Hot on the heels of last month’s announcement of Tehran’s Honart Museum of international contemporary art (see previews), and the success of the 9th Istanbul Biennial, comes Turkey’s vast new art center, Santral Istanbul. Working at breakneck speed, a team of asbestos cleaners and heavy duty builders are currently turning the 120,000 square meter site of a disused and dilapidated power station on the Bosphorus into three museums, two libraries, and a new contemporary art museum. While the former will occupy the spruced-up industrial buildings, the gallery —Istanbul’s equivalent of the UK’s Baltic or New York’s PS1 — will be purpose-built. The four-floor, 7,500 square meter building, a collaboration between three Istanbul-based architects, is set to open in autumn 2006. Director Emre Baykal modestly describes the project as something of a challenge, but acknowledges its importance in a region beset by a dearth of large-scale public galleries. Besides an active exhibition schedule, the Santral will feature a multi-disciplinary residency program, featuring international visual artists, musicians, scientists, writers and so on, organised in assocation with Istanbul Bilgi University.
Since three of the four July 7 London bombers recently spent time in Pakistani madrasas, Donald Rumsfeld, and anyone else who has long seen Qur'anic schools as indoctrination centers for jihadis, is furiously pointing fingers, particularly at Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf — who obligingly banished 1400 madrasa students from the country. One must truly wonder at the notion that village shacks filled with fuddyduddies dissecting seventh century scripture are where one learns the technical and logistical dexterity to pull off a major bomb attack on the UK. Given these astounding, collectivist extrapolations of cause and effect, one wonders if statistics are available on whether the bombers ever watched Inspector Gadget, or wore hooded, navy blue Reebok sweaters to school. Incidentally, as the long tradition of international paramilitary violence — leftist, anarchist, fascist, or religious — has proven, terrorism can rarely be explained in terms of schoolroom indoctrination, spiritual overexcitement or material poverty alone. Terrorists usually pursue agendas typical of the privileged and overeducated: self-aggrandizing, vanguardist, operatic and doctrinaire. In a June 15, 2005 article in the Herald Tribune, Peter Bergen and Swati Pandey assert that, having studied the backgrounds of seventy-five men behind the iconic recent attacks, they found a majority to be university educated — at a higher rate than the US population (all twelve conspirators of the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center had a college education, and two-thirds of the 9/11 hijackers had attended university). The millions of dollars invested in schooling aid in the Middle East every year, the authors write, should be “applauded as the development aid it is and not as the counterterrorism effort it cannot be.”
HOLLYWOOD IN IRAQ
In Hollywood’s fastest and most prolific response to a conflict since World War II, this winter marks the release of a spate of films inspired by the war in Iraq — or rather, the experience of US troops “over there.” Most promise to follow the action hero format beloved by teenage video game addicts, Hollywood’s main focus group. Making the most noise is the adaptation of Bing West’s book No True Glory: Fallujah and the Struggle in Iraq. Harrison Ford has signed on to portray Jim Mattis, the general who took troops into the beleaguered city. The film “will focus on the bravery of our soldiers and point out why our military can be relied upon to do the right thing,” notes Bing. Meanwhile, Kirsten Dunst has signed on to play activist Marla Ruzicka in a drama about the 28-year-old American who was killed in Iraq by a suicide bomber, and rumors are circulating about another Paramount project concerning an Al Qaeda cell. A host of other scripts involving vague “terror” plots, oil profiteering, and suicide bombers will have actors of Middle Eastern appearance practicing their menacing Oriental snarls. And, says USA Today, the run of big-budget films is nothing compared to the stock of soap storylines concerning the Iraq war and even dedicated military satellite channels available in the US. Steven Bochco, producer of the FX channel’s Over There, a drama series about an army unit serving in Iraq, describes the war as “such a grand natural human drama.” The “pro-soldier” stance of the majority of films and TV dramas has apparently had a salute of approval from the Pentagon’s film liaison office. Even with most movies still at script stage or in production, the new films tend towards either Bush propaganda or pro-insurgency cant. Few projects involve Arab actors or aim to present Iraqi points of view, but some at least attempt (Hollywood- style) ambivalence—albeit regarding more distant conflicts. Sam Mendes’s Oscar-tipped Jarhead, for example, released last month in the US, looks back to the Gulf in 1991. According to the film’s publicists, it stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Jamie Foxx as Marines surviving in “blazing desert fields in a country they don’t understand against an enemy they can’t see for a cause they don’t fully fathom.” The pre-release furor and consequently tight publicity over Steven Spielberg’s Munich, to be released December 23 in the US, has led frustrated journalists to quip that a Mossad agent would have trouble obtaining the script. Shot last summer in Malta, Munich focuses on Israel’s covert campaign to assassinate the Black September members responsible for the deaths of eleven Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Surviving Black September member Mohammed Daoud was out- raged to hear that the book Vengeance, maligned by both Palestinian and Israeli critics, helped inform the scriptwriters: “Were I contacted [by Spielberg], I would tell the truth,” he ingenuously told Reuters from an undisclosed location. “[Mossad] carried out vengeance against people who had nothing to do with the Munich attack, people who were merely politically active or had ties with the PLO. If a film fails to make these points, it will be unjust in terms of truth and history.” Meanwhile, two 9/11 films are set to tax marketing specialists further. Paul Greengrass has just wrapped shooting on_ Flight 93, an apparently gritty (hand-held camerawork, improvised dialogue) portrayal, in real time, of the so-called fourth flight that crashed in the Pennsylvania countryside. _The Bourne Supremacy director goes head-to-head for a mid-2006 release date with an Oliver Stone picture starring Nicolas Cage and Michael Pena as Port Authority police trapped in the rubble of the Twin Towers.