Some images haunt. Throughout the 1990s, the image of the jagged cavern blasted into the basement of the World Trade Center seemed to me to be a undecipherable icon, revealing the powerful subterranean forces that would shape our time. On September 11, 2001, Al Qaeda decoded this symbol of doom.
Last week, I witnessed a foreboding image of another sort as I stood in an unfurnished five-bedroom apartment on the 50th floor of a newly constructed building in Dubai. Neither the thick coating of desert dust nor patchy repairs concealed the two-foot-high watermark from a mysterious interior flood. Still newer towers of raw concrete loomed outside the window, some complete but unoccupied, others seemly arrested in mid-ascent, 60 to 70 floors above the sand. The view offered tiny vertical slices of sea, fragments of Palm Island and the newly opened Atlantis Hotel. Built with optimism and imagination, surrounded by the hope of glided glamour, these edifices now stand abandoned.
Like the hole seared into the World Trade Center, the view from that empty dusty apartment in Dubai now seems to beg for divination. I know that the proximal cause of this vista is the burst financial bubble, just as I knew it was denotation of a truck bomb that left the jagged crater in the center of New York City. But the ultimate consequences are still hidden from view. If our economic crisis caused this crash on this distant shore, what additional damage will it wreak upon the structures of nations and societies? Who will suffer where, when, how? Ten years on, how will we interpret this new and haunting image?