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George Gittoes Writes from Norway

Since June 16, when I reviewed The Station Museum of Contemporary Art’s  WITNESS TO WAR: GEORGE GITTOES, I’ve been corresponding with the artist.  Earlier today, Gittoes wrote, “I am presently editing the films in Stavanger which is on the North sea side of Norway. I return to Afghanistan on 5th of September.”

The show at The Station continues until September 18.

Our recent correspondence focused on artist responses to the upcoming 10th anniversary of 9/11. Gittoes’ statement on Wednesday was particularly poignant, so I am re-printing it here with his permission:

“My present home is Jalalabad (Afghanistan), only a bicycle ride away from the remains of the house where Bin Laden is supposed to have masterminded 9/11. It was a simple mud brick structure destroyed by American rockets soon after the September attacks in 2001. There is no restroom at the nearby Mosque. Men squat to relieve themselves in what were once Bin Laden’s domestic rooms. Basically, it is now a toilet with an overpowering bad smell. Even the white surface of the niche, which was once the focal point of his private family prayer-room, has been purposely smeared with mud.  I found a bottle of vitamin tablets in his bedroom and their expiry date was a couple of months before 9/11. I imagined him taking these to fortify himself before going to pray for the success of the mission.

I often ride my bike over to meet my poet friend, Zwandoon, whose family home is only a block away from the Bin Laden house. As we drink tea, the subject of his ambitions always seeps into our conversation. We talk under the noise of un-manned Predator Drones flying overhead and attack helicopters which swoop low to buzz the place and irritate the locals. Zwandoon comments that, ‘it is like they will never leave us alone.’

At this Ground Zero people have a different sense of the 9/11 anniversary than those in New York and at the Pentagon. Surprisingly, they are not in awe of Bin Laden or his Al Queda friends and none say they support them. But they do seem to be able to think more clearly on what it was all for than most Americans. For them, this 10th Anniversary has come at a moment when Bin Laden’s highest ambitions for the attacks are showing proof of success. His aim was to get America to engage in wars that would send it bankrupt and take away its ability as a superpower to meddle in the Middle East.

My village friends say, ‘Well, he wasn’t a madman after all! America has lost its AAA credit rating and China is about to foreclose on the mortgage. He said a war in Afghanistan would do to the U.S. what it did to the U.S.S.R., and he was right. They may have killed him and dumped his body into the sea but he has won.’ My poet friend Zwandoon adds, ‘Just as Soviet communism failed, the American capitalist democracy is failing, and this one man was instrumental in both. Bin Laden has changed the world as much as any of the greats of history.’

These are thoughts from a village of mud houses with no electricity supply or running water. I will make sure that I pedal over to Bin Laden’s house for the 9/11 anniversary and report back on how the locals celebrate the day.”

George Gittoes, 17.August.2011


  1. Thank you for this interesting report. I’ve been very discouraged about America of late, but I think it shows a ray of hope that ten years after 9/11 these sorts of differentiated views about the wars have become common. It’s also nice to see these views coming out of Texas (even if via Europe.) It’s a reminder that the political spectrum in the Lone Star State is actually much wider and more thoughtful than the usual media reports would seem to indicate. I miss the voices of Molly Ivins and Bill Moyers.

    I hope we will be able to eventually go a step farther and realize that our economic and foreign policies are often quite unjust and needlessly create many enemies in the world. And that we follow that by making some fundamental changes in our society. Is that a hopeless dream?

    • Theodore Bale says

      Dear Mr. Osborne, thanks for reading and I appreciate your comment. I don’t think the dream you describe is hopeless! There are many creative and compassionate thinkers in Texas. Perhaps this is why George Gittoes’ show was so well-received here in Houston.

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