Magazine article New Internationalist

The Altered Landscape

Magazine article New Internationalist

The Altered Landscape

Article excerpt

The crisis that enveloped the world in the wake of 11 September 2001 seemed to blast away dreams of a better, saner world. But as Jordi Pigem explains, the altered landscape after the fall of the Twin Towers is symbolic of the end of an era. Closing the door on an unsustainable paradigm, we begin to walk forwards, and in walking, create new pathways into another possible world.

The end of an era

1973 It's the year when Picasso and Neruda pass away. The year when the last US combat troops leave Vietnam and Watergate begins to engulf Nixon. The year of the oil crisis: the exporting countries turn the tap off - in protest at the First World's backing of Israel's expansionism - and the breathless modern economy, so reliant on oil, starts to gasp. It's the year of the Wounded Knee uprising: at the site of a callous massacre of their ancestors, a group of Native Americans resist US forces for 10 weeks. It's the year when, precisely on 11 September, night falls over Chile, the heartless night of the coup orchestrated by Kissinger and the CIA. In that same year, the jury of an upside-down world condemns Kissinger to the Nobel Peace Prize.

In 1973 EF Schumacher publishes Small is Beautiful, the first great manifesto for ecological economics, `economics as if people mattered'. The architect Minoru Yamasaki proclaims the opposite. He is the father of the Twin Towers, which were baptized on 4 April that same year. Supported by 192,000 tonnes of steel, they were born to be the sturdiest and most impressive buildings in the world. From their sky-high windows, `people looked very small'. That is: they did not matter. Those Towers (not the victims who perished with them) symbolized our contemporary economy: awesome concentration of power, striking efficacy, global reach - and, as a corollary of that, lofty indifference, the cherished illusion of being above the land and the breathing beings that walk upon it.

Some of his colleagues called Yamasaki `the architect of terror', given his taste for bewildering structures that defied common sense. In the 1950s he designed in St Louis the Pruitt-Igoe housing development, which also resembled the contemporary economy: so rational, homogeneous and decontextualized that it fostered anomie and crime, to the point that it was dynamited as uninhabitable. The moment of its demolition, 3.32pm, 15 July 1972, is referred to as the birth of postmodernity.

Almost three decades later, Saturn returns to the celestial point it occupied as the Towers were baptized, and now it is exactly opposed by Pluto (symbol of the underworld, of primordial destruction and regeneration). It is 2001, the year of the Human Genome Project, of the Zapatista march to Mexico City, of the brutal repression in Genoa. In September, in Manhattan, the streets of finance and glamour get covered with the ashes of the innocent.

Rediscovering `America'

As far as one can tell, no Muslim has any problem with America. Or does America mean the US? America stretches from Ellesmere Island to Tierra del Fuego. Brazilians, Patagonians and Canadians are as American as any Californian. Its pretension to monopolize the word `America' was the momentous first colonial act of the nascent United States: you start by colonizing a word and you end up trying to control earth and heavens (Star Wars) and even life's fertility (Monsanto).

The bishop of San Cristobal de las Casas - a North American tropical city in the Zapatista heartland - condemns the ghastly deaths in the Towers but acknowledges that the policies of the neighbouring country `reap what they had sown'. Many voices, mostly quietly, say the same in the US: `Does anybody think that we can send the USS New Jersey to lob Volkswagen-sized shells into Lebanese villages - Reagan, 1983 - or set loose "smart bombs" on civilians seeking shelter in a Baghdad bunker - Bush, 1991 - or fire cruise missiles on a Sudanese pharmaceutical factory - Clinton, 1998 - and not receive, some day, our share in kind? …

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