Cultural, International, Life as it is, Religious, Technical

Albert Einstein’s Views on Religion

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Einstein and Tagore, the two intellectual giants of the 20th century, from the West and the East

Many people, particularly those promoting and propagating religious beliefs (in all major religions), had over the years laid claims that Albert Einstein was a man of religious conviction. They often put forward Einstein’s famous quote, “God does not play dice”, implying that belief in God’s harmony and absolutism in creation was inbuilt in Einstein’s thought process. Nothing, I emphasise nothing, could be more egregiously misinterpreted and misrepresented than this.

Albert Einstein was not a man of religious conviction by any standards. His religious views, if considered dispassionately, would verge on the side of atheism; although he did not like him to be branded as an ‘atheist’. His views on religions were very well contained in his one and half page letter, written in German in 1954 (just a year before his death) to the German philosopher, Eric Gutkind, which contained, “The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable but still primitive legends, which are nevertheless pretty childish”. He also said, “No interpretation, no matter how subtle, can change this”. That letter had been sold in an auction at Christie’s in New York only a few days ago (2018) for the staggering sum of $2.9 m (£2.3 m).

Einstein's letter

That “God does not play dice” was not said by Einstein out of devotion to God, but as a retort to the underlying theme of “Copenhagen interpretation” produced by Niels Bohr/Heisenberg and others on quantum mechanics. Although Albert Einstein and Max Planck were the pioneers of quantum concept in the first decade of the 20th century, subsequent developments of quantum mechanics by Niels Bohr / Schrodinger / Heisenberg / Pauli / Dirac and many more leading to probabilistic nature of objects (elementary particles) were very much disputed by Einstein. An object is either there or not, it cannot be half there and half not; Einstein contended. In that context, he rejected the probabilistic nature of objects by that quote. He also said, the moon is there on the night sky whether we observe it or not. Just because we cannot observe the moon because of cloud in the sky does not mean the moon is not there!

However, quantum physics was relentlessly moving forward into the probabilistic interpretation of objects and successfully explained many hitherto inexplicable physical processes. Einstein struggled the latter part of his life with the nature of reality. When Tagore and Einstein met in Berlin in 1926 (and at least three more times until 1930 meeting in New York), they had a very fascinating philosophical discussion/debate, not so much on the existence of God but on the nature of reality. Tagore held the Eastern philosophical view of convergence of man (meaning life) and nature, Einstein held the view of ‘absolutism’.

In the letter, Einstein, an Ashkenazi Jew, also articulated his disenchantment with Judaism. “For me the Jewish religion like all others is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong and with whose mentality I have a deep affinity have no different quality for me than all other people,” he wrote.

However, as a child he was religious; as is the case with most of the children of religious families anywhere in the world. But he had a fiercely independent mind and a deeply inquisitive trait. He disliked authoritarian attitude – whether in teaching or training. He was very unhappy at the Luitpold Gymnasium (a strict discipline focussed school) in Munich, where his parents enrolled him for proper education. He described later that he deeply disliked the ‘rote learning’ method at the school with no opportunity for creative thinking. He, however, remained at that school to keep his parents happy. Years later, he advised people, “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning”.

Einstein did not or could not completely discard the notion of supremacy of the supernatural power, which became inbuilt in his childhood, although he rejected consciously the idea that this religion or that religion derives from the orders or massages from God. By the age of 13, he started doubting the religious teachings and “abandoned his uncritical religious fervour, feeling he had been deceived into believing lies”.

He believed in or had strong inclination towards “Spinoza’s God” (Baruch Spinoza, a 17th century Dutch thinker), “who reveals himself in the lawful harmony of the world, not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and the doings of mankind”. Einstein had the same or similar mindset. This streak of thinking had a strong resonance with the Eastern philosophy that man and nature merge into one or have strong inter-connection.

The physical world follows a set of laws and principles with specific physical constants relevant to the natural world. Any variation of these laws and constants would negate the existence of this universe and could possibly generate another universe. That may be the underlying thinking in the idea of multiverse. So, to claim that a grand designer created this universe with specific set rules and laws for our habitation in mind is a mendacious presumption.

Einstein was, to a large extent, ambivalent about God, the so-called grand designer. He could neither prove or disprove the existence of this ‘Uncaused Cause’, the ‘Unmoved Mover’ and hence it was sensible to maintain some ambivalence; but all his instincts were against such a presumption. He said facetiously, “I want to know how God created this world. I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know His thoughts; the rest are details.”
– Dr A Rahman is an author and a columnist.

Cultural, International, Literary, Political, Religious

When Continents Clash

It is not the collision of the tectonic plates that I am alluding to here or the drift of the continents nudging each other out, it is the mighty clash of dominant religions from the adjoining Continents. The religion of Islam from the East (the Middle East and North Africa) crossed over to the West in Spain and clashed for centuries for prominence.

Spain was the battle ground of two dominant religions vying out for territorial gains. Islam from North Africa and North West of Middle East eyed Spain some twelve centuries ago as the gateway to Europe for religious expansion. Obviously, the dominant religion (Catholicism) of the region resisted and fought back and what happened during the next few centuries not only shaped Spain but also the whole of Europe.

Recently I travelled to ‘Classical Spain’ with the Riviera Travels visiting places like Seville, Cordoba and Granada, among others, where Islam came, conquered and eventually beaten and relinquished the gains some centuries later in the face of relentless adversarial reaction from the indigenous religions.

Our travel started when we landed at Malaga airport (a southern coastal city of Spain), when Riviera Travels grouped together tourists from Manchester and South of England and brought them through Manchester and Gatwick airports. We spent the night at a 4* hotel which was some 1100 ft above the sea level and hemmed in on the sloping banks of a hill overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. After a drink reception in the evening followed by buffet dinner where I came to know other tourists, I retired.

Next morning, we travelled to Ronda, a small town on the outskirts of Sierra de Grazalema national park trekking a scenic route past Marbella (a holiday resort famous for night clubs) and on the way managed to have a glimpse of Gibraltar across the sea. It is surprising that for such a desolate rocky mountainous outpost, two countries went to battles a number of times over the centuries. We spent nearly five hours in Ronda, which is famous for bull fighting, in particular. It is claimed that bull fighting started in Ronda, but other cities like Seville and Madrid would dispute that vehemently. After having fantastic mixed tapas for lunch, we went to see the ‘new bridge’ connecting two hill cliffs over a gorge of some four hundred feet drop. The sound of cascading water in the gorge is soothing, but the sight of hundreds of feet of almost vertical drop is awesome. As I looked from the bridge down the gorge, I saw people trekking along the small stream meandering along the boulders, rocks and some tropical trees.

Another three hours of bus trip took us to the famous city of Seville. After checking in at the hotel at the centre of the city, we went to have ‘tapas tasting’ at a local restaurant (given free for Riviera travellers) and then after the dinner, we went to see the famous ‘Mushroom Tower’. This ‘Mushroom Tower’ has a fascinating history. Some twelve years ago, Seville politicians had the bright idea of digging a tunnel across that area to construct a relief road. As they dug, they started getting more and more Roman artefacts and then they found a Roman burial chamber. Obviously, they could not demolish the Roman Remains for the relief road. They built an archeological museum on the burial site and a fantastic mushroom bridge towering over the surrounding areas (some three hundred feet above the street level) had also been built. The site now is a major tourist attraction.

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Mushroom tower in Seville

Seville is a place bristling with numerous historical and cultural monuments from both Islam and Christianity. The next morning, we had been taken by a bus to have a whirlwind tour of the city – so that afterwards we could go and see individual attractions at our leisure. We saw Seville Cathedral with the Giralda, Alcazar palace, the bullring and then we walked through the Maria Luisa garden to Plaza de Espania (half-crescent palace).

Seville Cathedral (Spanish: Catedral de Santa Maria) is a Roman Catholic cathedral. It is the third largest cathedral in the world (after the St Peter’s cathedral in Rome and St Paul’s cathedral in London). Seville was conquered by the Umayyad in 712 AD. The Almohad caliph Abu Yaqub Yusuf decided to construct a grand mosque in the city in 1172 on the site where a mosque was built in 829 by Umar Ibn Adabbas. The grand mosque that was built was massive in size (15,000 sq.m. internal space) but it was not completed until 1198.

Shortly after the conquest of the city by Ferdinand III, the grand mosque was ‘Christianized’ by converting it to city’s cathedral. In 1401, city’s leaders decided to build a massive cathedral on the site so grand that people would say after its completion that the leaders were simply mad. The work was not, however, completed until 1506!

But some aspects of the grand mosque were preserved. The courtyard for ablution for the Muslim faithful was preserved. Now it is a long pool of water, some 15 ft wide, with fountains on both sides criss-crossing the pool and orange trees adorning it. Also, the minaret of the mosque (some 342 ft high) was kept, but converted into a bell tower, known as La Giralda, which is now the iconic symbol of the city. There are wide ramps, not steps, that lead up to the bell tower. The muezzin used to go up the ramps on horse back to the bell tower to carry out calls for prayers five times a day! The cathedral also contains Christopher Columbus’ burial site.

Alcazar is a royal palace, built for the Christian king, Peter of Castile, on the site of an Abbadid Muslim residential fortress. The name Alcazar comes from the Arabic word al-qasr (the castle). The castle, with its extensive garden, was used as a royal palace by the Moorish rulers. It is still being used as a royal palace and, in fact, it is the oldest royal palace in Europe. In 1987 the cathedral, the adjacent Alcazar palace complex were all given the status of World Heritage Sites.

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Flamenco dance

In the evening, at 9pm, we went to the Flamenco performance. The gypsies from Southern Spain created the flamenco dance and music since their arrival at Andalusia in the 15th century. It is said that the gypsies came from a region of northern India called Sid, which is now in Pakistan. The folk-lore of Andalusia is conveyed by vibrant expressive dance, trapping of feet and the accompanying music. It was very entertaining.

After spending three nights in Seville we headed for the famous Moorish city of Cordoba. We did not spend night in Cordoba, but spent the whole day there. We visited the Royal Palace, the famous Mezquita (mosque) and a museum. Cordoba, during the Moorish time, had the largest library in the world and the Cordoba University is reputed to be the oldest university (older than Oxford by centuries). After lunch we headed for Granada through the countryside covered with olive groves and absorbed the spectacular views of Sierra Nevada Mountains.

We stayed in a hotel in Granada right on top of a mountain next to the Alhambra palace. Next morning we walked to Alhambra Palace and spent literally the whole day exploring various avenues and absorbing the lifestyles and traditions of bygone days. The history and tradition of Muslim rulers were conveyed to us by a local tourist guide. That the ruler would come in to one of the chambers (which chamber would not be disclosed previously for security reasons), sit on a high chair to give audience to the public is still being practiced by many Muslim leaders in many countries. (It is said that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman of Bangladesh practiced the same tradition). The following morning we went on a train tour (actually a bus shaped like a train) of the city, had lunch there and came back in time to board a bus to go back to Malaga airport.

After the hectic seven days we headed back to England.

 

A Rahman is an author and a columnist

 

Human Rights, International, Political, Religious

Erdogan’s noose round Saudi neck

We all have heard of and enjoyed the fictitious stories in films like the murder in the orient express, murder in the Nile, murder on the dancefloor and so on and so forth. But hardly anything can match the real-life gruesome murder of a journalist in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in all its viciousness and barbarity. Even more striking is that this killing would be remembered by the world for the blatant and repeated lies by the Saudi government after perpetrating this gruesome murder.

Saudi duplicity

Jamal Khashoggi (JK), a Saudi national of Turkish heritage and an American green card holder, was a journalist contributing to a number of newspapers including the Washington Post. He had been a thorn on the side of the brash young crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman (MbS) and to the whole of the Saudi royal family for his political and religious views. It is not because he was propagating non-fundamentalist Islamic ideology, but because he upheld Muslim Brotherhood ideology and advocated moderation of the extremist Salafist/Wahhabi ideology, which is the cornerstone of the Saudi royal family’s existence.

This ideological battle that pitted between Khashoggi and the Saudi royal family was going on for quite some time. The conundrum was that when MbS had been implementing, as the moderniser of Saudi Arabia, such things like women be allowed to be educated, women be allowed to drive etc., which Khashoggi had been advocating; battle royal emerged on other issues that led to his brutal death. On issues like Saudi’s blockade of Qatar, Saudi’s relentless killing of Yemenis, Saudi’s surreptitious support of extremist Islamic groups round the world etc., Khashoggi fell foul of the royal family. He was viewed egregiously by the royal family as the existential threat to Saudi Arabia.

However, Jamal Khashoggi and his family had close connection with the Saudi royal family. His grandfather was the personal physician to King Abdulaziz Al-Saud, the founder of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He was the nephew of the billionaire Saudi arms dealer, Adnan Khashoggi. It may also be mentioned that he was the first cousin of Dodi Fayed, who was dating Diana, Princess of Wales, when the two had died in a car crash in Paris.

In some quarters it had been proclaimed that Khashoggi was an ‘enlightened’ journalist from Saudi Arabia who embraced western liberalism at heart. Nothing can be furthest from the truth. He was an ardent ‘Muslim Brotherhood (MB)’ supporter and preached political Islam and tried to garner support for the Muslims to unite to dominate the world.

The Saudi royal family upholding Wahhabi ideology opposed ideologically MB version of Islam, which does not follow the raw fundamental tenets of Quran and Hadith. The king of Saudi Arabia is the custodian of two holy mosques in Saudi Arabia and hence he was the de-facto keeper of Islam and Islamic ideology in all its purity and pugnaciousness as enunciated in Quran and Hadith. To maintain King’s political power through the religious platform, he had to uphold Wahhabism/Salafism. (Abd-al Wahhab’s preaching was full of vindictiveness and hatred towards other religions or even towards other denominations of Islam itself, all in the name of purity of Islam. For his inhumanity, he was kicked out of his community and his father, who was an educated and devout Muslim, disowned him.)

The Saudi royal family does not tolerate any dissent – gruesome torture, whipping, lashing, stoning to death, beheading etc are common practices in Saudi Arabia as well as in other middle eastern countries. Brutality, inhuman torture, murder etc in the name of God are peddled in Islam as virtuous things and promised to be rewarded in paradise.

When the dissident Jamal Khashoggi left Saudi Arabia to live in London and then in America, he was effectively outside the reach of the Saudi royal family. But a God gifted opportunity arose when a few days before 2nd October, Jamal Khashoggi went to Saudi consulate to get his divorce papers. He was told to come back a few days later, on 2nd October, to collect them. Then Saudi consulate officials went on overdrive. Saudi royal family including of course the crown prince, MbS, had been informed and a plot had been hatched to get rid of him.

When Khashoggi reported at the Saudi consulate just after 1 pm on 2nd October, he was invited to go the consul general’s office upstairs. Unsuspectingly he went to the upstairs office and sat in a chair. The murder squad were waiting in the next room and soon two of them came, grabbed him and took him to the next room. They made him lie down on a long table and started chopping off his fingers! A fully conscious man having his fingers chopped off would have been most excruciating and painful experience. The leader of the murderous team put on a head phone, as he quipped that he enjoys listening to music when he is doing such things. Hardly did they know that all those screams, all those flippant conversations even in the closed room in the consulate are being recorded. Probably even the video images may be in existence!

But that is not all. After killing him, his body was dismembered, cut out into smaller pieces to be disposed off in small bags. A black van had pulled in to carry the bags and disappeared innocuously into the main street. In the meantime, a man wearing Khashoggi’s clothes (but not his shoes) and false Khashoggi beard had walked merrily out of the consulate pretending to be Khashoggi. That was recorded in the CCTV as evidence that Khashoggi had left the building!

Saudi Arabia under the helm of MbS thought that they have pulled off a major coup – finished off the thorny man once and for all. But Erdogan, the Turkish president, who had long been at loggerheads with Saudi Arabia for a long time, had other ideas.
The chronology of Saudi government’s lies and damn lies are as follows:

1. Saudi government to quell press speculation issued a statement just a day after JK’s arrival at the consulate that he had left the consulate and might have disappeared after that. But Turkish officials disputed that.
2. MbS said categorically on 5 October that JK is not in the consulate.
3. When on 6 Oct Turkish government said that JK was murdered inside the consulate, alarm bell was ringing for the Saudi government. The following day the Turkish government released a statement that 15-man Saudi hit squad had actually arrived in Istanbul in private planes at the early hours of 2nd Oct and left the country for Riyadh late in the same evening after completing the job. Two days later, Saudi Arabia admitted that JK died accidentally in the consulate after a ‘fist fight’ with officials. But Saudi government did not give details of who were involved in the fight or what had happened to JK’s dead body.
4. Turkish government was drip-feeding genuine information about how he died and released the names of those 15-man hit squad. Saudi Arabia was stunned at these revelations. How could Turkey know all these things when it was carried out in secrecy under closed doors in the consulate? Saudi Arabia then admitted that JK was actually killed by rogue operatives. Saudi Arabia claimed to have arrested 18 men suspected of murdering JK, after denying any knowledge of his death for over a week.
5. It is obvious that crown prince, MbS, had his finger prints all over this episode, but Saudi Arabia would not admit it. They are trying desperately to protect him and defuse the situation.
6. King Salman sent his trusted envoy, Khaled al Faisal, governor of Mecca, to Ankara on 10 Oct to placate Erdogan and carry out mega-dollar diplomacy with Turkey. But Erdogan would have none of it, as he was after even bigger bounty.
7. Turkey released details of how JK had been brutally tortured – cutting off his fingers while he was conscious, heading him and then dismembering his body. Saudi Arabia today (25 Oct) released a statement that the Turkish investigation had shown that the “suspects had committed their act with a premeditated intention”. Surely the suspects did not carry out this gruesome premeditated murder in the embassy on their own!

All along this episode, Donald Trump had been trying to rescue Saudi Arabia by asserting that there should be an investigation and before that nothing can be said. When Saudi Arabia was giving all sorts totally bonkers stories like “fist fight with officials”, “rogue operatives” killing JK etc, Donald Trump said that this is the worst cover-up story in the world. Of course, Donald Trump is fully qualified to say so. When he covered up his presidential election tempering and colluding with America’s worst enemy, Russia, all the American intelligence (and foreign as well) operatives could not exactly put their fingers on it, he definitely is very well qualified to judge cover-up stories.

Donald Trump is now eyeing mega bucks from Saudi Arabia. Previously America had to compete with other exporters (arms, military equipment etc) to Saudi Arabia to get contracts. Now many genuine exporters are moving away from Saudi Arabia, America will have a field day.

Recep Erdogan is playing even more a sinister game – he can have the cake and eat it. Saudi King was literally begging to Erdogan to show mercy suppressing the murder investigation and mega deal was for him for the asking. Erdogan may enjoy the fruits now and keep the audio tape of the last moments of JK’s heart-rending scream, chattering of the murderers in this gruesome incident etc on hold until the time when he feels that Saudi Arabia is trying to wriggle out. Erdogan may even have the video shots of JK’s murder. How incredibly explosive that video would be and that could spell the end of Saud dynasty.

Erdogan’s action is like a cat and mouse game – a cat does not kill a mouse outright, it plays vicious killing game and watches with relish the utter helplessness and image of death on mouse’s face. Turkish cat and Saudi mouse will usher in a new era in the Muslim world.

 

  • A Rahman is an author and a columnist
Human Rights, International, Political, Religious

Jamal Khashoggi: murder in the Saudi consulate

After days of denial, Saudi Arabia has now said that the writer Jamal Khashoggi died in a ‘fist fight’ at its Istanbul consulate. Martin Chulov pieces together events surrounding this death and the investigation, and links to Riyadh’s controversial crown prince.

The Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul is a homely looking place, much smaller than it seems, nestled into a quiet suburban street, and painted pastel yellow. Were it not for a giant steel door and a green flag flying on the roof – both sporting two large swords – it could easily be an Ottoman-era cottage like many nearby.

Police barriers to the left of the building mark a point where visitors gather before being allowed through to apply for visas or tend to official business. On 2 October one Saudi citizen, Jamal Khashoggi, stood at the fence line, pondering his next move. Khashoggi needed to deal with paperwork that proved he had the legal right to marry the woman nervously standing with him that day, his new Turkish fiancee, Hatice Cengiz. He paced the barricade for around 20 minutes, removed his two phones from his blazer and gave them to Cengiz. “Wish me luck,” Khashoggi said. “This will be a birthday present,” she replied.

With those last fateful words, the Saudi dissident stepped past a barrier and walked towards the consulate. A camera on the roof of a nearby guard’s hut captured him purposefully approaching the steel gate. A waiting guard stepped aside and let him pass. It was 1:14pm; the last time Khashoggi was seen alive.

In the extraordinary 19 days since his disappearance and death, the fate of the 59-year old columnist and critic has steadily been pieced together. What happened inside the consulate walls has been traced to the doors of the Saudi royal court, sparked revulsion around the world, exposed the kingdom like no other event since the twin terror attacks of 9/11, and seen Washington and Riyadh shamelessly concoct a cover-up to protect their mutual interests and attempt to shield the powerful heir to the throne, Mohammed bin Salman.

In the early hours of Saturday, after unrelenting global scrutiny, Saudi Arabia finally offered its explanation of what happened to Khashoggi, abandoning two weeks of denials that it had played any role. Its version – that he was killed accidentally during a fist fight – came as Turkish investigators and global intelligence agencies prepared to table an entirely different account of a premeditated state-sanctioned hit; its conclusions drawn, not from a political fudge, but old-fashioned police work and cutting-edge spy tradecraft.

Turkey has also been busy cultivating the court of public opinion. Much of its case against Saudi Arabia has been laid bare through piecemeal leaks by authorities, which have described a conspiracy to assassinate one of Prince Mohammed’s most potent critics, in a building regarded by convention to be Saudi sovereign territory. The plot, the Turks allege, was put into motion within hours of Khashoggi attending the consulate four days earlier when he was turned away and asked to return the following Tuesday.

This is the story of the last few days of Khashoggi’s life; of the investigation that pieced together his fate, and of his legacy – much of it yet to be written – as the region, and beyond, grapple with the aftermath of a crude political hit gone spectacularly wrong.
When the door was closed behind him, Khashoggi was ushered to the second floor of the building, to the office of the consul general. Such a gesture would have befitted someone of his status in Saudi society – a man who had advised senior royals, including the former ambassador to London and Washington, and the intelligence chief, Turki al-Faisal.

Khashoggi would have had little reason to fear as he sat down in a guest chair opposite the desk of Mohammed al-Otaibi, the consul general who had personally called him and invited him back to finalise his papers, after the failed attempt the previous Friday.
Khashoggi, however, was not the only stranger in the building. Waiting in nearby rooms were 15 other men, all members of the state’s security apparatus. They had arrived in Istanbul earlier that day on two private jets, both of which were routinely leased by the Saudi government from a jet base at Riyadh airport. The jets’ tail markings were HZ-SK1 and HZ-SK2. Flight tracking software showed one of the planes landing in Istanbul just after 3am on 2 October. The second landed at Ataturk airport just after noon.

Nine men on the first flight checked into the Mövenpick hotel in the city’s Levent district, where they were caught on in-house cameras passing through security and checking in. From the top-floor windows, the men could almost see the nearby consulate.

Among the guests were Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, a colonel who is attached to the crown prince’s security detail, and Salah Muhammed al-Tubaigy, the head of forensics in the kingdom’s General Intelligence Directorate. Later that morning, and before Khashoggi’s visit, Mutreb was filmed by the consulate’s security camera walking towards the door. Also believed to be with him are three other members of the crown prince’s personal detail, including Nayif Hassan al-Arifi, Mansour Othman Abahussein and Walid Abdullah al-Shihri.

By the time the arrivals had settled in, Turkish employees of the consulate were taking advantage of a surprise afternoon off. They had been sent home before noon after being told by Saudi bosses that an important diplomatic delegation was arriving for a meeting. The loyalties of those remaining in the building could not be questioned. The assembled hit squad was drawn from the most elite units of the Saudi security forces, whose fidelity had been repeatedly tested.

By the time the second planeload of passengers arrived at the consulate – not long before Khashoggi entered – what was about to take place was never going to be known beyond the building’s walls. Or so the assassins thought.
But in Turkey, and elsewhere, diplomatic missions can have ears.
Not long after Khashoggi entered the consul’s office, two men came into the room and dragged him away. Unbeknown to the Saudis, Turkish intelligence officials from the national spy agency, MIT, were listening in. Just how that happened has been the subject of much intrigue throughout the past fortnight, and has been central to the case against Riyadh.

Scenarios range from a bug placed in the consulate itself to a directional microphone focused on the building from outside – both technically within the realms of Turkey’s capabilities. Another possibility, being discussed in Turkey and elsewhere, is that some members of the hit squad recorded the abduction on their phones for trophy purposes, or to reveal back home. And that those recordings were either intercepted in real time or retrieved from at least one of the killers’ phones.

Whichever the case, Turkish officials soon had an audio soundtrack to a blatant and brutal murder inside the walls of the Saudi consulate, which has since become the bedrock of the case against Saudi Arabia.

Officials say the recording proves that Khashoggi was killed during seven horrific minutes in which he was first tortured, then mutilated, injected with a sedative, and finally dismembered.

According to the audio, a partial transcript of which was leaked last week to Yeni Safak, a pro-government newspaper, one of his killers is heard warning: “Shut up if you want to return to Saudi Arabia”.

As the mutilation starts, Tubaigy – the forensic scientist, who specialises in conducting autopsies – puts on headphones and is heard to say to his colleagues: “When I do this job, I listen to music. You should do that too.”

Khashoggi’s fingers were cut off while he was held down, the recording suggests. He was injected with a substance, which silenced him, then carried into another room – the third to be used in the gruesome killing – where he was lifted on to a meeting table then cut to pieces.

A Turkish official later said the Saudis had brought a bone saw to the consulate. “It is like Pulp Fiction,” the official told the New York Times.

On 5 October, three days after Khashoggi vanished, Turkey’s leadership, including Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, sat down in Ankara for a briefing from MIT’s chief Hakan Fidan and senior officers. Khashoggi had been butchered, they told the Turkish president, and they had incontrovertible proof.

Erdoğan had been friendly with the columnist. They shared a similar worldview, particularly of a role for political Islam in society, and he was aware of Khashoggi’s plans to set up a TV station in Istanbul, where he intended to relocate. After a year spent in Washington, where he had become a pointed critic of some aspects of Prince Mohammed’s reform programmes, Khashoggi wanted to start again, closer to home, his children, and a new wife. He was still planning to write columns for the Washington Post – maintaining the very platform and presence that had irritated the crown prince, but from a more familiar vantage point.

Senior Turkish officials say Erdoğan’s shock soon turned to anger. He told Fidan and others in the meeting to summon the Saudis, and share some of what they knew.

On Saturday 6 October the first meeting between Saudi and Turkish authorities took place. It did not go well. One official familiar with the meeting said the Saudis disavowed any knowledge of what had taken place. “They may have been truthful,” the official said. “This seemed to have been very tightly held and the people we spoke to might not have known.”

At midnight that day, with no response from Riyadh, Turkey played its first card, announcing to the Reuters news agency that it believed Khashoggi had been killed inside the Saudi consulate. Privately, officials began briefing that not only was he dead but his body had been cut up and carried away in bags.

The revelation set in motion a remarkable reaction. Wariness about Turkey’s scarcely believable claims soon gave way to a numbing realisation that Ankara had evidence and was prepared to use it. Names of the 15 Saudis who had travelled on passports using their real names were soon revealed. Selectively leaked images showed a black van parked outside the consulate entrance – of the type that investigators had said was used to carry Khashoggi’s remains to the nearby consul’s residence.

A still-frame of an apparent dummy run showing the van attempting to back into the consul’s underground garage the day before the hit was also made public – as was the fact that the consulate had since been repainted.
Ten days into the furore, Saudi’s monarch, King Salman, who has been largely disengaged since anointing his son as his successor 16 months ago, dispatched one of his most trusted envoys, Khaled al-Faisal, the governor of Mecca, to Ankara to meet with Erdoğan, a move widely viewed as the sidelined old guard being recommissioned to clean up the impetuous crown prince’s mess. “This is the way they used to do business,” a Turkish official said. “Send in a wise hand.”

Riyadh quickly released statements touting brotherly fraternity between two regional allies. But behind the scenes, things were not going well – at least not for the kingdom. “He was literally begging us for help,” the Turkish source said of Faisal. “They were really desperate.”

As the Turkish drip-feed continued, an element of revenge appeared to be driving it. This was the House of Saud’s death by a thousand cuts. Beyond a primal response though, has been a strategic objective. Erdoğan was not going to fold easily. Saudi Arabia’s belief that a cash strapped Turkish economy may drive Ankara’s calculations has proven ill-considered. A bounty to make the crisis go away is something that Riyadh could easily deal with, but Erdoğan has sought something far bigger – a chance to diminish a rival with a claim to speak for Sunni Islam and relaunch Turkey as an Islamic power base.
How to handle things has also been preoccupying Washington, increasingly desperate in its efforts to make the crisis disappear. Donald Trump has hitched many of his foreign policy ambitions to Prince Mohammed, whom he sees as a bulwark against Iran, a regional lifeline to Israel and an enthusiastic financier of the US economy.

Much of the US business elite has been enamoured by the crown prince and his social and economic reform programmes – and equally horrified by the revelations of the past week that end directly at his door. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has been a regular in Prince Mohammed’s Diwan or court, as has Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, whose two-day trip to Riyadh and Ankara last week heralded the Saudi concession in the early hours of Saturday.

A US official in the region said Pompeo was met with a blanket denial in the Saudi capital and cold realpolitik in Ankara. Both he and the CIA, which he led until recently, have reportedly been played a tape of Khashoggi’s final moments, a recording so visceral and vivid that even Trump could no longer offer the crown prince cover.
The compromise, in which five Saudi officials have been blamed and two sacked – Prince Mohammed’s domestic enforcer, Saud al-Qahtani, and deputy intelligence chief, Ahmed al-Assiri – is being hailed in Washington as credible, but derided elsewhere as a face-saving scam.

“There is simply no way that MBS [Prince Mohammed] was oblivious to this, either before the fact, or after it,” said a former Saudi official now living in exile. “Not even in my day could this happen. To suggest that a control freak and tyrant like this was blindsided by well-meaning aides is beyond laughable.”

The first test of the compromise, which was imposed on a reluctant Riyadh by Washington, is how to account for the fact that not only was Khashoggi killed but his body mutilated and disposed of in pieces somewhere in Istanbul.

Other questions stand out: if the intention was to abduct or interrogate Khashoggi, why was a forensic expert, who specialises in dismembering bodies, sent to do the job? How do Turkish accounts of Khashoggi being overpowered and killed within minutes of entering the consulate square with claims that he died fighting his assailants off?
Perhaps overriding them all though are themes set to haunt the international community’s relationship with Mohammed bin Salman from this point on; does he have the temperament, credibility or awareness to start to recover from such an atrocity? And can he ever be a plausible partner again?

Turkish investigators are now searching forests in Istanbul for what remains of Khashoggi and expect to soon close their case. The country’s leaders, meanwhile, continue to weigh their options. They are yet to release the most incriminating aspects of the case against Saudi Arabia – particularly the recordings.

To do so could have devastating consequences that might affect regional security. In Washington, Trump appears to sense that his interests and those of his patron may yet be safeguarded if events are pulled back from the brink.

“We’ll see about that,” said a senior regional diplomat. “It’s fair to say that the world order died here along with Khashoggi. I’m dreading what comes next.”
Timeline
2 October
Jamal Khashoggi is recorded on CCTV entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul at 1.14pm.

3 October
Saudi authorities confirm Khashoggi’s disappearance but insist he had left consulate. Turkish officials say he did not leave.

5 October
Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, reiterates that Khashoggi is not inside the consulate.

6 October
Turkish police say Khashoggi was murdered inside consulate.

7 October
Senior Turkish officials say that a 15-man Saudi hit squad was “most certainly involved”.

8 October
Donald Trump declares that he is concerned about Khashoggi’s disappearance.

9 October
US intelligence reported to have intercepted communications by Saudi officials planning to abduct Khashoggi.

10 October
Trump reveals he has spoken to the Saudis about what he calls a “bad situation”.
14 October
US president says there will be “severe” consequences if Saudi Arabia is found to be involved.

16 October
Trump changes view and criticises the widespread outrage directed at Saudi Arabia.

17 October
Reports claim that Khashoggi’s killers severed his fingers and later beheaded and dismembered his body.

18 October
White House shifts position again. Trump threatens “very severe” consequences if Saudis responsible.

(This article has been reproduced from the Guardian newspaper dated 21 October 2016)

Advanced science, Bangladesh, Economic, Environmental, International, Technical

Harnessing the Solar Energy absorbed by ocean waters

solar_energy

The world’s oceans constitute a vast natural reservoir for receiving and storing solar energy. They take in solar energy in proportion to their surface area, nearly three times that of land. As the sun warms the oceans, it creates a significant temperature difference between the surface water and the deeper water to which sunlight doesn’t penetrate. Any time there’s a temperature difference, there’s the potential to run a heat engine, a device that converts thermal energy into mechanical energy.

Most of the electricity we use comes from heat engines of one kind or another. The working principle of such an engine is very simple. It operates between two reservoirs of thermal energy, one hot and one cold. Energy is extracted from the hot reservoir to heat a working fluid which boils to form high-pressure vapour that drives a turbine coupled to an electricity-producing generator. Contact with the cold reservoir re-condenses the working fluid which is pumped back into the evaporator to complete the cycle.

The idea of building an engine to harness energy from the oceans, mainly to generate electricity, by exploiting the thermal gradient between waters on the surface and deeper layers of an ocean is known as OTEC—acronym for Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion. With OTEC, the hot reservoir is an ocean’s warmer surface water with temperatures, which can exceed 25 degrees Celsius, and the cold reservoir is the cooler water, around five to six degrees, at a depth of up to one kilometre. The working fluid is usually ammonia, which vaporises and condenses at the available temperatures. This is analogous to choosing water as the working fluid matched to the temperature differential between a fossil-fuel-fired boiler and a condenser cooled by air or water.

The maximum efficiency of a heat engine operating between reservoirs at 25 and 5 degrees Celsius is 6.7 percent. This means efficiency of an actual OTEC engine will be much less, perhaps 2-3 percent. But low efficiency isn’t the liability it would be in a fossil-fuelled or nuclear power plant. After all, the fuel for OTEC is unlimited and free, as long as the sun heats the oceans.

The greater is the temperature difference, more efficient an OTEC power plant would be. For example, a surface temperature of 30 degrees would raise the ceiling on efficiency to 8.25 percent. That’s why the technology is viable primarily in tropical regions where the year-round temperature differential between the ocean’s deep cold and warm surface waters is greater than 20 degrees. The waters of Bay of Bengal along the shores of Bangladesh, a country that enjoys a year round warm, and at times very hot weather, have excellent thermal gradients for producing electricity using OTEC technology.

The world’s biggest operational OTEC facility, with an annual power generation capacity of 100 kW, was built by Makai Ocean Engineering in Hawaii. Tokyo Electric Power Company and Toshiba built a 100 kW plant on the island of Nauru, although as much as 70 percent of the electricity generated is used to operate the plant.

The US aerospace company Lockheed Martin is building an OTEC electricity generating plant off the coast of Hainan Island in China. Once operational, the plant will be able to generate up to at least 10 MW of power, enough to sustain the energy requirements of a smaller metropolis. India is building a 200 kW plant, expected to be operational before 2020, in Kavaratti, capital of the Lakshadweep archipelago, to power a desalination plant. Other OTEC systems are either in planning or development stage in Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and several countries along the Indian Ocean, mostly to supply electricity.

Like any alternative form of energy, OTEC has its advantages and disadvantages, but the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. Among the advantages, the one that stands out is its ability to provide a base load supply of energy for an electrical power generation system without interruption, 24/7/365. It also has the potential to produce energy that are several times greater than other ocean energy options, such as waves and tides. More importantly, OTEC is an extremely clean and sustainable technology because it won’t have to burn climate-changing fossil fuels to create a temperature difference between the reservoirs. A natural temperature gradient already exists in the oceans. The gradient is very steady in time, persisting over day and night and from season to season. Furthermore, the desalination technology as a by-product of the OTEC can produce a large amount of fresh water from seawater which will benefit many island nations and desert countries.

However, recirculation of large volumes of water by OTEC power plants could have negative impacts on the aquatic environment. In particular, the introduction of nutrient-rich deep waters into the nutrient-poor surface waters would stimulate plankton blooms that could adversely affect the local ecological balance. Additional ecological problems include destruction of marine habitats and aquatic nursery areas, redistribution of oceanic constituents, loss of planktons and decrease of fish population.

Since OTEC facilities must be located closer to the shores due to cabling constraints, they could have significant effect on near-shore circulation patterns of ocean water. As a result, open ocean organisms close to the shores will be especially affected because they are known to have very narrow tolerance limits to changes in the properties of their environment.

The biggest drawback of OTEC is its low efficiency. This implies that to produce even modest amounts of electricity, OTEC plants have to be constructed on a relatively large scale, which makes them expensive investments. It’s the price we should be prepared to pay to curb global warming. Industry analysts however believe that in the long run, low operation and maintenance cost would offset the high cost of building OTEC facilities.

The current effort, as agreed in the 2015 Paris Accord, to keep our planet lovable is like taking one giant step backward before trying to move one step forward. If technology for OTEC and other eco-friendly renewable sources of energy are fully developed and globally commercialised, it would indeed be one giant step forward in mitigating global warming. They would also equip communities worldwide with the self-empowerment tools that are required to build an independent and sustainable future.

 

The author, Quamrul Haider, is a Professor of Physics at Fordham University, New York.