Mixed feelings and the Burj Khalifa

Burj Khalifa
I swear. I’m not really a cynic. I can be cynical at times, but I truly believe that I’m usually able to see the bright side of things at first glance.

When I first read about the opening of the Burj Khalifa, Dubai’s massive new skyscraper, my first reaction to this:

The world’s tallest building has been opened with a dramatic fireworks ceremony in the Gulf emirate of Dubai.

The Burj Khalifa was revealed to be 828m (2,716ft) high, far taller than the previous record holder, Taipei 101…

Clad in 28,000 glass panels, the tower has 160 floors and more than 500,000 sq m of space for offices and flats.

The tower also lays claim to the highest occupied floor, the tallest service lift, and the world’s highest observation deck – on the 124th floor.

The world’s highest mosque and swimming pool will meanwhile be located on the 158th and 76th floors.

…was, “Wow! That’s REALLY cool! It would be SO awesome to swim in that pool!”

And, I can still hold on to some of that positive awe and wonder when I consider that the enormous human effort and financial resource invested in this building could have gone towards many other things that are far, far worse, like weapons or off-shore oil rigs or mountain top removal coal mining. After all, couldn’t you say that, rather than urban sprawl, this is the ultimate urban infill?

Yet, several thoughts have crept in that challenge my initial positive take.

It starts with the issue of excess. How do we celebrate a building that will primarily house luxury accommodations when hunger and homelessness remain a blight on the planet?

Similarly, how can anyone not see the Burj Khalifa as a painful symbol of the kind of thing that caused the worst global economic crisis since the Great Depression? Dubai, in the last few months leading up to the opening of the tower, “sent stock markets tumbling in November after it announced it could not repay $60 billion in loans. Neighboring emirate Abu Dhabi came to Dubai’s rescue in December with a $10 billion aid package to help Dubai World (a state-run entity) repay some of its debt.”

Spending fast and loose that has no seeming relationship to how much money is available to spend. It’s just Monopoly money! Really!!!

But it was my reaction to the following that has been the most difficult for me to make sense of.

Am I crazy to think about 9/11 as I see explosions and smoke coming out of a very tall building?

Here’s how my conflicted thoughts go:

I’m not someone who blames all Muslims for the actions of a relative few on 9/11.

I AM someone who feels that the U.S. is increasingly reaping karmic payback for many years of arrogant imperialist ambitions throughout the world.

I am someone who is against violence and war, so as much as I can see how the U.S. has been complicit, I do NOT condone violent retribution against the U.S. or anyone else.

Despite my non-adversarial attitude towards Islam, the design of that fireworks display, to me, so uncannily evokes 9/11 that I can’t help wondering, watching that video, to what extent this building was built, at least partly, to exude an air of superiority, flaunting their achievement, as the smoke from the fireworks clears and there it is, still standing.

I don’t want to have these thoughts, and the truth is that the engineer and architect who designed the Burj Khalifa are from Chicago, the primary contractor was from South Korea, another U.S. company was the construction project manager, and most of the labor came from South Asia.

Like I said. Mixed feelings.

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