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)

Bangladesh, Economic, Environmental, International, Life as it is, Political

Politics of climate change, sinking Bangladesh and floating houses

Climate change is real and permanent. There is no turning round as we have gone past the point of no-return. It can only get worse from here. Climate change is, therefore, an existential threat for our children and grandchildren for whom time is running out fast.

Floating house in BangladeshApparently, it isn’t a threat for those who abdicated leadership of a warmer world and yet formulate environment-damaging energy policies from the luxury of their cooler world—air-conditioned homes and offices. If they cared even a bit about their progeny, they wouldn’t be flying in ozone-layer-depleting private planes or riding fossil-fuel-guzzling stretched limos and SUVs.

A few world leaders led by Donald Trump believe that carbon dioxide makes the earth greener instead of creating climate crisis. Consequently, Trump deleted references to “climate change” from government websites, fired scientists from advisory boards and the Environmental Protection Agency. He seized on the uncertainty in climate models to reverse greenhouse gas emission regulations of the Obama administration and withdrew the United States from the 2016 Paris Agreement on curbing global warming. He even nonsensically blamed this year’s out-of-control California fires on environmental laws. Other climate change deniers are his bagful of deplorables, the well-paid operatives of organisations that take contributions from fossil fuel corporations and a colourful cast of self-styled “experts” who have made a living out of rejecting the scientific evidence of climate change.

They are perhaps not aware that one of the most alarming but reliable projections for global warming has been made by researchers at the prestigious Carnegie Institution of Science in Stanford in California. The results of their research, based on a decade’s worth of satellite observations concerning the net balance between the amount of energy entering and leaving the atmosphere, have been published in the December 2017 issue of the high impact, peer-reviewed journal Nature. They concluded that if large emissions of greenhouse gases continue unabated throughout the century, worldwide temperatures could rise nearly five degrees Celsius between 2081 and 2100.

It is an undeniable fact that episodes of raging wildfires, high-category hurricanes, ferocious cyclones, floods of biblical proportions, deadly mudslides, severe droughts, bone-chilling Arctic blasts followed by lethal heatwaves and the melting of Arctic ice at a rate never before seen are effects of a sub-one degree rise in global temperature since 1880. Heaven only knows what will happen if we, as agreed upon by the 2016 Paris Agreement’s stakeholders, take the free pass of heating up our planet by two degrees before the end of this century.

Even a two-degree rise in global temperature would most likely set the stage for the greenhouse effect to spin out of control, eventually triggering a runaway greenhouse effect whose impacts would be cataclysmic, to say the least. Nevertheless, scientists at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change believe that there is virtually no chance of a runaway greenhouse effect being induced by human activities, despite the fact that greenhouse gas emissions are still moving in the wrong direction.

What triggers a runaway greenhouse effect? The increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide and water vapour, two of the dominant greenhouse gases, would raise the global temperature which, in turn, would cause more water from the oceans to evaporate and carbon dioxide stored in the soil and oceans to bake out. This would be in addition to the carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels. The positive feedback of continued emission of these greenhouse gases would ultimately snare our planet into a vicious cycle of a runaway greenhouse effect, which was responsible for raising the surface temperature of Venus to a blistering 480 degrees Celsius—hot enough to melt lead.

One of the countries that is already paying a hefty price for the climate sins of industrial nations is Bangladesh. It is predicted that the two-degree boost in temperature and the subsequent rise of sea levels would sink the coastal areas of Bangladesh, thereby resulting in an unprecedented human tragedy. Already, the intruding sea has contaminated groundwater which supplies drinking water for coastal regions and degraded farmlands, rendering them less fertile and at places completely barren.

Although engineering adaptations to climate change have been successful in other countries, such as the dikes constructed in the Netherlands, they won’t work in Bangladesh because the soils are sandy and constantly shifting. Thus, if the country does not want to see millions of her climate refugees migrating inland and ending up in decrepit slums, then the government should take a serious look at the “Dream House”—a flood-resistant floating house—built by a team of BRAC University students.

The concept of floating houses and floating villages is not new. There are many such villages in the world. They are communities with houses and other amenities of a town built on top of large raft-like structures or on stilts, as in the Tonlé Sap Lake in Siem Reap in Cambodia.

Floating houses in Bangladesh’s coastal areas could save the lives and livelihoods of millions from the catastrophic effects of anthropogenic climate change. Bangladeshi farmers have already developed techniques for building floating farms, known as “dhaps,” with duck coops, fish enclosures and vegetable gardens anchored by ropes to the riverbanks where the water rises at least three metres during the monsoon season.
The arduous life of the people living in the floating dwellings that would gently rock and roll with the ebb and flow of the Bay of Bengal would not only be a paragon of adapting to climate change but also a modern-day example of Darwin’s “survival of the fittest.”

 

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

 

 

Cultural, Economic, International, Life as it is, Political

Is Britain heading towards a ‘banana state’?

A ‘banana state’ or ‘banana republic’ is generally perceived to be a state where the government is blatantly dysfunctional, wobbly and very vulnerable; the politicians, particularly of the ruling party, become self-serving, corrupt and utterly negligent to national interests; national economy becomes dependent on foreign capital and investment (often American’s exploiting local conditions) and relies on few agricultural products, particularly banana (hence the name ‘banana republic’); the weather is warm that makes its people subservient and docile. Britain now satisfies, for all intents and purposes, most, if not all, of these criteria.

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Let us examine these four criteria sequentially. The present government under the premiership of Theresa May is distinctly dysfunctional and wobbly. Boris Johnson, the arch-Brexiteer and a loose cannon of zero intellect, used to dish out national policies on the hoop when he was the foreign secretary. His motive was that the government would find it extremely difficult to ditch ideas, however useless or dogmatic, of the foreign secretary. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland having only 10 MPs had to be bought over by Theresa May for the staggering sum of one billion pounds to prop up her knife-edge administration in parliament. Now Jacob Rees-Mogg, ex-hedge fund manager and presently the leader of the so-called ‘European Research Group’ (ERG) (a shameful pressure group financed by foreign donors) and viscerally anti-European and arch-Brexiteer, is the back-seat driver and vicious sniper to the prime minister. He sets terms for the prime minister and tries to control the Brexit policy on the strength of 50 or so Tory MPs in the ERG. The government can hardly be more dysfunctional and vulnerable due to such crooked self-serving bigoted MPs.

The government exists with all the paraphernalia of ruling the country, but without any strategy, mission or vision. It relies on anti-European hysteria, snappy slogans, and populist narratives. When Theresa May came to power within a month following the most disruptive and destructive EU referendum in 2016, she said at the steps of 10 Downing Street that her government is going to work for everyone, she will prioritise ‘not the mighty nor the wealthy nor the privileged but the working people’, she boastfully (rather beastly) declared ‘Brexit means Brexit’. These were nothing but cheap political slogans, just as typical banana republic politicians would resort to. She is in power but not in authority.

Even more stark demonstration of the banana republic is the egregious pronouncement of promises by ministers, even by the prime minister and other powerful politicians of the ruling party. These promises are made to get support of the general public (in election, in referendum etc) but knowing very well that these promises are only empty words, just bluffs to the public. These promises are not achievable and the politicians would get away without being made accountable.

Politicians of Britain have become self-serving, tribal and opportunistic, relegating national interests to nonentity. David Cameron, the prime minister between 2010 and 2015, had to give in to the demands of right-wing xenophobic imperialist elements of his party and produced ‘Bloomberg Speech’ in 2013, where he promised to give a referendum to the public by 2017 regarding UK’s continued EU membership. It was the most self-indulgent disruptive promise made to satisfy the rogue elements of his party at the expense of national interests. Self-interests and tribalism cannot go deeper than this.

After David Cameron’s announcement of the EU referendum on 23 June 2016, political jostling, tribalism, lies and deception all broke loose. Boris Johnson, the then MP and ex-Mayor of London (elected twice), along with Michael Gove, the then secretary of state for justice, Ian Duncan Smith, the then works and pensions secretary and many more politicians of the ruling party gave fictitious and egregious promises to the general public and the deplorable, illiterate and semi-literate public clung on to those promises. They promised to put back additional £350 million per week to the NHS, if UK leaves the EU. ‘The future is bright’, ‘take back control’ (from Brussels), ‘British Parliament is sovereign’, no more ‘unelected representatives’ would make our laws, etc were the thunders of these self-serving dogmatic opportunistic politicians. They also fabricated millions of phantom immigrant Turks waiting outside the borders to come to the UK, if UK remains in the EU. Although all of these pronouncements were blatant lies, the Electoral Commission was impotent to put a stop to the falsehood and the referendum proceeded with these lies.

Barack Obama in the dying days of his administration tried to warn British public of the consequences of leaving the EU. But then the Brexit politicians led by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove screamed loudly complaining against ‘American interference’ in British internal matters. But when Donald Trump interfered only a few days ago and advised the prime minister, in no uncertain terms, to leave the EU without a deal and sue the EU, the Brexiteers found nothing wrong in that! Tribalism and racism are obviously deep rooted in Brexiteers minds.

America had aggressive stance towards other states right from the end of the WWII. America, Britain and Russia, the victorious Allied Powers, were at par in 1946. But then as decolonisation proceeded, Britain started to decline in political, economic and military spheres and America started to step in with ‘ethical and moral’ flags in those countries to fill the vacuum. Very soon, America ditched those moral pretence and started outright domination of those countries and became de-facto masters of these countries.

Britain invented ‘special relationship’ with America in order to remain as a super power or at least pretence of a super power. Britain benefited from American political support, American offer of nuclear weapons, nuclear submarines etc in return of accepting American hegemony. Special relationship remained especially advantageous to America and made Britain especially subservient to America.

All American and British governments since WWII had tried to gloss over this ‘tilted special relationship’ until the reality television show presenter and street brawler Donald Trump spilled the beans. He explicitly told British prime minister to break off ties and negotiations with the EU (as he declares EU is America’s foe) and start negotiations with America, even though America recently imposed 25% tariff on British steel. The ‘special relationship’ has in effect become a master-servant relationship. If America manages to prise Britain out of the EU, its dominance over Britain, in economic and political fields, will be permanent. Britain’s ‘banana republic’ status will become rock-solid, similar to other banana republics in the Caribbean.

While America is pulling Britain to subservience, there is a very strong bunch of xenophobic imperialist Tory politicians who are hallucinating of bringing back the second era of British colonialism and ‘rule Britannia’ status! Boris Johnson went to India, Myanmar and other ex-colonies deluding that he would get the reception and imperial status of colonial foreign secretary. Liam Fox, Brexit international trade secretary, claimed that making a trade deal (probably with ex-colonies) is the easiest thing in world history! However, in over two years as the international trade secretary he managed to get not a single trade deal! Banana republic ministers are all puff and froth, no substance.

The last but not the least aspect of banana republic is the warm weather. The warm weather has both positive and negative aspects. The positive aspect is that it somehow helps to produce a good football team. A team when nobody, not even the team players themselves, expected to perform well, they went as far as the semi-final in the world cup in Russia this year. It may be that the warm weather makes human joints more supple and flexible, muscles stronger and resilient than they would otherwise be the case!

However, there is a negative aspect of the warm weather. People become mentally blank and vacuous; they lose their capacity to critically analyse issues. Otherwise, how could millions of people take Boris Johnson’s imbecile comment that the ‘future is bright’ for the UK (on leaving the EU) to be true, when the economy is undoubtedly going to suffer very adversely? How could people become so emotive and bigoted when Nigel Farage showed a photo of long queue of migrants to assert that they were all waiting to come to Britain? People lose their basic human sense in the warm weather and that probably makes them behave like lambs?

It is a shame and highly deplorable that a great power like Britain with educated mass can so easily be persuaded by populist and bigoted politicians to cause such a self-harm to satisfy the interests of these dogmatic politicians by voting to leave the EU. This Brexit is likely to be, unless halted immediately, the sharp decline of British power and become a ‘banana state’.

– A Rahman is an author and a columnist.