On the back of the older of our two family cars is a faded bumper sticker declaring “9-11. We Will Never Forget.” I wish I had a spare that I could send to the folks running the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, along with the Chanel Foundation, the International Olympic Committee, the Coca Cola Co., and other businesses and organizations like them. Because the Port Authority – a partnership involving the two states mentioned plus the federal government that operates major transportation assets in the New York metropolitan area – and the others just mentioned clearly have forgotten.
My evidence for this charge? Not two decades after the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Port Authority, which developed the World Trade Center (WTC) site that stands in the shadow of the September 11 memorial, installed an exhibit at the Center an art exhibit that showcases the flag of Saudi Arabia – the home country of 15 of the 19 September 11 aircraft hijackers, which is ruled by a monarchy widely accused of (and in fact sued by the families of many September 11 victims for) harboring the terrorist forces responsible for the attacks. In other words, the a Saudi flag image is all but flying above Ground Zero.
The exhibit, which opened last month, was funded by the Chanel Foundation, the Olympic Committee, and Coke. Although there’s no evidence that these sponsors had any role in the decision to locate the art at the WTC, since money talks, surely they could have prevented this outrage.
To be sure, Saudi Arabia’s is not the only flag displayed. The work consists of candy-shaped sculptures of the flags of all the countries comprising the Group of 20 (G20) – a loose network of the world’s twenty largest economies, which meets periodically to discuss various global issues. The French artist who created the sculptures didn’t mean to single out the Saudis as paragons of virtue, either. And that certainly wasn’t the (stated, at least) intent of the Port Authority, which called installing the work a part of its “continuing efforts to transform the World Trade Center site into a dynamic space in Lower Manhattan….”
Yet even leaving aside the appropriateness of prominently displaying a portrayal of the Saudi flag virtually on the very spot where the Twin Towers stood, the sculptures’ ostensibly intended message is pretty ditzy, or pretty cynical, depending on your standpoint. The flags come in the shape of wrappers around pieces of candy. The sculptor’s objective for this format (though not for placing it at the WTC site, which wasn’t his decision) was “to celebrate mankind on an international level and pay tribute to People of the entire world.” That’s pretty kumbaya-y, especially considering that G20 meetings are combinations of cold-blooded exercises in advancing national interests and multinational business interests (mainly in the case of the pre-Trump United States), with periodic rhetorical lip service to and occasional instances of international cooperation.
But hey, he’s an artist. Coca Cola and the like surely understand the self-interested aims that are served by portraying such arrangements and their workings as high minded (indeed sugar-sweet) efforts to promote international friendship and harmony.
Even so, this kind of globalist propaganda is still much less offensive per se than planting a facsimile of the Saudi flag so close to the scene of an atrocity committed by adherents of the kinds of jihadist movements strongly supported by Saudi leaders. Moreover, it’s especially troubling given the evidence that this same regime killed dissident Saudi journalist (and legal U.S. resident) Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey – an action that ignited much higher profile and sustained domestic and worldwide condemnation. So it’s not as if a lot of post-September 11 reform has taken place.
Like I said, the “Never Forget” bumper sticker on my car is pretty faded by now – and the Port Authority’s decision has prompted me to get a replacement. In fact, I think I’ll make it three (to go onto our second car). Moreover, I am going to send the other to the Port Authority. I hope all RealityChek readers will consider doing the same.