Baz: I don’t think the State Department or anyone in United States could have expected that upheaval. The reason for the upheaval is that people in all Muslim countries know that their governments review and approve movies and show them before they are broadcast anywhere. Thus, they assumed that the U.S. government had approved that trailer. This is where the blame of America originated. To this day many ‘observers’ fail to mention this fact and relate it to the over-the-top reaction of simple people in these countries.
What brewing anti-U.S. resentments did this video trailer ignite? What are the roots of those resentments?
In the Middle East, it could be what is conceived as blind support of the state of Israel and the neglect of the Palestinian aspirations. Farther east, it is partly the invasion of Iraq under the pretense of weapons of mass destruction and the long stay in Afghanistan beyond the defeat of the Taliban. Do the protesters believe all Americans are anti-Muslim, or is it just a small minority who blame the United States as a whole for this isolated, malicious incident? The blame is directed toward the U.S. government. That is why attacks are directed at embassies and not American businesses or individuals. The mobs did not attack American tourists or any of the numerous American universities in the region. They attacked the embassies because those represent the American government, which to the protesters had approved that dreadful movie. The protesters insist that blasphemy is a crime and should not be protected by free speech, but in the United States it is protected speech.
How can we respond to concerns in a way that doesn’t further fan the flames?
We can at least explain that the U.S. government does not review or approve movies and considers this particular one insulting and atrocious.
How much of the unrest apparently triggered by the video has been percolating because of domestic problems like youth unemployment, corruption, and civil conflicts plaguing such nations as Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Pakistan, Lebanon, and Sudan?
I think the dire social conditions and lack of employment had a great deal to do with encouraging the youth to gather and raise havoc; they have nothing to lose.
What do you think of President Obama’s and Secretary Clinton’s handling of the crisis? What could they have done differently or more effectively?
I think they both did as well as could be expected; I just wish someone had told them to stress the lack of a government stamp or seal of approval, since that is not known in those countries at all. A statement to that effect could have quieted down many of the demonstrations.
How well do western media portray the peaceful majority of the Islamic world?
There is a great deal of “ignorance of the other” on both sides of the ocean.
Should Google have taken down the video?
Yes, in the aftermath of the embassy attack and death of Ambassador Stevens.
Is there evidence that the attack was planned?
I do not know, but I don’t think so. The mob attacked the consulate building because it formally represents the USA.
What role did cultural differences play in the initial incident and the spread of violent demonstrations throughout the Arab world?
Very little; ignorance played a leading role.
How and why did anger spread so far and ignite so quickly?
Because Islam has not gone through questioning and a reformation the way Christianity did. God and his prophets (Moses, Jesus, and Mohammad) are not open to any ridicule, no matter what or by whom. Just their mention evokes attention and prayers.
NASA astronaut Alfred Worden was orbiting the moon aboard Apollo 15, approximately 238,863 miles from a giant dry lake in northern Sudan, when he told Mission Control, “After the King’s training, I feel like I’ve been here before.”
Worden was not thanking Elvis, but rather AAPG memberFarouk El-Baz, the man who helped him prepare for the mission.
El-Baz laughs when reminded of the story, saying the nickname comes from Egyptian King Farouk, as he kidded the astronauts, “I am the King, but I had to thin out in hard times!”
Farouk El-Baz, an internationally recognized award-winning geologist and humanitarian, is also a research professor, an adviser to presidents and prime ministers and even the namesake of a shuttlecraft on Star Trek.
The King’s objectives now: Bringing peace to Darfur.
How? His idea is deceptively simple and can be summed in one word: water.
El-Bazbelieves that the provision of water to all who need it, in addition to resources that can be used for economic (agriculture and agro-industries) purposes, can ease the pressures that are contributing to a brutally violent war there and provide stability to the entire country.
Restoring peace and repairing the cultural, political and tribal dysfunction in Sudan may seem a long way from – and perhaps more difficult than – conquering the moon’s landscape, but Farouk El-Baz is an optimist with a peculiar enthusiasm for the power of science.
“The environment of doing so changes in time and place,” he said, “but the objectives must remain the same.”
The problems in the Darfur region of Sudan may be an insurmountable, incomprehensible quagmire, but El-Baz believes this initiative – called “1,000 Wells for Darfur” – is where to start.His plan is to dig 1,000 wells in the ancient Megalake in the northern Darfur region, which he hopes will bring life-sustaining water to the people of Sudan and in the process maybe – just maybe – establish peace and economic security in the region.
For the complete interview, click here.
Nottingham Science Blog
Science and Technology in the East Midlands
NSB was hugely chuffed recently to have the opportunity to interview Professor Farouk El-Baz, Research Professor and Director of the Center for Remote Sensing at Boston University in Boston, Massachusetts (Biogs at his site, Boston Uni and Wikipeida)
But the interview wasn’t about his current role. Oh no, no, no.
It was largely about his work with NASA in the late 1960s and early 1970s as Secretary of the Landing Site Selection Committee for the Apollo lunar landing missions, Principal Investigator of Visual Observations and Photography, and chairman of the Astronaut Training Group (described also fascinatingly here).
For the complete interview, click here.
The area known as the Sea of Tranquility turned out to be the spot. Missouri S&T graduate Farouk El-Baz used remote sensing to help NASA officials determine that this was where the Eagle would land on the moon back in 1969. Later, the producers of Star Trek: The Next Generation celebrated his work by naming a spacecraft, El-Baz, after him.
Watch the video interview:
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