Hulu asks: ‘Is it time to examine how 9/11 happened?’

(AFP)
Updated 27 February 2018
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Hulu asks: ‘Is it time to examine how 9/11 happened?’

NEW YORK: Not too long ago, Peter Sarsgaard felt he had to have a difficult conversation with his oldest daughter about 9/11.
He and Ramona, then 9, were in a car on the anniversary of the terror attacks and the twin light beams above ground zero were switched on. The girl declared them “pretty.” That’s when her dad realized he needed to explain what they were, right then and there. She’s not alone.
“There is a whole generation of people that are in their late teens — that are 20 even, if they were 3 at the time — who I think need to start learning about this in some way,” he said.
This month, Sarsgaard is doing that, teaching on a massive scale as one of the stars of “The Looming Tower,” Hulu’s powerful look at the events that led up to the Al-Qaeda-led 2001 attacks, a series that is as much a thriller as a geo-political education.
The 10-episode minizeries, adapted from Lawrence Wright’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book of the same title, sent film crews to eight countries, including Morocco and South Africa. It signals Hulu’s deepening effort to offer complex, interesting offerings following its success with “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
“The Looming Tower” starts in 1988 and charts key figures in the CIA and FBI as they chase down clues — and often jostle each other — to uncover Osama bin Laden’s plot and stop it. The series is brutal about the missed opportunities and rivalries between the agencies and doesn’t flinch at showing violence to innocents, both at home and abroad.
“I wonder if because 17 years have past almost, whether we’re ready for it now,” said Jeff Daniels, who stars as hard-charging FBI agent John O’Neill. “Closer to the actual attack of 9/11, no one wanted to hear if there was someone to blame. We knew who to blame — it was bin Laden and Al-Qaeda.”
Sarsgaard, who plays a reptilian CIA anti-terrorism chief, knows all too well how dangerous wading into the subject of 9/11 blame can be. His wife, Maggie Gyllenhaal, created a firestorm in 2005 when she suggested that US foreign policy might have had some role in the attacks.
“The backlash was so massive — it was on CNN, it was on everywhere — we had to leave the country,” said Sarsgaard. “Presumably enough time has passed now that we can start thinking about what went wrong, right?“
Dan Futterman, the series’ show runner who wrote teleplays for the first two episodes, said the 10-hour show tries to explain without judgment what motivates the three groups — CIA, FBI and Al-Qaeda — even portraying members of the terrorist group as human beings. “That may be the worst pushback we get,” he said.
Wrenn Schmidt, who plays a workaholic and ambitious CIA analyst in a very male-centered organization, said she came out of the experience with enhanced respect for intelligence gatherers working in the shadows. But she appreciates the series’ care for balance.
“The story’s not trying to tip your favor with one person or one group,” she said. “For better or for worse, all of those people think they’re doing something right or doing something that is in service to a greater purpose.”
The filmmakers have taken some dramatic liberties, including making Sarsgaard’s character a composite of several CIA analysts. “We didn’t get a lot of access to the CIA, so in a way it was necessary to do that,” Futterman said. But Daniels’ hot-headed O’Neill is based on a real person, a man the actor calls “an unsung American hero.”
“That was a time when we had the best and brightest in government, and a fully staffed government,” said Daniels. “What’s different? What have we learned?“
Futterman said he thinks intelligence sharing is better now than it was in 2001 but divisions in government may be worse. There are many unanswered questions about the events leading up to 9/11 and he hopes the series can keep up the pressure.
“If we made it for anybody, it’s made for those people who’ve been wanting to get answers as to how this happened for a long time,” he said.


Al-Turaif: How Saudi Arabia is bolstering future tourism by reviving past treasures

Ad-Dir’iyah, seen in the distance, is the original home of the royal family and the country’s first capital, from 1744 to 1818. (Reuters)
Updated 11 December 2018
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Al-Turaif: How Saudi Arabia is bolstering future tourism by reviving past treasures

  • Of the many Saudi UNESCO World Heritage Sites declared over the past decade, Al-Turaif is the newest (and oldest) kid in town

JEDDAH: In an increasingly accessible country with no shortage of cultural hidden gems, Saudi Arabia is in a unique position to develop and showcase its most fascinating heritage sites, from the architectural to the archeological.
Five national treasures have already been added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 2008, including Al-Ahsa oasis, Al-Hijr archaeological site (Madain Salih), Historic Jeddah and the rock art at Hail.
The fifth site, recognized by UNESCO in 2010, is Al-Turaif Historical District, the remains of a settlement that dates back to the 15th century. Located in the north-western outskirts of the capital, Riyadh, it is one of the Kingdom’s oldest heritage sites, though its potential was only recognized relatively recently.
It is set against the backdrop of the historic Ad-Dir’iyah oasis, a place that is dear to the hearts of the Saudi people and has a special place in the history of the Kingdom, as the original home of the royal family and the country’s first capital, from 1744 to 1818.
The surviving mud-brick structures, in the Najdi architectural style, overlook the oasis and palm gardens of Wadi Hanifa. They include historic palaces, monuments and administrative buildings used by the First Saudi State, such as Salwa Palace, the home of the ruling family at the time, and Saad bin Saud Palace.
When Ad-Dir’iyah was established as the capital, under the rule of Imam Mohammed bin Saud, the founder of the first Saudi State, tribes from across the desert flocked to the city, which expanded to accommodate them.
The city’s borders ran along the edges of the valley, and the mud-brick walls were designed to cope with the harsh desert weather, including summer temperatures hat can reach more than 55 C. With a valley below, vast farm lands and palm trees covering most of the region, the city thrived and flourished.
During Imam Mohammed’s rule, Ad-Dir’iyah became one of the most important cities in Najd, thanks to its position on the trade routes from east to west, the military strength of Al-Saud family, and its importance to pilgrims, granting them protection and accommodation during their journeys.
Now, Al-Turaif district is undergoing a major renovation project to preserve the historically important structures and showcase them as a reminder of the place and time from which the Kingdom’s founding fathers emerged.
This is just one of many projects planned or underway to safeguard Saudi Arabia’s national treasures and develop them as major tourist attractions. As part of the ongoing process, the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage last week added 19 archaeological sites to the National Antiquities Register, which aims to develop and preserve Saudi’s heritage sites.
Ad Dir’iyah has long been considered one of the nation’s greatest treasures. In the run-up to the celebrations in 1999 for the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, King Salman bin Abdul Aziz, at the time the governor of Riyadh, ordered the formation of a committee to develop Ad-Dir’iyah, following a request by Prince Sultan bin Salman, the president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage. The main aim was to preserve the historic mud-brick buildings and monuments of Al-Turaif, as part of a wider program to develop the Historic Ad Dir’iyah site.
The SCTH has launched many projects across the country as part of an ongoing overall effort to transform Saudi Arabia into one of the top tourism destinations in the Middle East.
In 2010, Al-Turaif District became a registered World Heritage site after a number of development projects were carried out in preparation for its inclusion. The development program, drawn up by the Riyadh Development Authority in corporation with the SCTH and Ad Dir’iyah Governate, focused on the historic and political and cultural value of the city.
Ad-Dir’iyah Salwa Palace Museum and the Imam Mohammed bin Saud Mosque are among the major buildings being developed and preserved. There are four other attractions in the area: a Social Life Museum, a Military Museum, an Arabian Horse Museum and a Trade and Monetary Museum.
Another main attraction is Al-Bujairi Park, a modern development project that includes a spacious park, cafes, restaurants and an art gallery that is popular with international tourists and locals thanks to its relaxing atmosphere away from the city’s hustle and bustle. It serves as the main recreational attraction of Historical Ad Dir’iyah between Al-Bujairi and Al-Turaif Quarter also has steep rock formations, passageways and water creeks, making it a unique location in the capital.
On December 9, 2018, after the GCC Summit in Riyadh, King Salman attended the opening ceremony of Al-Turaif Historical District Development Project in the presence of GCC dignitaries and leading Saudi officials and guests. The project will help transform the Ad-Dir’iyah area into an international and national tourism and cultural hub.
“Al-Turaif has been transformed into an open museum with the restoration and documentation of its archaeological sites,” said Prince Faisal bin Bandar, Emir of Riyadh and chairman of Riyadh Development Authority.
As a key focus of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, tourism is seen as one of the most important sectors that can contribute to job creation in the Kingdom.
It currently employs more than 900,000 Saudis, a number that is expected to rise to 1.2 million by 2030.