While the United States is dealing with embarrassing goofs in the war on Islamic terrorists and trying to limit the danger of leaked classified documents, part of the Arab world is attempting to create a new history for themselves and meld the two worlds of West and East.
It is an audacious experiment: two small, oil-rich countries in the Middle East are using architecture and art to reshape their national identities virtually overnight, and in the process to redeem the tarnished image of Arabs abroad while showing the way toward a modern society within the boundaries of Islam.
Here, on a barren island on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi, workers have dug the foundations for three colossal museums: an $800 million Frank Gehry-designed branch of the Guggenheim 12 times the size of its New York flagship; a half-billion-dollar outpost of the Louvre by Jean Nouvel; and a showcase for national history by Foster & Partners, the design for which was unveiled on Thursday. And plans are moving ahead for yet another museum, about maritime history, to be designed by Tadao Ando. (click image to enlarge: An aerial view of the construction site for the Zayed National Museum in Saadiyaat Island, a development zone in Abu Dhabi. By NICOLAI OUROUSSOFF, Published: November 26, 2010)
Nearly 200 miles across the Persian Gulf, Doha, the capital of Qatar, has been mapping out its own extravagant cultural vision. A Museum of Islamic Art, a bone-white I. M. Pei-designed temple, opened in 2008 and dazzled the international museum establishment. In December the government will open a museum of modern Arab art with a collection that spans the mid-19th-century to the present. Construction has just begun on a museum of Qatari history, also by Mr. Nouvel, and the design for a museum of Orientalist art by the Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron is to be made public next year. (continue at NYT)
What I find interesting is that the chosen architects are Western: American, Japanese and French, to name a few, not Arab.
Jean Nouvel is the bold French architect known for such wildly diverse projects as the muscular Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis and the exotically louvered Arab World Institute in Paris.
Tadao Ando works primarily in exposed cast-in-place concrete and is renowned for an exemplary craftsmanship which invokes a Japanese sense of materiality, junction and spatial narrative through the pared aesthetics of international modernism.
With Western architecture and Islamic terrorism dominant, I envision problems with content of the museums. As the article states," ... the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, which is focused on 1965 to the present, a period culturally dominated by the West, reveals the problems that arise when the political message you are trying to send collides with historical reality". What kind of acquisitions will be made and exhibited?
Will this attempt to meld Western and modern with Islamic/Arab ancient please the locals in the Middle East? We can only hope that it does not inflame.
Back to Western goofs:
Someone had the brilliant idea to negotiate with the Taliban. One would expect that someone -- the American military leaders, State Department, NATO, the UK military, the Pakistan and Afghanistan leaders and military -- would actually know who the Taliban leadership is, what they look like and how to contact them. Apparently that was not the case.
After paying Mullah Akhtar Mansoor -- who the coalition leaders thought was the "senior Taliban leader" and deputy to Taliban leader Mullah Omar-- millions of dollars and flying him secretly for meetings in Kabul and Kandahar to negotiate with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and President Hamid Karzai's administration, someone discovered he wasn't even a Taliban member. Officials now think he is probably a shopkeeper from Pakistani city of Quetta in Balochistan province and may have been planted by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
More on the real Taliban leaders Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and Mullah Mohammed Omar here.
The Afghans said they always had their suspicions. Really? We know that the Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI)is involved with and supports the Afghanistan Taliban. We have embed representatives of the United States and United Nations with the likes of Moqtada al Sader for a temporary illusion of peace in Iraq, only to have the future leadership in Iraq both Sadr-friendly and Iran-friendly.
The American people are getting tired of truck loads of cash (tax payer money by the way) being wasted or simply lost in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, WikiLeaks is planning another classified document dump which, according to reports, will embarrass President Barack Hussein Obama, saying "the corruption allegations in them are major enough to cause serious embarrassment for foreign governments and politicians named in them". Right, Wing-Nut says:
...the problem for Obama will be how he responded to reports about various regimes being duplicitous in their dealings with the United States - did he act on them, or ignore them, and allow himself (and by extension, the American people)to be taken in like a carnival mark? And if he did ignore them, did he do so out of doubt that the information he was receiving was accurate, or did he do so because the information conflicted with his worldview and long-held ideological biases?
One advantage Obama has is that the New York Times is already in possession of the WikiLeaks documentation, and will minimize the extent and the importance of what is released to the best of their ability in order to protect him. A far cry from Woodward and Bernstein, no? (more)
In an attempt to soften the blow of the content of the classified documents, U.S. allies around the world have been briefed by American diplomats about what to expect. State Department spokesman J.P. Crowley said, "We are all bracing for what may be coming and condemn WikiLeaks for the release of classified material, -- It will place lives and interests at risk. It is irresponsible."
The problems with West meets Middle East continue... I think it will take more than some museums to bring the two together.