Published on Free Internet Press, by Intellpukee, December 17, 2009.
The world’s tallest skyscraper will open soon in Dubai, even as the emirate continues to be battered by the financial crisis. Is Burj Dubai an expression of failed megalomania or proof of Dubai leader Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s stunning vision?
The view is clear, the air is soft and silky, and only a thick strip of red separates the sky and the sea at sundown. The boundary between grandeur and kitsch becomes blurred here, halfway up the Burj Dubai, the world’s tallest tower.
It smells of paint, varnish and new leather, and the steps of female visitors on parquet and marble produce an elegant-sounding echo that suddenly disappears when they step onto soft carpets. An artificial island in the shape of a palm tree is visible to the southwest, and farther to the north is a man-made archipelago that looks like a map of the world.
But only the furniture, the carpets, the smells and the sounds are real. The rest is an illusion. The visitor isn’t gazing out at the Persian Gulf from 400 meters (1,312 feet) up in the air; in fact, he or she is standing at ground level – in a model apartment with an enormous mural stretched outside its floor-to-ceiling windows – at the foot of a hermetically sealed building … //
What could now unhinge this economic miracle on the Gulf? A terrorist attack? A new Gulf war, this time against Iran? Another earthquake, even stronger than the one that hit the region on Sept. 10, 2008?
On the day of the cyclone on Sept. 10, 2009, a crane operator working 700 meters above the ground had called Hinrichs to report that it was “shaking” where he was standing. Tremors had shaken the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas, but in Dubai, few (other than the crane operator) had even noticed.
Five days later, Dubai was struck by another sort of tremor, but this one had its epicenter in New York, another city of skyscrapers. On Sept. 15, 2008, Lehman Brothers, the world’s fourth-largest investment bank, filed for bankruptcy.
Not just Dubai, but the West, too, had been building a tower in the years of the real estate boom, a tower of debt, which now came crashing down. But despite the vast sums of money involved in the crisis in the West, it was and largely remains a strangely abstract phenomenon. Not so in Dubai, however, which reflects the financial debacle more vividly than any other city in the world.
“Classic megalomania seems to have migrated from people’s minds to the system itself. Nowadays the system is crazier than the people,” says German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk. “That’s why we, as human beings, are terribly disappointed by the course of the crisis. There was not a single colorful individual (in Europe) to make the crisis more interesting. I’ve never seen such an enormous conspiracy of petty bourgeoise people than at the moment.”
Sloterdijk may be right when it comes to the bankers, analysts and finance ministers of the West. But he apparently has never heard of Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, 60, a horse breeder and poet, a lover of fast powerful cars, an avid falconer and a juggler of billions. Maktoum is the ruler of Dubai and the prime minister of the United Arab Emirates. “Many leaders make promises,” he said in February 2008, when the Free University of Berlin awarded him its medal of honor, “but we deliver.”
Maktoum had artificial islands built in the waters off his city, with names like The Palm, The World and The Universe. Not just the Free University, but the entire West was fascinated by his energy and optimism. Like the thoroughbred horses in his racing stable, he sent the most capable of his lieutenants into the orbit of globalization, and along the way they built new towers, bought ports and sent airliners out into the world. (full text).