A three-day exhibit on the September 11th bombings in the United States recently ended in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. It was entitled "After September 11th, Images from Ground Zero."
Twenty-eight photographs taken by New York-based photographer Joel Meyerowitz were displayed during the exhibit. The showing also included a twelve-minute video on the aftermath of the attacks, including the work of rescue workers, people looking for lost relatives, and comments by world leaders.
The photos – enlarged to the size of wall mirrors -- showed the flames, rubble and the thick tidal wave of white dust from the collapsing structures that made the victims of all races indistinguishable from the other.
In the week’s following September 11th, wire services and newspapers noted that the strike on the World Trade Center towers in New York was an attack on the world. According to Agence France Press, the dead came from more than 60 countries. The victims were black, white and Asian -- men, women and children -- Christians, Muslims, Jews and others. Among the dead from Muslim countries outside of Africa were at least 50 Bangladeshis, 200 Pakistanis, 120 Turks and 250 Indians – many who worked in restaurants and offices in the twin towers. Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Senegal, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Ghana all lost citizens in the disaster.
Some Arabic and Muslim press accounts said Israel was behind the attacks – and that no Israeli or Jewish Americans went to work in the towers that day. But Agence France Press, the New York City morgues and the obituary pages of the New York Times tell a different story. They say scores of Israelis and Jewish Americans were killed in the strikes – some of whom worked in the brokerage firms in the buildings. Their photographs are included among the obituaries of the victims that are still published regularly in the New York Times.
One of the last to be published in the paper’s column in late May included pastry chef Abdoulaye Kone of the Ivory Coast. The paper says, “By developing a passion for his craft and never losing sight of his desire to help his family, Abdoulaye Knoe worked his way from a clay hut in Ivory Coast to the lofty heights of the World Trade Center where he (worked) at the Windows on the World restaurant.” He wanted one day to start his own business. He leaves behind hs son Lacina, 8, and his daughter, Mama, 5. The remains of about a third of those who died have been uncovered and given proper burials. Most of the others are said to have been incinerated. For their families – and for the rest of the world – they are entombed at the site, and in the photographs of the event. Sponsors of the photo exhibit in Nigeria -- the U.S Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the Museum of the City of New York – want the photographs to reach the public with a message about terrorism.
Kristin Kane is the cultural affairs officer for the United States Consulate’s Public Affairs section in Lagos. She describes the aims and objectives of the showing: “People are glad that we brought the photos out. I think it reminded them of the horrible things that terrorism can do and renewed everyone's motivation of terror to get to the bottom of terror and fight it out all over the world.'
Ms. Kane explains that the State Department bought the right to the photos and is now sending them around the world. She says the photos have been displayed in Port Harcourt ,Jos, Kaduna and Kano. It will later travel to the commercial capital, Lagos.
Nigeria was one of the first countries in Africa to condemn the September 11th attacks on New York and Washington. Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo sent a message of solidarity to President Bush assuring him that Lagos would cooperate in the war against terrorism. But his announcement did not go down well with Muslims in the northern part of Nigeria. They accuse President Obasanjo of being biased and supporting America during the attack on Afghanistan. But Miss Kane says when the photos were taken to northern Nigeria, the response was positive: "I think most Muslims in Nigeria and all around the world are moderate Muslims who know that Islam is a religion of peace and who strongly condemn these attacks'
Residents from Port Harcourt in southern Nigeria have also been reacting to the photos. One of them is civil servant Roseline Agubama. She says the pictures have opened the eyes of Nigerians to the horrors of the attacks: "It is very interesting for the United States government to have arranged to collect all the pictures of what happened on Sept.11th to show Nigerians that what happened in New York was a serious matter."
Another visitor to the exhibit was Vincent Nare -- a computer science student at the Rivers State Polytechnic. He says the photos have confirmed everything he has seen on television and in international magazines. Mr. Nare says he was shocked by the videotape of victims jumping from over 100 floors up to their death to escape the flame – and of bystanders fleeing the collapsing buildings. He says the exhibit will help him argue against those who say that the tragedy never took place – that it was a trick created though computer animation. That argument is sometimes made by critics of the United States – and by those who cannot read or buy newspapers, or afford a television set. However, for them, seeing the photographs is believing.