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The Line, Saudi Arabia: What is it?

Every month in the Matchless Gift magazine, the devotees take world news and explore it from a Krisna conscious point of view. It is one of our many regular features, including Sankirtan stories, an editor's letter by His Grace Purujit Dasa, and articles written by all the devotees. Please support us and engage yourself in spiritual life by purchasing the magazines here!

The Line, Saudia Arabia: They Are Going to Build What...? saudi arabia the line

The Line, Saudi Arabia

There have always been people who tried to construct the kingdom of God on earth. Sometimes they drop God along the way. The latest such attempt is called The Line. The Line is a linear smart city under construction in Saudi Arabia in Neom, Tabuk Province, which is designed to have no cars, streets or carbon emissions. The linear city is an urban plan for an elongated urban formation, which is basically a city built in the shape of a long line as opposed to a regular blob formed city we are used to. The Line promises to solve the problem of overpopulation in Saudi Arabia by building the whole city as two long skyscrapers and stuffing all people on top of each other and not letting them overpopulate into the width of the landscape. The concept is not new, but has been proposed already in 1882 by a guy called Arturo Soria y Mata. It replaced the traditional idea of the city as a centre and a periphery with the idea of constructing linear sections of infrastructure - roads, railways, gas, water, etc.- along an optimal line and then attaching the other components of the city along the length of this line. As compared to the concentric cities, the linear city creates the infrastructure for a controlled process of expansion that joins one growing city to the next in a rational way, instead of letting them both sprawl. I hope you get the idea by now. Arturo Soria y Mata never actually realized his vision as the idea was too radical for his time. Another vision of a linear city came in the 1960s, when the Italian avant-garde group Superstudio presented another radical artistic project: the continuous monument, "an architectural model for total urbanization," which was supposed to cover the entire Earth, but again without any feasibility or real utility. ‘Perhaps today is the time to do it,’ thought the Saudis… and here we go.

If built, the Line will consist of closely connected communities which are called modules. One module will be 800 metres in length and 500 metres tall and the total structure will consist of 135 modules. The total length of the Line will therefore come to an astounding 170 km (110 miles). It aims to preserve 95% of the nature within Neom, the city where the Line intends to spread its glories. It will stretch from the Red Sea approximately to the city of Tabuk. It is intended that it will have a crazy nine million residents, resulting in an average population density of 260,000 people per square kilometre. By comparison, Manila, the world's most densely populated city in 2020, had a density of 44,000/km2. The Line's plan consists of two mirrored buildings with an outdoor space in between, having a total width of 200 metres (660 ft) and a total height of 500 metres (1,600 ft).

The estimated building cost is US$100–200 billion (400–700 billion SAR), with some estimates as high as $1 trillion. It is claimed by the Saudi government that it will create 460,000 jobs, spur economic diversification, and contribute 180 billion SAR (US$48 billion) to domestic GDP by 2030.The first residents are expected to move in during 2024 and the first phase of the project is scheduled to be completed in 2030.

The Line, Saudi Arabia

If you think this is a turbo phantasmagoria, think twice. The excavation work had already started along the entire length of the project by October 2022 as documented by drone footage released by Ot Sky! The same has been documented by satellite images by Australian company, Soar, according to a report by Gizmodo. The images, which were taken by a satellite from Chang Guang Satellite Technology Corporation on October 22 last year, showed updates of the megacity from the main base camp. By March 2023, more than 4,500 piles had been driven in module 43, reaching a peak of 60 piles a day. From this point on, piling work is shifting towards module 45, 46 and 47 which are located at the Marina. Excavation of about 1 million cubic metres of earth is taking place each week at the marina.

Who is running the project? Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia. He released a short film in January outlining his plans for the Line. M.B.S., as the crown prince is known, plans to pour $500 billion into the Line and related projects, which is a lot of money even by Saudi standards. He calls the Line a “civilizational revolution” to be inhabited by one million people “from all over the world."

The film begins with a fast-moving montage of the 20th-century’s so-called greatest scientific and technical breakthroughs. Dates flash on the screen in a vintage font as we see images of the first commercial radio broadcast (1920), the first color TVs (1953), the first successful kidney transplant (1954), the first man on the moon (1969), the birth of the internet. After flicking past the glories of YouTube and virtual reality, the screen goes blank and the words appear, white on a black background: “What’s next?”

You guessed it. The Line. According to the video, the Line will save humanity from the nightmare of commutes and pollution and preserve 95 percent of nature within its confines. In this way the Line will show how a man can live in harmony with nature by using cutting edge technology and harvesting the fruits of renewable energy that it provides.

What the film doesn’t say is that there are already thousands of people living in harmony with nature in the same area: a tribal community that has been there for centuries and is now being replaced by the project. One of these tribesmen made videos protesting the evictions — videos of a different sort, you might imagine, than the one M.B.S. has produced. He was shot dead last year in a confrontation with Saudi security forces in April 2020 in his home in Al-Khariba.

The man, who identified himself as Abdul Rahim Ahmad Mahmoud al-Hwaiti, said in a video posted online he was from the town of al-Khraybah in the northwest Red Sea region. He and other residents were being pressured by the government to give up their properties and accept financial compensation, he said.

Al-Hwaiti said in one video uploaded on YouTube that “anyone who refuses to leave the area would be arrested by government agents”. He called the government’s move “forced displacement”. “This is my home,” he said, adding he would not move elsewhere in Saudi Arabia because he considers his tribal area his “own homeland.”

Later in October 2022, Shadli, Ibrahim, and Ataullah al-Huwaiti, of the Howeitat tribe, were sentenced to death when they refused to vacate their village to make way for the NEOM megaproject. Shadli al-Huwaiti was the brother of Abdul Rahim al-Huwaiti, who was shot dead by security forces early that year.

The Line, Saudi Arabia

German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung found out that two well known architects terminated their participation in the project due to human rights and ecological concerns — Norman Foster and Francine Houben from Mecanoo. The paper also reported that several high-ranking architects are still on board: David Adjaye, Ben van Berkel (UN Studios), Massimiliano Fuksas, the London office of the late Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaas, the Laboratory for Visionary Architecture (LAVA) as well as Delugan Meissl and Wolf D. Prix from Coop Himmelb(l)au. The Süddeutsche criticized the lack of sustainability and the prevailing double standards of the architects in moral issues. The project has also faced criticism over its impact on the environment and the current population of the area, as well as doubts about its technological and economic viability.

The Line is supposed to use artificial intelligence to monitor the city and use predictive and data models to find ways to improve daily life for its citizens, with residents being paid for submitting data to The Line. However, digital rights researchers such as Vincent Mosco suggested that the city's data collection scheme could make it a "surveillance city," because of arrangements that would distort consent to sharing data, and because Saudi Arabia's poor human rights record might imply potential misuse of data. Neom CEO Joseph Bradley said that the Neom coordinators were resolving privacy issues and that Saudi Arabia had a personal data protection law.

In an interview with Dezeen, associate professor Marshall Brown at Princeton University said he believed that in such large-scale urban planning, it would be difficult to achieve the slick, futuristic aesthetic seen in the concept art because of the large number of factors involved. Hélène Chartier of C40 Cities compared The Line to other, unrealised, linear city projects, such as the 1882 design by Soria and a 1965 proposal for a linear settlement in New Jersey.

Philip Oldfield of the University of New South Wales said that the quality of life would probably come down to whether the city was well-managed, rather than to its visual flair.

Oldfield said the project would have a carbon footprint of about 1.8 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent in the glass, steel, and concrete, because "you cannot build a 500-meter-tall building out of low-carbon materials." He said the 170-km profile would create a large-scale barrier to adjacent ecosystems and migratory species similar to that created by highways, and the mirrored exterior facade would be dangerous for birds. Notably, there will be a region facing the irradiation from 2 suns in one of the already hottest places in the world.

The Line Saudi Arabia

According to the architect and urban planner Etienne Bou-Abdo, "the 3D images presented are not classical 3D architecture images," and the designers of the project "have rather called upon video game designers." More worryingly, among the various ideas presented as the basis of the project, there would be, according to him, "a lot of technology that we don't have today." Many of the project's other key announcements, particularly in the areas of energy and transportation, are based on technologies that do not even exist in prototype form.

So this seems to be a project a little bit blown out of proportion. What is the actual problem here? The prince is looking for a solution to an ever-increasing population of Saudi Arabia. He finds there is not enough space to shelter all the citizens of the country and decides to build this giant structure that defies imagination of the most creative mind. The problem of overpopulation has been propagated for a long time by the world leaders, but in reality there is nothing extraneous in the creation of the Lord. The concept stems from the atheistic assumption that nature is arranged by random chance without any purpose or a goal behind it. This is not so. Sri Isopanisad informs us that just as the Lord is complete and perfect, all emanations from Him are as complete and perfect as He is and the only incompleteness is our incomplete understanding of this completeness. There cannot be anything "over'' in the fine-tuned project of the Lord's creation. The root of the problem lies somewhere else–namely, in the mismanagement of the leaders. Although the world is the property of God, the crooked leaders have divided it into different countries and are consequently fighting over its resources. In the Krishna conscious vision of the world, there is no nationality. Everything belongs to God and all his children have a right to enjoy their allotted quota as per the verdict of the Sri Isopanisad. If this vision is not realized, the division of the world naturally creates imbalance. For example, there might be lots of oil in the Arabian countries, and yet Arabian soil is all desert so the Arabians cannot grow anything and must build a gigantic Line. Therefore, the world should be declared as one whole with Krishna, the Supreme Lord as the supreme proprietor. Srila Prabhupada says: "If you think that the Arabian oil is Krsna's property, God's property, "We shall take it by force," then why the Arabians should not be allowed to come from the desert and live in America? But they foolish, they will not come. They have got United Nation. But United Nation means simply committing mistake, mistake, mistake, mistake. That's all. That is their business. Why don't you unite? Yes, this Arabian oil is Krsna's property. Similarly the Australian land, or the African land, or this American land, so vast tract of land. But "No. You can not come here. Yow-yow." They say, the immigration department. You see. Yow-yow department. So this nonsense, these rascals, all these politician, they're spoiling the situation, but they are so big rascal, they'll not accept the solution. Take Krsna consciousness and everything will be solved. That's a fact.(Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.15.1 – November 29, 1973, New York)

The "yow-yow" department Srila Prabhupada is referring to is the border control. In each country, there are the custom control officers who bark like dogs, demand passports and visas. They search people and not even a gentleman is spared suspicion of smuggling. Dogs who guard one's house also do that. They bark on everyone without discrimination. Prabhupada elaborates on a different occasion on the same topic: "Actually everything is God's property, but people are claiming this property to be theirs or their country's. Now they are talking about the problem of overpopulation, but the fact is that God has supplied enough. Actually there is enough land and enough food if it is properly used. People are artificially creating problems, and the scientists are helping them by giving them so many destructive devices." (SSR 6g: The Tiny World of Modern Science)

This is the nature of material advancement. By solving one problem, the materialistic scientists create more problems. For example, in the case of The Line, on one hand there is a massive financial support from the prince and lots of innovation and place for experiment, on the other hand there are others who doubt his integrity, especially in the light of his past treatment of people holding opposing views. Actually, there was no treatment. They were simply killed. Srila Prabhupada writes: "Sometimes great demons and atheists like Ravana and Hiranyakasipu and many others become very famous due to advancing material civilization by the help of material science and other activities, with a spirit of challenging the established order of the Lord. For example, the attempt to fly to other planets by material means is a challenge to the established order. The conditions of each and every planet are different, and different classes of human beings are accommodated there for particular purposes mentioned in the codes of the Lord. But, puffed up by tiny success in material advancement, sometimes the godless materialists challenge the existence of God. Ravana was one of them, and he wanted to transport ordinary men to the planet of Indra (heaven) by material means without consideration of the necessary qualifications. He wanted a staircase to be built up directly reaching the heavenly planet so that people might not be required to undergo the routine of pious work necessary to enter that planet." (SB 1.3.22 purport)

Srila Prabhupada

By the law of karma, different living entities are born in different areas of the universe to burn off their individual sinful reactions from previous lives. Anyone who artificially tries to change the course of such karmic destiny, whether by reaching the heavenly planets by the help of a modern spaceship, or by building the giant Line in a desert-like area, becomes immediately a popular figure since the living entities are seeking nothing but improved material conditions of life for more and more sense gratification. What they do not realize is that no material adjustment can stop the real problems of life: birth, death, old age and disease. In the light of these unpleasant realities, all such blind attempts to defy the order of the Lord are meaningless. Krishna, the Supreme creator of this material universe declares in the Bhagavad-gita that this world is purposefully created for suffering: “From the highest planet in the material world down to the lowest, all are places of misery wherein repeated birth and death take place.” (Bg 8.16) There is no question of any improvement. Ultimately, everything ends in death. For this reason the ancient Vedic culture never encourages building giant skyscrapers or mansions for ordinary citizens. Srila Prabhupada explains: "...this Vedic civilization was based on plain living and high thinking. Big, big persons, just like Vyasadeva there is no comparison of his authority -- Vyasadeva. Eh? Nobody can imagine how one man can write so many books and so perfectly. This Srimad-Bhagavatam was written by Vyasadeva, so nice verses, each verse is so full of thought -- philosophy. It is unimaginable that how a man can write like this. Hm, but it is possible for him because he is incarnation, that is another thing. But if you take from humanitarian point of view it is not possible but such a great personality. Veda-vyasa, the guru of all sections of the sampradaya -- vyasa-guru. Therefore guru-puja, the spiritual master's birthday is observed as vyasa-puja because the spiritual master is taken as the representative of Vyasadeva. The asana from which the spiritual master instructs, is called vyasasana. Vyasasana means: "That chair that it belongs to Vyasadeva, that position is for Vyasadeva." Because, because the spiritual master is representative of Vyasadeva he is allowed -- not anyone. So such an exalted personality, he was living in Badrikasrama in a cottage. Just see how Vedic civilization, he was living in Badrikasrama, Badarayana -- in a cottage. That was all. Only the royal class the king class they had big, big buildings because they had to maintain that. Rulers, they must have some exalted position otherwise the people will not respect. But ordinary men, they never struggled for these nonsense things, big motor cars, big house and big. No, they were satisfied with agriculture whatever produce is there, that's alright, that is sufficient. Anyone can live anywhere simply by keeping cows and tilling the ground, that's all. Economic question immediately solved.

(Srimad-Bhagavatam 10.2.32 class)

People at that time understood that the aim is not to build outside, but to build inside in the form of one's own cultivation of the spirit soul. The materialistic civilization makes us blind to the self-evident fact: we are not here forever. What is the use of building big structures? Although the prince Mohammed might be very expert in killing his enemies, he cannot save himself against the cruel hands of death himself. The Line might one day be standing with pride with all its amenities and modern technological solutions at full display, but the prince might not be able to see its shine. Maybe he will take birth as a rat in that Line and might become exterminated by the sophisticated AI system he himself helped to design.

Actually, the real necessity in any society, whether on land or in a desert, is food. Food is the truly renewable energy: we plant it into the ground, the seed grows, produces a plant, the plant gives fruit, the fruit gives a seed and a seed again goes into the ground and produces more food. What is the use of producing a big, big Line skyscraper if people starve to death in it? What is the prince's plan for growing food in the desert? Srila Prabhupada explains that the real reason why land turns into desert is that people are sinful. "Because deserts are manifestations of the earth's diseased condition, no auspicious ritualistic ceremony can be performed in a desert. Persons destined to live in deserts are understood to be sharing the reactions for the sin of brahma-hatya, the killing of a brahmana." (SB 6.9.7 purport)

Prince Mohammed Bin Salman

Seeing the killing appetite of prince Mohammed, it would not be a surprise to see that he has carried this mentality from his previous life, in which he might have killed some brahmanas. He is now suffering the reaction by being bound to a piece of land that is almost impossible to live on. But everything can be adjusted. The desert can be revitalised by the process of sankirtana yajna. The sankirtana yajna, congregational chanting of the holy name of the Lord, brings forth the rain and if the chanting is performed sincerely for the satisfaction of the Lord, it can even counteract the sin of killing a brahmana.

The prince Mohammed should therefore encourage this mass sankirtan movement in Saudi Arabia and this will bring good fortune because the sankirtana yajna automatically removes whatever sinful reaction is there. In this way he will be memorized eternally for his transcendental achievement. Srila Prabhupada writes:

"In this fallen age of quarrel and dissension, if only the leading and wealthy persons of society agree to spend fifty percent of their income in the service of the Lord, as it is taught by Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, there is absolute certainty of converting this hell of pandemonium to the transcendental abode of the Lord. No one will disagree to partake in a function where good singing, dancing and refreshment are administered. Everyone will attend such a function, and everyone is sure to feel individually the transcendental presence of the Lord. This alone will help the attendants associate with the Lord and thereby purify themselves in spiritual realization. The only condition for successfully executing such spiritual activities is that they must be conducted under the guidance of a pure devotee who is completely free from all mundane desires, fruitive activities and dry speculations about the nature of the Lord." (SB 1.5.36 purport)

Since the budget of the prince for the construction of the Line is 500 billion, only if 250 billion was used to organize a mass sankirtana in the desert of Saudi Arabia by millions of its citizens both from Arabia and abroad with the careful supervision and management of the prince, the whole desert would be turned into a massive field for growing food. There would be no need to build the Line. Rather, citizens could become self-sufficient and productive. There would be enough land to accommodate all and even invite others to take prasadam. Srila Prabhupada writes:

"The modern civilization is a condemned civilization. The innocent people are being dragged from the villages and exploited in the cities. But in the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krishna recommends them to remain where they are and produce grains: annad bhavanta bhutani. Grow your food, eat sumptuously, and chant Hare Krishna. This is real life. If we establish such projects all over India, we shall be the proprietor of India. Similarly in the USA. And if USA and India join together in such Krishna consciousness projects, then the whole world will be paradise." (Letter to: Mahavirya: -- Vrindaban 7 September, 1975)

We are, however, doubtful whether the leaders of the world have such godly intentions for their citizens. They are attached to their power structures and do not see self-sufficiency of citizens and their living on the gifts of God as meaningful. Their world is based on denial of God and on falsely created dependency. Instead of creating open fields and freedom, they are planning big structures to trap people into modern jail-like lifestyles, which might not be at all healthy or conducive to well-being. Srila Prabhupada says: "Actually, when there are so many skyscraper buildings, it is hell. The natural air is obstructed. In Bombay you'll see. If you are in the top floor you have got little facility; in the lower floor it is hell. If there are several skyscraper building, in the first floor, second floor, it is simply hell. No air. Simply you have to run on this electric fan. You cannot see the sky. Therefore it is meant skyscraper?...So you have touched the sky in such a way I cannot see even. (laughs) This is the result. You demon, you have captured the sky, so I have no opportunity to see even. Always electric light. Now we see the sky, the sun, how nice it is. This is life. Green, down and up, clear sky, sun, this is life. We get rejuvenation in this atmosphere. What is this nonsense, all skyscraper building, no air, no light? Jagato 'hitah. The mind becomes crippled, the health becomes deteriorated, children cannot see even the sky, everything is spoiled." (Bhagavad-gita 16.1–16 Garden Discussion – June 26, 1976, New Vrindavan) What Srila Prabhupada says here is reaffirmed by the contemporary architects. When asked about the Line, Dutch architect Winy Maas said that while he would "love to live in such an environment, its profile as seen in the concept art was monotonous" and he believed "it would facilitate unfavorable wind flow through the interior."

We admire the ambitious zeal of Prince Mohammed, but unless guided by the genuine Krishna consciousness movement, the Line will be yet another futile attempt to change the course of destiny carefully planned out by God. Nothing can succeed if God is not involved, therefore we humbly propose: Align the Line with the line of disciplic succession.

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