America’s new embassy: An iron fist in a green glove

Millisphere (noun): A discrete region inhabited by roughly one-thousandth of the total world population.

LOOKING back on the millispheres I’ve covered over the past year, I realised that there was a cluster in the Middle East.

The conflicts of the various warring tribes (including contingents of Christian crusaders from the United States) makes nightly television news and had drawn my attention there. At the centre of this attention-demanding, regional rivalry are the Abrahamic religions.

German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk once said that discussing religion is akin to “doing open-heart surgery”.

It is philosophically and psychologically demanding, emotionally charged, and can be physically dangerous.

Sloterdijk proposed a few ground rules – that you are allowed to talk about religion and that you shouldn’t be killed for talking it. In his book God’s Zeal, Sloterdijk uses literature, art and architecture to examine the world’s four great monotheisms: Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Marxism (there is no one-God).

The book studiously demands keeping an open mind and counsels against falling back on religious stereotypes and preconceptions.

Now it’s Christmas, it is salutary to remember the criticism this column received when it examined the millisphere of “Israel/Palestine” (from the Mediterranean to the Dead Sea), teasing out the human geography of the millisphere where Jesus Christ once lived and died.

The column ranged through the implications of a two-state and a one-state solution for Israel/Palestine. For merely questioning the legitimacy of the state of Israel, the column raised the ire of some New Zealand and overseas Jews.

The millisphere of Israel/Palestine would have about as many Arabs as Jews and would only work if Israel gave up the ideology of a Jewish state and it was run on a one-person-one-vote basis. If the conflict in Northern Ireland can be used as an example, one way to achieve peace in the Middle East is to get rid of the borders and for the people to work together.

President Donald Trump’s decision to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has been condemned by all other members of the United Nations Security Council, and engaging Sloterdijk’s system of using literature, art and architecture to examine the new US embassy in London reveals much about “the Nation of Darkness”.

“The most expensive embassy ever” (US$1 billion) was built at no cost by selling an expensive Kensington site to an Arab developer and rebuilding in downmarket Wandsworth.

Designed “to embody the ideals of the American government”, the glass cube, clad in plastic sails, set on a plinth and surrounded by a moat-like pond, is engineered to balance “impenetrable security standards” with a “visual language of openness, transparency and equality”.

On the roof, there are solar panels instead of a heli-pad; stormwater is collected in the moat; and each floor has an indoor garden. The building’s environmental performance standards are outstanding – “mapping a passage towards diplomacy for the environment”, to quote one architectural critic.

The architectural language of the embassy is about falsely presenting the “Nation of Darkness”, the pre-eminent military power and the greatest arms dealer of all time, as open, transparent and “environmentally friendly”. An iron first in a green glove.

The design for the proposed new US embassy in Jerusalem presents challenges in a city that is holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.

The decision to shift the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was made by a small group, which included Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, US ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Israel’s ambassador to the US Ron Drenner, Israeli president Benjamin Netanyahu and New York lawyer Jason Greenblatt, who is Trump’s lawyer and adviser on Israel.

The group’s only woman was Dina Powell, an Arabic-speaking, Egyptian-born Coptic Christian from Texas. Powell has recently resigned from the group citing “family reasons”.

In some ways, moving the US embassy merely recognises the reality on the ground and the logical next step is to end the apartheid system imposed on the Palestinians by the Israeli military and to confront the inherent self-delusion of all monotheisms.

â– When Fred Frederikse is not building, he is a self-directed student of geography and traveller, and in his spare time he is the co-chair of the Whanganui Musicians Club.

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