Remembering September 11

Seven years have flown by. It only seems like last week. For some reason this photo has been one of the most provocative of that day for me. I guess it brings the scale of the day down to a micro level.

The entire Flickr set from Hiroshima is here. What is interesting now too is how that Flickr set was from a guy who had his camera and went taking photos that day. Seven years ago there were few ways of sharing that information, seven years on, and the entire media industry and indeed the internet and how we use it, have shifted.

Another photo should be viewed with caution. You may find it upsetting. I find it reassuring about the nature of humanity.

Here are some of the photos I took around the 4th anniversary:

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Fitna the Movie: Geert Wilders' film about the Quran

Explicit warning:

This video contains some VERY graphic images and audio, please do not watch it unless you are prepared to see and hear them.

BBC news story here.

Personally, I found the film extremely upsetting. If you would rather not experience that upset, do not watch it.

I do see merit in the argument that the film incorrectly equates all of Islam with violence. In many ways it has the propaganda elements and tone of the same Islamic videos it criticises. Western classical music is used as background, instead of arabic chanting. The most extreme Islamists are used to portray Islam as evil, in the same way Islamic videos portray the West as evil.

One could hold up an extreme version of anything and hold it up as representative, but it is not.

All this video does is encourage the polarisation of views, instead of the compromising of views.

Religion is a curious thing.

On the falling man

Markham and Richard are disagreeing about the famous WTC jumper photo. Markham notes:

The Falling Man is the perfect news photo. It’s clean and symmetrical; it has incredible impact on the reader; it portrays the horror of an event, a warzone disaster situation, without being sullied by debris, smoke, or facial expressions. We don’t need to see what he’s ecaping or what awaits him, it’s understood. That you can’t see the man’s face, or indeed pick out any features at all, draws you into speculation, and all of a sudden you’re thinking deeply about the photo; about the subject’s motivations; about the last minutes before he stepped out of the window frame into a freefall over New York.

Richard responds:

The image isn’t beautiful, it’s unbearable. Its clinical starkness, denuded of its explanation in its austerity, seems to lie. I agree with Markham that the image serves as an invitation, but precisely because it is so inadequate and so sickening. The untruth of the image is its false serentity and its artificial singularity. The gut reaction says – ‘no, it wasn’t clean, it wasn’t ethereal, it was sordid, fleshy, evil, and real’. It’s not art, it’s not beautiful, it was murder like never seen before.

I watched the documentary that Markham refers to in his post, a fascinating documentary it was. What I got most from it was that the writer of the original piece didn’t do his job. He went to a family and essentially told them it was their father, before he had looked at other photos that Richard Drew took of the same man. It strikes me that he should have done some proper research before even hinting to a family that the photo might represent their loved one.

That aside is the issue of printing the photo in the first place, which a paper in Pennsylvania did in fullness on September 12th 2001, much to the chagrin of many of their readers. What strikes me is that the photo is, as Markham describes, almost serene in its composure. Having seen the other photos taken seconds before, and seconds after, it was the most serene of photos that depict the man in various stages of falling. This points to the selection of the photographer rather than the serenity, or not, of the photographs.

This issue was raised in the past. Glenn Reynolds posted a photo and later removed it. I posted about Glenn’s posting back in 2003, where I linked to a different photograph of a jumper, perhaps less ‘artistic’ in nature.

I tend to agree with Markham on this one. Perhaps ‘beautiful’ is too strong a word, more like thought-provoking, provocative, even insightful. Richard though takes a different line, instead arguing that the image was cropped (it wasn’t), or that it doesn’t take in the surrounding events, that it is a picture in isolation. I don’t agree fully. We know the surrounding events. However by their nature photographs take things in apparent isolation, so I think readers are intelligent enough to take this on board.

The picture is exactly what it shows, the last moments of someone’s life. Because it happens in the modern context maybe we are more shocked by it, because we remember that day maybe we are more inclined to react emotionally. I often watch documentaries, and what strikes me is the uncontroversial nature of depicting the shooting dead of civilians – maybe if it’s more removed from the observer, and happened before the life time of the individual it makes the images more acceptable. I can’t count how many times I have watched real footage of people being killed by firing squad in Second World War documentaries. But have I been conditioned to think less of it because the footage is old, lacking colour and is a little jumpy?

Is the person about to be shot by Nazi soldiers any less gruesome than a person jumping from the World Trade Center? You are watching the last moments of someone’s life in both instances. And, as far as I’m concerned, both are compelling precisely because it is the last moments of someone’s life. And that’s the key word, artistic understandings aside, the photo is compelling.

Finally Richard’s assertion that it was ‘murder like never seen before’, while technically true, strikes me as somewhat misleading. Yes September 11th was a unique event, but then all events are unique. Murders happen all the time, wholescale murder has happened all too regularly in the history of humanity. As Westerners perhaps September 11th strikes home in a way no other murder has struck us – that it was people like us. Unfortunately murder just like this has happened countless times, not just in modern history – that it happened in our time, live on television, perhaps makes it more poignant and emotive.

If we were to take a recent example, Eddie Adams’ Pulitzer-prize winning photo from 1968, depicted the moment before the execution of a Viet Cong soldier Nguyen Van Lem, created equal controversy when it was published. It too depicts the last moments of a man’s life, but I ask myself, do I react the same to that photo as I do the jumper photo? The answer for me at least is no. It might have something to do with being unable to relate properly to the VC figure, or to the circumstances surrounding his death. But it remains that I feel more emotionally attached to photos relating to September 11 than to photos of Vietnam or World War Two.

In the end, it is an entirely subjective analysis as to what you find beautiful or not. I don’t find this particular jumper photo sickening as Richard does, to me it depicts a person who, facing the choice of death by inferno or being crushed by a building collapse, chose to end their life by jumping. It was essentially the only thing left for them to choose. So yes the photo does take some sense of isolation from events, as a result I would argue it be published without fear, but perhaps could be moderated by appearing with other photos from the same sequence – giving a better indication of the nature of the fall – a dreadful 10 seconds long.

New York releases 9/11 documents

New York has finally released the documents sought by the New York Times:

The documents released on Friday include about 15 hours of radio communications between dispatchers and firefighters at the World Trade Center.

They also include more than 12,000 pages of individual oral histories compiled by the department in October 2001.

The New York Times sought the records in 2002 under the Freedom of Information Act, and later sued the city when it refused to release them.

Earlier this year New York’s highest court ordered that most – but not all – the documents should be made public.

The city has given several reasons for resisting the move – including concerns over interfering with the prosecution of 9/11 suspect Zacarias Moussaoui, and a confidentiality agreement with firefighters.

9/11 babies inherit stress from mothers

It seems that the trauma of September 11 lives on:

A study of 38 women who witnessed the World Trade Center attacks was carried out by researchers from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, UK, and the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, US, one year after the events. Cortisol levels were lower than expected in those women who experienced PTSD in response the attacks – and also in their children.

“Because the babies were about a year old at the time of testing, this suggests the trauma effect transfer may have to do with very early parent-child attachments, cortisol ‘programming’ in the womb, or shared genetic susceptibility,” says Jonathan Seckl, of the University of Edinburgh.

Lone Gunmen and 9/11

I just came across this interesting story. I do remember that as X-Files was winding up, a spin off series, the Lone Gunmen, was piloted. I think it was shown over here on Sky One, but I never got to see it. It was based on the three geek-types fron the X-Files.

Curiously the pilot episode was a little predictive – in the pilot episode a plane is hijacked by remote control and flown towards…you guessed it, the World Trade Center. Not only that, but according to the plot, shady figures in the US government organised and directed the attack, and after blaming it on terrorists, would hope to get a larger military budget, and perhaps fulfill some foreign policy ambitions.

Chilling indeed.

Pentagon: Rumsfeld misspoke on Flight 93 crash

One for my September 11 conspiracy theory category:

In the speech, Rumsfeld made a passing reference to United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania after passengers attempted to stop al Qaeda hijackers.

But in his remarks, Rumsfeld referred to the “the people who attacked the United States in New York, shot down the plane over Pennsylvania.”

A Pentagon spokesman insisted that Rumsfeld simply misspoke, but Internet conspiracy theorists seized on the reference to the plane having been shot down.

And if it was shot down to save more potential casualties on the ground, then it was the right thing to do.

Arrived in Dubai

Well I made it to Dubai last night, here is a rather bad night picture of Sheikh Zayed Road. Yes I did have a few pints on me at the time. And bleedin hell its hot. I got a taxi last night with some Syrian guy, we drove past the American Hospital, and I half jokingly said that Osama Bin Laden had stayed there at some point before September 11. (Conspiracy theory alert). The friendly Syrian taxi driver was not sure whether to believe me, but then I said he had definately stayed there. And the Syrians reply? ”Allah akhbar, allah akhbar Osama bin Laden good man.”

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Danny Lewin

Another curious Sep 11 story, I do not either fully believe or fully disbelieve these stories, but I find them interesting nonetheless.

An FAA memo written on the evening of 9/11 suggests a man on Flight 11 was shot and killed by a gun before the plane crashed into the WTC. [See the leaked FAA memo]

The “Executive Summary,â€? based on information relayed by a flight attendant to the American Airlines Operation Center, stated “that a passenger located in seat 10B shot and killed a passenger in seat 9B at 9:20 A.Mâ€?[since Flight 11 crashed at 8:46, the time must be a typo, probably meaning 8:20].

The passenger killed was Daniel Lewin, shot by passenger Satam Al Suqami. The FAA claims that the document is a “first draftâ€? and declines to release the final draft, calling it “protected information.â€? A report in Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz on September 17 identifies Lewin as a former member of the Israel Defense Force Sayeret Matkal, Israel’s most successful special-operations unit [UPI, 3/6/02].

Sayeret Matkal is a deep-penetration unit that has been involved in assassinations, the theft of foreign signals-intelligence materials, and the theft and destruction of foreign nuclear weaponry. Sayeret Matkal is best known for the 1976 rescue of 106 passengers at Entebbe Airport in Uganda. [New Yorker 10/29/01] Officials later deny the gun story and suggest that Lewin was probably stabbed to death instead (which would still be very interesting). [UPI, 3/6/02, Washington Post, 3/2/02 (B)]

Lewin co-founded Akamai, a successful computer company, and his connections to Sayeret Mat’kal remained hidden until the gun story came to light. [Guardian, 9/15/01]