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Mali, North Korea and the Confluence of Histories

February 2nd, 2013 No comments
A protestor marching on Benghazi’s corniche on March 9, 2011 defaces as 1 dinar note featuring Muammar Qaddafi to shown his disdain for the Libyan dictator at the height of the Arab Spring movement. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

A protestor marching on Benghazi’s corniche on March 9, 2011 defaces as 1 dinar note featuring Muammar Qaddafi to shown his disdain for the Libyan dictator at the height of the Arab Spring movement. This image to me epitomizes the concept of my article featured below. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

New York- I had a couple of long term projects published at the end of this past week. The first was an examination of the little known history conjoining Mali in West Africa with North Korea in Northeast Asia over at Asia Times Online. I discovered this newly built part of Bamako while riding around on my fixer’s motorcycle last year when we were trying to organize a semi-doomed trip toward the front line with MUAJO et co up in Mopti Region.

Screen shot 2013-02-02 at 8.14.31 PMThis spot I found (linked, left) in the Malian capital is called Carré des Armées (Army Square) and it was built by a North Korean state enterprise (not as if Pyongyang encourages private enterprise). As I begun to play with the idea of doing a full length article on the topic, it dawned on me that Mali and North Korea had a shared history dating all the way back to Mali’s independence from France in 1960.

Not exactly a topic for broad mass consumption, I know, but for those who it may interest, I think it’s a fascinating topic. It also speaks to a lesser understood phenomena of how ties forged in the heat of the Cold War still can very much exist in a post-Cold War world.

The ties between North Korea and Mali certainly may have lessened over the decades and have changed in their orientation (started out as political and military in the 1960s, now more transparently financial-the same goes for Mali’s relationship with China). One of the key differences between the relationships between North Korea and China with an inherently unstable state like Mali is that seemingly no circumstances would or will derail ‘business as usual.’

Just for argument’s sake, I honestly think that if Ansar Eddine and its Salafi allies had somehow managed to capture Bamako and miraculously gain some kind of political legitimacy that over time Beijing and Pyongyang would still send delegations back to Mali to get their business interests on track. After all in 1960, the government of Modibo Keita was deemed a righteous, radical enough anti-imperialist government by Kim Il-sung and co to forge ties on the other side of the world. Maybe the anti-imperial tenets preached in the context of  Salafiyya-jihadiyya would be revolutionary enough for the Beijing’s politburo and the DPRK’s Workers’ Party of Korea to be able to keep infrastructure projects going uninterrupted. Who’s to say….

The second was a passion project nearly 14 years in the making about the history and symbology of all the war zone/quixotic regime currencies have managed to collect in my travels over the years featured in The Christian Science Monitor. It spans from an out-of-circulation Iranian rial I obtained in Tehran in 1999 to a Libyan 1 dinar note I saved from Benghazi in 2011.

The depiction of Philip the Arab on Syria’s 100 pound note is an indicator of the deep historical ties between ancient Iran and Syria. In a rock carving at the Naqsh-e Rustam necropolis in southern Iran’s Fars Province, Philip the Arab is shown along with the Roman Emperor Valerian the Elder as they bow before the Persian king Shapur I the Great. ©1999 Derek Henry Flood

The depiction of Philip the Arab on Syria’s 100-pound note is an indicator of the deep historical ties between ancient Iran and Syria. In a rock carving at the Naqsh-e Rustam necropolis in southern Iran’s Fars Province, Philip the Arab (kneeling, far left) is shown along with the Roman Emperor Valerian the Elder (center) as they bow before the Persian king Shapur I the Great (mounted). Damascus’s employing Philip the Arab is likely no accident. Unlike the Saddam-era old 25-dinar note in Iraq depicting the Battle of al-Qadissyah showing an ancient Arab (Iraqi) enmity toward Persia (Iran)–Hafez’s al-Assad’s mortal enemy in the inter-Ba’ath rivalry–Syria’s 100-pound bill emphasized Syria and Iran’s ancient, shared history…in which Roman Arabia (present day Syria) is the supplicant. ©1999 Derek Henry Flood

Not a project that even the most ambitious young turk with a fancy master’s degree fresh out of Georgetown or Columbia could have done. It’s a bit of a blood, sweat and tears project in that sense and I was thrilled to have it come to fruition. I’ve dealt with countless fast talking money changers, sky rocketing wartime inflation, crossed borders only opened when regimes were in the process of being toppled and made all sorts of other absurd, laborious entreaties to obtain this collection.

Many of these specimens were lost for years or so I thought, until I uncovered them last fall in a musty storage locker and began to examine them one by one. I then realized they merited an article treatment on their own.

Most of these notes (except the Qadaffi-era dinar which is still in circulation pending the release of new notes by Libya’s central bank) are long out of circulation. And more importantly, each banknote tells a story both in its iconography laden artistry and in the circumstances in which I obtained it. The 20th anniversary of the Shia Islamic revolution in Iran, the post-9/11 war in Afghanistan, the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, and so forth.Screen shot 2013-02-02 at 8.18.11 PM                                                                                                                                                                       

Meals Not Ready to Eat-Guns and Butter in Afghanistan

October 19th, 2012 No comments

MRE marked as a humanitarian daily ration. Packed by illegal migrants in Texas for Tajiks and Uzbeks in Afghanistan, eaten by Western journos and other war tourists. Just another of my war souvenirs.

New York- I’ve been rummaging through my archives from the terror wars era for the last week or two while working on an upcoming project on Syria and have opened a veritable Pandora’s Box in the process. The other day I found a couple of MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) from the very beginning of the American-led intervention in the ongoing Afghan civil war in November 2001. These hideously bright yellow packets were being sold by traders in the smuggler’s bazaar of Khawja Bahauddin, the ramshackle town near the border with Tajikistan where Ahmad Shah Massoud had been assassinated on September 9, 2001. These preservative laden bags of glorified junk food were air dropped over ‘friendly’ (i.e. areas controlled by cash-for-allegiance warlords) parts of northern Afghanistan in what was much more a bungled PR campaign than an effective humanitarian effort.

Rural Afghans were puzzled by the squirt packs of peanut butter and stale pop tarts entirely alien to their diet. To put things in the effete terminology used by food nerds today, Afghanistan is a “farm-to-table” society where all food is de facto “organic” even though the whole country is devoid of a Whole Foods.

These plastic bags were carefully labeled in English, French, and Spanish for illiterate villagers that speak Dari, Uzbek, and Pashto, might as well have been artifacts from the Roswell crash. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that more Western journos and CIA types ended up eating these awful things than the Afghans themselves. They were manufactured by a military contractor eager to reap the early buildup of the immediate post-9/11 spending boomlet called The Wornick Company.

The Wornick Company apparently employed undocumented Mexican immigrants to pack these things. An investigation was launched after it was discovered an AQ operative had his sights set on the company’s HQ in south Texas after Wornick ingeniously labeled these packets with their company name and address. Like an AQ for dummies target.

A better holistic strategy would have been to contract an nearby Iranian company (who could have perhaps given honest work to Iran’s own resented Afghan refugees) to package pulao and freeze dried naan, you know, like, food Afghans actually eat not dissimilar to Iranian fare. Laughable as it sounds, something akin to this might have killed two birds with one stone-actually nourishing starving Afghans and engaging Iran economically.

Such a practical initiative could have opened the door to undermining both the clerical regime in Qom and Tehran during Mohammed Khatami’s “Dialogue of Civilizations” era and the still-not-going-away bomb Iran chicken hawks poisoning the present debate  in DC. But the anti-Iran agitators active in Washington today are often one in the same as the men and women who wanted to pull away from Afghanistan in 2002 (and therefore an Iran that was cooperating at the time) to focus Pentagon efforts on Iraq thereby keeping the US pitted against Iran for the foreseeable future. The maintenance of this highly negative staus quo was far  more important for those with a vested interest in keeping hostilities alive and well.

The air dropping of quintessential American foodstuffs into Afghanistan was an ill conceived plan at best and a poor use of tax payer funds. With no follow up measures to coordinate events on the ground, there was no methodology employed to ensure that the food was received by those that needed it most. Meanwhile, the few who happened upon these poorly planned c-17 borne drops would often hoard them and sell them to bazaaris who would then resell them to the strangers in their midst. There was no way to ensure appropriate and even distribution, the thing bona fide unarmed humanitarian NGOs are supposed to be most adept at.

Oh and another story going around at the time was that these clumsy airborne food drops had actually managed to kill a few unsuspecting villagers along the way. I never got to the bottom of weather that was actually true or not because to be honest I was too busy covering the war. But I was never all that comfortable with the idea of armed humanitarians. “Armed humanitarian” is a stark contradiction in terms.

The pacifist European NGOs were careening around with large decals on the side of their Landcruisers showing Kalashnikovs encircled in red with a line crossing them out while the Americans were landing armed helicopters, disgorging bulky helmeted men in camouflage, guns drawn, in the exact same political space. It all seemed like such a bad juxtaposition.

I photographed what was then a very rare daylight landing of American troops in northern Afghanistan. Until this point, the only visual evidence of American action in Afghanistan were sightings of warplanes like the C-130 aircraft high in the sky unloading 15,000 lb BLU-82 ‘daisy cutter’ fuel bombs near Taliban trenches in Dasht-i-Qala and other assorted aircraft painting their voluminous vapor trails across the clear sky. @2001 Derek Henry Flood

For background on the use and origins of the “daisy cutter’ bomb, see here  and here (brief) and here (extensive).

A B52 Stratofortress strategic bomber makes an early morning run from Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean toward the frontline between Jamiat forces and Taliban trenches. Soaring over the front line town of Dasht-i-Qala on a cloudless November morning, the B52′s contrails acted as ominous skywriting. Having come from a-just-after-9/11 New York, it gave me a weird feeling to hear the deep subsonic roar of these massive, weaponized planes overhead-especially when realizing you are in a place that has no ordinary air traffic after decades of international isolation. They would wake me from my slumber in the basement of a warlord’s guesthouse where I was holed up. ©2001 Derek Henry Flood

For more on the B52 component and other facets of the initial air campaign in Afghanistan, see here and here (brief) and here (extensive).

Enter the armed humanitarians. Andrew Natsios, then chief of USAID, staged a dramatic daylight landing in a duo of Chinook helicopters in Khwaja Bahauddin, Takhar Province, Afghanistan, November 2001. The local villagers and attendant refugees didn’t seem to know what to make of the latest interlopers with an agenda in their country. ©2001 Derek Henry Flood

An American soldier accompanying Natsios into the fray of dust and intensely curious Afghan men and boys looks exhausted and dazed. The American landing party seemed to have coordinated their daylight landing with members of Jamiat-i-Islami who arrived with antiquated rifles to keep the crowd at bay along with a French NGO called ACTED that was active in the area. ©2001 Derek Henry Flood

An American soldier at the edge of the perimeter as Nastios gives an unannounced press conference to the journos who were still in Khawja Bahauddin that day. After word of the fall of Mazar-i-Sharif spread like wildfire, most people had moved further west to cover what would become the battle of Qala-i-Jangi. I think I was nearly as taken aback as the locals. Until this moment, the American ground presence in Afghanistan was strictly clandestine as far as I knew at the time, obscured in the dark of night. ©2001 Derek Henry Flood

As quickly as they came, they left. The USAID chief was spirited away by his solider-guards off into the sunset to what I presumed was back to Uzbekistan. America was playing good cop, bad cop. Dropping bombs on those Afghans it deemed worthy of death and portraying the US government and contractors like Wornick as an aid organization writ large. What were average Afghans to make of all this confused messaging? ©2001 Derek Henry Flood

9/11 Cover to Cover

October 13th, 2012 No comments

New York-Going through a storage locker the other day, I dug up a lot of stuff from my personal archives in the early post-9/11 period. I collected lots of odds and ends back then thinking they’d be of historical import down the road. Here we are a decade on and its interesting (at least to me) to reexamine this stuff. Here are scans I made of magazines I collected in 2001-2002.

I believe it is important to collect and document these artifacts in time where we are inundated with so much media and where attention spans seem to be ever shortening. Each new global crisis feels like it obfuscates the previous one. It is almost as if the Arab Spring replaced the global financial crisis (such an inarticulate term) which replaced the terror wars.

This is a visual record of an indelible post-modern tragedy.

This very dramatic title epitomized the mood at that moment. There developed an extreme dichotomy at the time between what were referred to as “the everything changed-ists” versus the “nothing changed-ists.” But don’t judge a periodical by its cover. The bulk of this issue was in fact not dedicated to 9/11, just the first few front articles mostly. Whereas a New York area periodical would have been entirely dedicated to 9/11, shutting out the rest of the news cycle save for perhaps speculating about Afghanistan.

Paris Match, September 20, 2001, “The War: World Trade Center, Tuesday, 9:03 a.m., New York”

Reading the September 12, 2001 edition of the New York Times in Brooklyn. ©2001 Derek Henry Flood

The September 23, 2001 New York Times magazine titled “The Remains of the Day.” A gorgeous, stark illustration of collective loss.

The October 11, 2011 edition of Paris Match “At the Heart of the War” featuring a Jamiat fighter on the front line at Bagram, Afghanistan. World media attention began to shift away from New York and toward Afghanistan when the bombing there began on October 7 of that year.

The September 2, 2002 edition of Der Spiegel titled “The Day that Changed the World.” I got this issue and the Stern below as I was leaving Hamburg, Germany after investigating the lives of the Hamburg cell led by Mohammed Atta in the Harburg district.

The September 5, 2002 edition of Stern titled “New Photos from 9/11.”

The September 11, 2002 edition of Time Europe. I took this from my flight from Hamburg to New York as I was returning home to document the first 9/11 anniversary.

New York Magazine, September 11, 2011, “One Day, Ten Years.”

Infamy Slept Here

September 21st, 2012 No comments

486 Union Avenue on the ramshackle side of the tracks in Paterson, New Jersey. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Paterson- New York magazine occasionally runs a segment of their real estate section called “Fame Slept Here” about astronomically priced homes for sale on the NYC market that were inhabited by all manner of celebrity past and present. I’ve spent parts of the last decade looking at much less desirable habitations of the men involved in the ‘planes operation’ (9/11) around the world from Kuala Lumpur to San Diego. Blog entries like this one are not meant to be exhaustive chronologies but a portion of my research.

Yesterday I finally made the trek from midtown Manhattan to a northern New Jersey slum called Paterson where up to six of the hijackers stayed during the summer preceding 9/11. I took a Latino shuttle bus from the front door of the New York Times’ ivory tower across from the dreary Port Authority bus terminal. The unassuming coach then pulled away from Arthur Sulzberger Jr’s vertical empire of glass and steel toward the Hudson River, through the Lincoln Tunnel and on to Paterson and neighboring Totowa, New Jersey.

In continuing my (what seems like) never ending journey to document the lead up to 9/11 which has been quite a global endeavour, it had been bothering me that I haven’t done some of the work closest to home.

According to man called Jimi Nouri, Hani Hanjour (believed to have crashed American Airlines 77 into the Pentagon) and Ahmed al-Ghamdi rented the third floor unit in May of 2001. It was in this red brick black where Nawaf al-Hazmi would relocate after leaving San Diego now joined by his brother Salem and Khalid al-Midhar along with Majed Moqed and Abdelaziz al-Omari.

On a side note, al-Omari was mentored by Suliman al-Elwan, a jailed Saudi Salafi theologian profiled by my colleague Murad Batal al-Shishani for the February 2011 edition of Militant Leadership Monitor (which I edited-subscription only).

Infamy slept here, on the third floor in the back. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

The next stop on my trek took me just over two miles directly down the road to the ATS travel agency in the lower middle class town of Totowa. It was here that Hani Hanjour and Majed Moqed bought Hanjour’s ticket on AA 77 for 9/11. (For reference see: FBI Summary  about Alleged Hijacker Hani Hanjour, p.50.) This small converted house on a hill in north Jersey unknowingly facilitated partial destruction of the Pentagon. Undoubtedly all of the people who inhabit or utilize these particular locales today would prefer these highly unpleasant affiliations end up in the dust bin of history but I am trying ensure, sorry to say, that they never be.

In 2010, I revisited the Parkwood Apartments in San Diego’s Clairemont area and noticed the complex had been pleasantly renamed “Blossom Walk” since I first photographed them in 2002 after finding out that Nawaf al-Hazmi, Khalid al-Mihdhar, and allegedly Saudi student/spy Omar al-Bayoumi had resided there.

From the hijackers’ cockroach infested apartment in Paterson to the World Trade Center is a distance of about 23 miles. So this post doesn’t seem entirely an abstraction, I thought I should include an image of 9/11 itself. ©2001 Derek Henry Flood

Advanced Travel Services at 232 Union Boulevard in Totowa, New Jersey. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

The Passaic River that divides Paterson between the rather well-kept Middle Eastern small business community where the hijackers ran errands from the run down black and Latino neighborhood where they holed up six men in a one bedroom apartment until days before the attacks. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

My third and final stop on the Jersey terror tour brought me to the tidy Arab and Turkish enclave of south Paterson below the Passaic River. I’d first gotten off the shuttle bus here far too early at the beginning of the day when I was trying to get my bearings and so I came full circle back to Main Street. Bathed in a splendid late afternoon sun after a very light rain shower was Apollo Travel on Main Street.

It was here that in early July 2001 Mohammed Atta bought his ticket from Miami to Madrid via Zurich in order to rendezvous with Ramzi bin al-Shibh (though they ended up meeting in coastal Catalunya when bin al-Shibh could only get a ticket from Hamburg to Reus Airport) in what was believed to have been a final planning meeting for the planes operation in the EU. As a Yemeni, bin al-Shibh was unable to secure an American visa to join the men in Paterson or south Florida. He now resides at the detention facility at Guanánamo Bay.

For more on this, see my post from August 2011: Retracing Mohammed Atta’s Footsteps in Catalunya

Apollo Travel at 1009 Main Street in Paterson, New Jersey. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Exhausted I flagged down a shuttle bus trundling down Main Street bound for Manhattan. Listening to Bloc Party’s Four on my iPod I look through the windshield as the bus crests over a slight hill on the highway to see the new World Trade Center in the distance towering over the New Jersey foliage. I realize the AQ operatives would have inevitably seen this view while they were driving around this area doing their mundane errands with the Twin Towers–their intended target–rising above the hot Atlantic landscape 11 summers ago.

I thought about how many people in this country and around the world, especially those that never had to live through 9/11, still cling to wildly unfounded conspiracy theories rather than confront and cope with history and reality. To see these ordinary facets of the 9/11 plot, the air ticket offices, halal meat markets, run down apartments, an ATM here, a big box store there, is to visit a painful period of recent American history that lacks any of the glamour of the elaborate plots dreamed up by the ‘inside job’ crowd where suited Bilderbergers in Langley or Tel Aviv or god knows where planned to hoodwink the entire world on live television.

What’s partly fascinating in all the exploration I’ve done from San Diego to Hamburg to Scottsdale to Kuala Lumpur to Los Angeles to Bangkok and now New Jersey is the sheer banality of it all. There is no imagined evil lair from an Cold War Ian Fleming novel. These are living, breathing locales. I bought a Vitamin Water in the utterly non-descript mini-market below the hijackers old apartment. All of it still exists for those that bother to look.

My day ends where it began as the shuttle bus drops me off at the base of the New York Times corporate headquarters on 8th Avenue and West 40th Street in Manhattan. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Categories: 9/11, New York Tags: ,

An Historical Tour of Jihadi New York

September 12th, 2012 No comments

The Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower anchors the southeastern end of what is left of Brooklyn’s historic Atlantic Avenue Arab strip. Rapid gentrification of the neighborhood in the last decade has transformed the area from a lively ethnic enclave into bland real estate developments. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

New York- Yesterday for the 11th anniversary of 9/11 I decided to do something a bit off the beaten path. Though New York City was the site of the attacks, no other part of the ‘planes operation’ timeline is known (to my knowledge) to have occurred in the city’s five boroughs. The closest thing would be when several of the hijackers led by Hani Hanjour moved into an apartment in Paterson and rented mailboxes at Mail Boxes Etc. in Fort Lee and Wayne, New Jersey nearby.

A Chinese man peers warily at my camera from the third floor office which once served as the Afghan Taliban’s makeshift UN mission. Before 9/11 I drove out to this place to try and get an Afghan tourist visa in person but the guys were never there. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

There are however a few tangential, yet important locales that fit into the larger picture. One quietly resides in a nondescript brown brick medical office complex at 55-16 Main Street in Flushing, Queens. This had been the site of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’s ‘Mission’ to the UN (not a terribly convenient location for access to Turtle Bay?). I visited this dull building a couple of times in August of 2001 while trying to acquire a visa for Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. The State Department ordered the two rather sullen ‘diplomats’ to close the office on February 13, 2001. But when I knocked on their door that summer there was still a sign on the front of the office door in English, Pashto, and Dari that listed it as their mission. And the phone still worked as either Abdul Hakeem Mujahid or Noorullah Zadran (most likely Zadran) would occasionally and very skeptically listen to my queries. I thought about titling this post a Salafi-jihadi tour of New York but of course the Taliban were hardcore Deobandis influenced more by radical Islam in British India than modern Saudi Arabia.

The door of the former Taliban UN mission office in Flushing, Queens. ©2002 Derek Henry Flood

From Flushing I made the long subway trek to downtown Brooklyn in the footsteps of the now long dead Sheikh Abdullah Yusuf Azzam. Azzam was bin Laden before bin Laden was. The original transnational jihadi ideologue, Azzam was born near Jenin, British Mandate Palestine in 1941. He fled to Jordan after the 1967 war when the Israelis began to militarily occupy his homeland. During his radicalization, Azzam was an early adapter to the Salafi interpretation of Islam and preached accordingly. According to New Yorker writer George Packer, the building pictured below was the location of Azzam’s Afghan Services Bureau which was used to recruit volunteers to fight in Afghanistan during the anti-Soviet jihad as well as funnel funds there.

The former site of 1980′s era Brooklyn mujahideen front Maktab al-Khidamat (Afghan Services Bureau) at 566 Atlantic Avenue. The front door was plastered with building and construction code violations from the City of New York and nothing appeared to be doing there. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Next door to the perfume factory is the infamous al-Farooq mosque  (and former al-Kifah Refugee Center) at 552 Atlantic Avenue. It was here that, according to French scholar Giles Kepel, Azzam had kindly requested sympathizers to the jihad to send their donation checks made out simply to “Service Bureau.” Azzam had opened a checking account several blocks northwest of the office and mosque complex at the Independence Savings Bank on the corner of Court Street and Atlantic Avenue (which is now a Trader Joes supermarketin line with the area’s intense gentrification).

Site of the former Independence Savings Bank in Brooklyn (currently a Trader Joes supermarket) where Palestinian Salafi theologian Abdullah Azzam maintained a checking account to channel donations toward ‘Afghan-Arab’ groups fighting the Red Army and PDPA Afghan government forces in the 1980s. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

A 1995 New Yorker article describes how the CIA-linked Azzam as well as the currently imprisoned Omar Abdel Rahman preached at al-Farooq and a rustic masjid in Jersey City called al-Salam. Azzam is most often referenced as Osama bin Laden’s ‘mentor.’ After the conclusion of the Afghan jihad, Azzam and his sons were killed in a bombing in November 1989 while en route to salat al-juma (Friday prayers) at the “Mosque of the Martyrs” in Peshawar’s University Town district. The reasons for Azzam’s killing have never quite revealed themselves. Some believe it was factional infighting amongst the Arab jihadis in Peshawar who were adrift after the Red Army had withdrawn from Afghanistan earlier that year. It has even been speculated that bin Laden himself ordered his henchmen to carry out the bombing.

Whether Azzam is as relevant today to those in the sway of Salafi rhetoric I can’t be sure but it is very likely that Mohammed Atta and other old school AQ core operatives were very much influenced by the writings and speeches of a man with cause who once dined in Brooklyn’s halal eateries and opened a checking account with great ease in an open society.

On a side note, it was on this street that in the fall of 2000 I purchased a shalwar kammez–Pakistan’s national dress–at an Arab store (ie not a Pakistani one) to work on my senior thesis in…Peshawar.

The entrance to the al-Farooq mosque in Brooklyn’s Boerum Hill neighborhood just after dusk. A muezzin made the azan (call) for salat al-maghrib (evening prayers) on loud speakers that echoed over the cacophonous traffic. I’d never heard the azan in the United States before. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

The new WTC tower, known as One World Trade Center, rises from ground zero eleven years after the original Twin Towers’ demolition by Mohammed Atta and Marwan al-Shehi. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

 

A Decade of War and Peace

August 20th, 2012 No comments


Barcelona- Partly out of boredom and partly out of the itch to simply create something new out of old, I threw together this photo montage over the weekend. In this era of digital photography where one shoots thousands of frames rather than analog hundreds, I was reflecting on how almost all of the images I make will never see the light of day in this regard. I put this video together in a largely random fashion with images that have been just sitting in my laptop for years. I put the photos in the order they came to me as I grabbed them one by one from various folders containing my view of many of the biggest news events of the last 10 years.

Interspersed with them are much more sublime moments of everyday life around the world. An elephant in Thailand, an aged priest in Ethiopia, a glitzy office tower in Manhattan. This has been my reality and is our collective reality. Globalization and social networking simultaneously accelerate worldwide travel and technological integration while hyper compartmentalizing our lives. We speak more so to only those who we want to and listen to those with whom we already agree.

Dr. Abdullah Abdullah preparing to depart for Ghazni province with the Afghan airforce to campaign in remote ethnic Hazara villages. Abdullah was the leading opposition candidate challenging President Hamid Karzai in the August 2009 elections. On the right stands a Shi’ite Seyyid accompanying him to Shia population centers for campaign credibility. ©2009 Derek Henry Flood

No one knows just where any of this is going. Billionaire fraudsters suddenly imprisoned, social revolutions springing up from seemingly nowhere (though not quite), calcified dictatorships counted on for decades in the interests of “stability” suddenly crumbling to pieces, it seems as if the entire world order is in question.

No grand conspiracy here, just plain, old awful war. On August 15, 2006, a Lebanese ambulance lay destroyed by what appeared to be an Israeli missile strike (quite possibly a drone strike or SPIKE anti-tank missile) outside of Sidon in southern Lebanon, an irrefutable violation of the Geneva Conventions on war crimes. Pro-Likud right-wing bloggers would dare say scenes like these were part of elaborate false flag operations by Hezbollah or photoshop masterpieces by left-wing or pro-Hezbollah journalists meant to demonize the Israel Defense Forces. This ambulance was not part of the so-called “ambulance controversy” nor am I aware that this particular wreckage appeared anywhere in the international media at the time.  ©2006 Derek Henry Flood

The Fabled City

On 11 August, 1999, I photographed a total solar eclipse from the Arg-e-Bam (Citiadel of Bam) in southeastern Iran's Kerman Province. On 26 December, 2003 the citadel was largely destroyed in a calamitous earthquake which killed almost 27,000 people, nearly a third of the city's inhabitants. ©1999 Derek Henry Flood

New York- In sorting through some old belongings today I found a couple of now ancient-seeming portfolios which I went to a lot of trouble to make at the tail end of the portfolio era. In what turned out to be fruitless, expensive exercises in futility I spent countless hours (not to mention loads of money on ink and specialty papers) printing attempts at gorgeous images. I scanned some of the images and decided to show them here on this blog. Though these images may appear, and perhaps are, somewhat random, they were part of my earliest project concept which I titled “The Fabled City.” I envisioned it as grassroots, multimedia education project to enlighten denizens of American cities about the complex civilizational crossroads where South Asia, Central Asia, and the Iranian Plateau intersect.

The ultimate goal of the project was to then inform the public about the people and socio-cultural history of Afghanistan working past the entrenched framework of Afghanistan clichés as a “buffer state,” “failed state,” or worst of all, “the graveyard of empires.” Could you imagine if a coterie of overeducated policy wonks and far removed armchair historians constantly referred to the country you call home as some sort of “graveyard?” Or in the case of Pakistan, “the world’s most dangerous place?” Or Iran being “evil” in some way?  Though all of these terms are or were meant to have a purely geopolitical resonance (in theory), it is a short jump to the demonization of a culture particularly when punditry is then mixed with geographic distance.

Following the solar eclipse pictured above, a group of Afghan men depart the adobe Bam complex, the world's largest mud brick structure. Today this spectacular site lay in ruins. ©1999 Derek Henry Flood

I had an idea-somewhat indicative of the era-to do a guerrilla-style wheatpaste poster campaign in the manner of a 1990s New York City street artists like Cost and Revs (who have long since faded into relative obscurity). I thought I could bring awareness to this region-much of which had been cutoff the the outside world since 1979-by starting a one man grassroots poster campaign. I was gearing up to embark upon this idea just as 9/11 shook this city. My plan to photograph Taliban-ruled Afghanistan (ie the Islamic Emirate) after the winter snows thawed in the spring of 2002 morphed into doing war photography in the Islamic State of Afghanistan among the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan (ie the Northern Alliance) some six-months ahead of schedule. I still clung to this idea well into the 9/11 wars.

At the height of the war in Takhar Province in early November 2001 I managed to visit the broken columns of the heavily looted Graeco-Bactrian city of Ai Khanoum overlooking the Panj River dividing Afghanistan and Tajikistan. In Iraq in May 2003 I climbed the humongous, spiraled minaret of Malwiya in Samarra before things turned ugly in that country’s nihilistic fitna and anti-occupation war. The minaret was later attacked by insurgents in 2005 after American soldiers carelessly used the ancient monument as a lookout post. From the top of the Abbasid calpihate-era Malwiya, I gazed at the magnificent al-Askari shrine housing the bodies of the 10th and 11th Twelver Shi’ite imams, its gilded cupola shining brilliantly under the Iraqi sun. The sacred al-Askari dome was later demolished by Sunni sectarian fighters in February 2006 and its minarets were destroyed by them in June 2007.

I was digging around in a musty closet and unearthed these decade-old prints which I then hastily scanned in a consumer Epson flatbed scanner. I don’t have much use for these rather benign, old prints now. Maybe I will finally paste them up around the Brooklyn or Queens waterfront as I intended to do exactly a decade ago. The Fabled City was crushed in the collapse of the Twin Towers. Unending war and terror would come to rule the day rather than the elements of architectural elegance and sophisticated history I had hoped to use as tools to foment a better day.

The Arg-e-Karim Khan at night in Shiraz, Iran. Note the incredible tile work on the tower. ©1999 Derek Henry Flood

The Abassi mosque complex in southern Punjab Province's Cholistan Desert outside Bahalwalpur, Pakistan. Under the blistering desert sun, the local men had me stand on a marble slab in the geometric center of this courtyard that was inexplicably cool even at high noon. ©2000 Derek Henry Flood

The reflecting pool in front of the tomb of Jalaluddin Surkh-Posh Bukhari at the Uch Sharif complex outside Bahalwalpur, Pakistan. Bukhari was a prominent Sufi evangelist and is revered as a saint by regional practitioners today. As his name denotes, he originated from Bukhara in what is now present day Uzbekistan. This place to me represented the idea of Central Asia and South Asia being part of one cultural and religious continuum. Here the facade of the Fabled City rises into the sky. ©2000 Derek Henry Flood

Such Great Heights

March 28th, 2012 No comments

1 World Trade Center begins to enter the final stages of its façade construction more than a decade after the destruction of its predecessors. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

New York- I was doing some writing yesterday about my experiences in Afghanistan and Central Asia in the months after 9/11. Delving into the assassination of Massoud, the death of an Italian colleague, meeting the Taliban, and all of the other random seeming things that led me to be in New York on 9/11 and in Afghanistan shortly thereafter gave me pause to reflect on the constant of time, the merits of what we call progress. In the near future the new WTC will be completed with tourists, wallets bulging with euros (if the euro survives), pounds, yen and yuan, trampling grounds that to me look more reminiscent of Abu Dhabi’s corniche than the considerably less imaginative original twin towers architected by Minoru Yamasaki in 1965.

4 World Trade Center makes its hulking ascent over lower Manhattan. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood