New York- The new tower in what was referred to as “the pit” for so many years in lower Manhattan is steadily rising above the construction fence that surrounds it. I’m still standing by my assessment that the entire complex will not be completed by the close of what what will be mega multi billionaire businessman cum politico Michael Rubens Bloomberg’s twelve years of rule over the city. While the city sleeps (or at least the financial district’s portion of it), One World Trade Center ascends toward the infinite or at least taller than Chicago’s Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) which surpassed the original twin towers as the world’s tallest building in 1974 after their very brief reign as the world’s tallest in 1972-1973.
New York- I finally found Marsho (“Freedom” in Chechen) by director Murad Mazaev in its entirety online. Marsho is Chechnya’s first film shot on location in Georgia’s Pankisi valley in 2002. The film is notable in that it was shot with the permission and acquiescence the late warlord Ruslan Gelayev. Gelayev essentially ran the area at the time and anything that took place there required his ok. The other person helping the production along from afar was British stage and screen legend Vanessa Redgrave. Redgrave later helped Murad take the film to festivals in Europe to showcase his work, an impassioned critique of the (still) ongoing Chechen wars. Murad made the film with Surkho Idiev who is shown playing the piano in the first scene. Murad’s costar is a half-Georgian, half-Kist actress named Mariam Kublashvili from Akhmeta. I joined Murad into this murky world in 2002. We almost got shot making a run out of the place ducking in the back of an old white Lada barreling through a Georgian checkpoint on the way out and then I was later grabbed off of a marshrutka (minibus) by the Georgian successor to the KGB. Sure, there’s lots more to tell in this story but that’ll be in the book.
For more, see Murad’s website: http://chechenfilms.org/ (in Cyrillic)
New York- After flying over 24 hours (including a brief layover in Kuwait) from Kuala Lumpur to Queens on September 10th, I wound up at Ground Zero in lower Manhattan for yet another 9/11 anniversary. As someone who documented the first anniversary of 9/11 in 2002, after investigating the lives of the Hamburg cell along the Elbe River days before, I never thought that eight years on I would be in Malaysia still investigating 9/11 days before another anniversary of a seemingly unending (yet noticeably dwindling in yearly attendance) mourning centered on the site where architect Minoru Yamasaki’s twin towers, completed in 1971 and 1972, once stood. Whereas the 9/11 memorial service in the first few years was mostly a solemn occasion, now that much of the city has moved on on with itself on a day to day basis, yesterday’s events took on more of a circus atmosphere as masses of mourners have given way to kook conspiracy theorists ranting about this or that and opportunistic operators like Geert Wilders over the Netherlands’ Partij voor de Vrijheid, to make their oft obnoxious voices heard and thugs calling themselves the “English Defence League” who looked like hooligans directing their latent rage at a religious grouping as if it were an opposing football club. Ground Zero has become a magnet for unwelcome guests to spout unlearned nonsense and well-to-do tourists in over-sized sunglasses gawking at the site as if it were a new Apple store, stomping around the city on their strong currencies on guilt-free trans-Atlantic (and now trans-Pacific) shopping sprees, the WTC just one more “must see” on a itinerary outlined in a Guide de Routard. Many of the roots of 9/11 remain shrouded in mystery and what many around the world have failed to accept is that they will remain in obscurity for perhaps the rest of our collective lifetimes. Many of those involved in the planning of 9/11 are kept out of reach by our own (the American) government or continue to successfully hide amongst tribes in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The answers are out there, but we cannot get to them. Frustrating I know, but no a reason to keep perpetuating untruths and youtube diatribes.
Singapore- After finally moving on from KL, I’m passing though Singapore’s Little India for a night en route to Bali. Little India (Little Tamil Nadu) is probably the most sanitized Indian neighborhood on the globe and not bad for it. Tamil is one of Singapore’s four official languages along with Malay (also the national language), Mandarin, and English, sometimes referred to as Singlish in local jargon. I’d read in the Wikitravel entry on the city state that Malaysian newspapers are banned here and purposefully grabbed one in KL the bring through customs hoping to stir something up but it was allowed in or not noticed, a bit of a disappointment. I ditched my gum in KL but more because it was old than trying to start something here. As I don’t have much going on at the moment, I’m going to plug a really great article trilogy by Brasilero wildman Pepe Escobar on Asia Times about a time that I fondly recall with photos by Jason Florio of pre-9/11 Afghanistan.
Kuala Lumpur- I’m finally done after two weeks here in KL, much more time than I intended on spending and well worth it. I’ve been researching about the January 2000 AQ summit in the suburbs and a few other things I’ve been snooping around about. I spent the last two days at the towers, which are called KLCC (Kuala Lumpur City Centre) in local parlance contemplating, or imagining, what 9/11 hijackers Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi might have thought of them when they arrived here to plan 9/11. I’m working on a story about it but it’s a bit on the abstract side. Hopefully it will work. Malaysia has its twin towers where office workers relax on their lunch breaks, children play, and tourists from all over the globe take happy photos for their facebook accounts. There was once a place in New York where all of those things used occur. New York however, does not have its. Only ghosts and unanswered questions loom over Manhattan. Malaysia was a critical logistical hub for al-Qaeda on Lawrence Wright’s road to 9/11. Ten years ago, in the shadow of one set of twin towers, a plan was forged to destroy another 12 time zones away.