Student protestors chant slogans and hold up placards reading "The AKP party robs people" and "University students will call it to account" as they march to the entrance of a Halkbank bank branch in the Besiktas district of Istanbul on December 19, 2013. About 100 protestors chanted anti-goverment slogans as they protested corruption during a demonstration rally.  Turkish police had detained more than 20 people including the sons of three cabinet ministers and several high-profile businessmen on December 17 in a probe into alleged bribery and corruption, local media reported. AFP PHOTO / OZAN KOSE        (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)

Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty


12.28.135:45 AM ET

Turkey And Iran Accused Of Oil-For-Cash Sanctions Scheme

An unfolding corruption scandal in Turkey has uncovered transactions that may have allowed Tehran to circumvent harsh U.S. and E.U. sanctions—a revelation that could destabilize Obama’s nuclear deal and threaten the government of Prime Minister Erdogan.

A massive unfolding corruption scandal in Turkey—which has already forced the resignations of three government ministers and threatens to upend the Islamist government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan— is fast acquiring an international dimension amid accusations that Iran is enmeshed in Ankara’s political crisis.

What started out as a domestic scandal involving shady real estate deals and allegations of bribery and kickbacks among the Erdogan government and its business allies is now expanding, with major international ramifications. Among the potential repercussions, analysts say: a potential destabilization in the delicate negotiations underway between the West and Iran over Tehran’s nuclear program.

The first hint of the Iranian angle in the corruption probes launched by Turkish police in the face of government obstruction came before Christmas when a complicated oil-for-gold deal between Turkey and Iran was unmasked.  The investigators didn’t set out to uncover the sanction-busting oil deal but say they were led to it by following a trail of cash bribes.

An Iranian businessman and gold dealer, Reza Sarraf (also known as Reza Zarrab), whom police have accused of bribing the Economic Minister while organizing transactions from Iran worth $120 billion, was arrested last week. So, too, the CEO of the state-owned Turkish financial institution Halkbank, who was reportedly found to have more than $4 million of cash stuffed in shoe-boxes in his home.

According to Turkish investigators, both men were at the center of a complex deal in which Iran sold oil and natural gas to Turkey for cash payments that were deposited in an account held at Halkbank. In order to circumvent international money-transfer sanctions on Iran, the cash deposits were then allegedly converted into gold that Turkey exported to Tehran, often via Dubai. Police reports filed with Turkish prosecutors estimate that in the past three years alone, $8 billion in gold was transferred to Iran. American analysts say.  ] the number could be higher, to the tune of $13 billion between March 2012 and July 2013 alone. (In July 2013, the U.S. and the European Union tightened loopholes on a ban on gold exports to Iran.)

In a statement to the Istanbul bourse, Halkbank stated that all its business transactions with Iran have been transparent and legal, and that it stopped exporting gold to Tehran in June 2013.

The broad outlines of the oil-for-gold deal has been known for some time—in April,47 U.S. lawmakers called on Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to sanction Halkbank for its gold trade with Iran.

Public exposure of Iranian maneuvering to evade UN sanctions is likely to rile U.S. lawmakers opposed to the ongoing negotiations between Washington and Tehran.

Public exposure of Iranian maneuvering to evade UN sanctions is likely to rile U.S. lawmakers opposed to the ongoing negotiations between Washington and Tehran and could complicate President Barack Obama’s selling of an interim deal that would see some sanctions lifted in return for Iran freezing some aspects of its nuclear program. The interim deal is meant to lead to a resolution of the long-running nuclear dispute. That dispute led to the United States and European Union to imposing crippling economic sanctions to supplement UN ones over suspicions that Tehran aspires to develop nuclear weapons—something Iran’s leaders deny.

Bipartisan legislation was introduced in the U.S. Senate earlier this month that would authorize new economic sanctions on Iran if it breaches an interim agreement to limit its nuclear program or fails to strike a final accord.

Last week, as the Iranian dimension to the Turkish scandal started to emerge, David Cohen, the U.S. Treasury’s Undersecretary of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, visited Turkey and reportedly urged the Turks to observe international sanctions on Iran, notwithstanding the progress being made on nuclear negotiations.

Since Cohen’s visit, the Turkish Prime Minister and his political allies have claimed that the U.S. and Israel engineered the political crisis raging in Ankara. And Erdogan has threatened to send U.S. ambassador Francis Ricciardone packing for engaging in unspecified “provocative action.”

Behind the scenes, Western diplomats say they have urged Turkish officials to restrain their language and to stop casting the unfolding graft scandal as a “foreign plot.” Erdogan has lashed out before when facing domestic turmoil by accusing the West of plotting his downfall, notably in the summer during the streets protests in Istanbul’s Gezi Park.

But analysts say the Halkbank oil-for-gold deal may only be start of more uncomfortable disclosures about Iranian dealings in Turkey.  One of every six companies that began investment in Turkey last year was backed by Iranian capital, the Turkish daily newspaper Habertürk reported recently. The latest official Turkish government data reported that in 2011, there were 2,072 Iranian firms operating in Turkey, a big jump form the year before when there were 1,470. In 2002 there were only 319 Iranian firms in the country.

Earlier this year Iran reportedly placed $7-8 billion in cash in a Dubai-based fund earmarked for investment and the acquisition of companies in Turkey.

In a paper for the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis University, Mideast expert Nader Habibi argued that “one of the main reasons that the Islamic government of Iran has been so eager to expand its ties with Turkey is the escalation of international and unilateral sanctions applied against it in recent years.” He maintained “Iran views Turkey as a valuable partner for neutralizing the international economic sanctions and reducing her international isolation; and by deepening its economic interdependency with Turkey, Iran is also trying to discourage Turkey from supporting the sanctions itself.”

One of the benefits for Iranian firms of operating from Turkey is they are able to trade in European markets—which is often impossible when operating from inside Iran because of the sanctions, notes Emanuele Ottolenghi, a Senior Fellow at the Washington DC-based think tank the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He says the hundreds of Iranian firms in Turkey are connected to “extensive global networks of Iranian-controlled companies involved in shipping, the gold trade, prepaid credit card sales, money transfer services and tourism industry services, including aviation and the purchase and sale of aircraft.”

Many of these companies were acquired or founded by former Iranian officials who had few financial resources of their own on leaving government service, Ottolenghi says. Among those officials-turned-entrepreneurs is the British-based Mehdi Shamszadeh, normally uses the surname Shams. A former senior official of the state-owned Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL), he acquired the low-cost, private Turkish airline Onur Air in May 2013 for $250 million and runs several maritime companies that conduct trade with other businesses operated by former IRISL officials.

The U.S., UN, and EU have sanctioned IRISL for its role in advancing Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

In 2006, Shams incorporated two companies in Britain with Ali Ashraf Afkhami, who at the time was chairman of IRISL. Afkhami is now chairman of Karafarin Bank, a private bank controlled by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Seyed Ali Khamenei, through holding companies. He sits on the bank’s board as a representative of Tadbir Investment Co., a subsidiary of the U.S.-sanctioned EIKO, a foundation that runs the Khamenei’s economic empire.

In September, Zaman Today newspaper reported that Mehdi Shams bought Onur Air on behalf of Babak Zanjani, an Iranian billionaire who has been sanctioned by the U.S. for “moving billions of dollars on behalf of the Iranian regime, including tens of millions of dollars to an Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps company,” according to the U.S. Treasury Department.

On Wednesday, Zanjani denied involvement in Turkey’s corruption scandal, saying in a post on his company’s website that his business in the country is completely legal. He said that he had had some limited dealings with Reza Sarraf, the businessman allegedly at the center of the Halkbank oil-for-gold deals, but said he was not aware of Sarraf’s activities.

Turkish prosecutors say that Sarraf described Zanjani to police interrogators as “my chief.”

A man wears a mask of U.S. President Barack Obama during a protest in support of former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden in front of Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, July 4, 2013. Protesters demanded Germany grant Snowden asylum as they held up banners and chanted slogans in support of the former spy agency contractor. REUTERS/Thomas Peter (GERMANY - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)

Thomas Peter/Reuters


05.14.159:00 PM ET

‘Big Win’ for Big Brother: NSA Celebrates the Bill That’s Designed to Cuff Them

It was supposed to be the declawing of America’s biggest spy service. But ‘what no one wants to say out loud is that this is a big win for the NSA,’ one former top spook says.

Civil libertarians and privacy advocates were applauding yesterday after the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed legislation to stop the National Security Agency from collecting Americans’ phone records. But they’d best not break out the bubbly.

The really big winner here is the NSA. Over at its headquarters in Ft. Meade, Md., intelligence officials are high-fiving, because they know things could have turned out much worse.

“What no one wants to say out loud is that this is a big win for the NSA, and a huge nothing burger for the privacy community,” said a former senior intelligence official, one of half a dozen who have spoken to The Daily Beast about the phone records program and efforts to change it.

Here’s the dirty little secret that many spooks are loathe to utter publicly, but have been admitting in private for the past two years: The program, which was exposed in documents leaked by Edward Snowden in 2013, is more trouble than it’s worth.

“It’s very expensive and very cumbersome,” the former official said. It requires the agency to maintain huge databases of all Americans’ landline phone calls. But it doesn’t contribute many leads on terrorists. It has helped prevent few—if any—attacks. And it’s nowhere near the biggest contributor of information about terrorism that ends up on the desk of the president and other senior decision makers.

If, after the most significant public debate about balancing surveillance and liberty in a generation, this is the program that the NSA has to give up, they’re getting off easy.

The bill that the House passed yesterday, called the USA Freedom Act, doesn’t actually suspend the phone records program. Rather, it requires that phone companies, not the NSA, hold onto the records.

“Good! Let them take them. I’m tired of holding onto this,” a current senior U.S. official told The Daily Beast. It requires teams of lawyers and auditors to ensure that the NSA is complying with the Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which authorizes the program, as well as internal regulations on how the records can and can’t be used, he said. The phone records program has become a political lightning rod, the most controversial of all the classified operations that Snowden exposed. If the NSA can still get access to the records but not have to hold onto them itself, all the better, the senior official said.

“It’s a big win for common sense and for the country,” Joel Brenner, the NSA’s former inspector general, told The Daily Beast. “NSA can get to do what it needs to do with a higher level of scrutiny and a little more trouble, but it can do what needs to do. At same time the government is not going to hold the bulk metadata of the American people.”

“What no one wants to say out loud is that this is a big win for the NSA, and a huge nothing burger for the privacy community.”

“The NSA is coming out of this unscathed,” said the former official. If the USA Freedom Act passes the Senate—which is not a forgone conclusion—it’ll be signed by President Obama and create “a more efficient and comprehensive tool” for the NSA. That’s because under the current regime, only the logs of landline calls are kept. But in the future, the NSA would be able to get cell phone records from the companies, too.

“That’s great,” the former official said. “I think no one thought it was in the realm of the possible before this bill.”

And there’s another irony. Before the Snowden leaks, the NSA was already looking for alternatives to storing huge amounts of phone records in the agency’s computers. And one of the ideas officials considered was asking Congress to require phone companies to hang onto that information for several years. The idea died, though, because NSA leaders thought that Congress would never agree, current and former officials have said.

Enter Snowden. Suddenly the NSA found itself under orders from the White House to come up with some alternative to the phone records program that preserved it as a counterterrorism tool, but also put more checks on how the records are used. That’s when Gen. Keith Alexander, then the agency’s director, dusted the old idea off the shelf and promoted it on Capitol Hill.

“The USA Freedom Act”—the supposed reining in of the NSA—“was literally born from Alexander,” the former official said.

So the NSA effectively got what it wanted. But that doesn’t mean privacy activists got nothing, or that they’d count the law’s passage as a loss.

Consider their significant victories. Before Snowden, the NSA was secretly collecting records on hundreds of millions of Americans, a program that some members of Congress didn’t even understand they were voting for when they renewed the Patriot Act, and that an appeals court ruled last week is illegal. Now the world knows what the agency exposed hundreds of millions of innocent people to potential scrutiny.

“These are reforms NSA ultimately was prepared to accept; it’s not as though the agency had been secretly wishing for these changes all along and was finally able to get them only now,” Julian Sanchez, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, told The Daily Beast. “So it seems a little odd to call it a ‘win’ for them.”

“But,” Sanchez continued, “I’d certainly agree it’s not a loss for NSA in any meaningful way. Indeed, there are some respects in which a shift to the carrier-centric model is likely to give them greater flexibility by allowing them to query on data the FISC order doesn’t permit them to collect.” For instance, billing addresses, which the NSA database doesn’t have now, but that the phone companies could, in principle, provide.

The FISC is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which has been secretly authorizing the program for years. Under the new law, the NSA would have to get court approval to query the phone records. That adds another layer of oversight to the intelligence operations, but it doesn’t suspend them. And there’s no guarantee it would curtail them, either. The court has repeatedly found that the phone records program is legal. Presumably it’s not going to stop granting NSA’s requests just because the records now sit in an AT&T database instead of one owned by the U.S. government.

“The NSA is coming out of this unscathed... No one thought it was in the realm of the possible.”

But the NSA is not out of the woods, because surveillance critics don’t see the USA Freedom Act as the last chapter. “The only downside for privacy advocates would be if the passage of this bill were invoked to claim we’ve now accomplished ‘surveillance reform’ and there’s no work left to be done,” Sanchez said.

Now, advocates will turn their sights on another controversial portion of surveillance law, Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. That’s what lets the NSA collect email and other electronic data from big tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Yahoo, including under the so-called Prism program that was the subject of the second big leak from Snowden.

That program does provide the NSA with a huge amount of information. According to intelligence officials, it’s the single largest source of intelligence included in the president’s daily national security briefing. And it also allows the NSA to collect large amounts of global communications as they course through equipment in the United States.

Take those authorities away, and it’d be like putting out one of the NSA’s eyes. Section 702 is slated to sunset in 2017. If members of Congress and privacy activists mount an effort to restrict or repeal those authorities, the NSA will go to the barricades to stop them.

But that’s another day. For now, the NSA is taking its lumps, and thanking its lucky stars.

How to make stress your friend

Brian Jackson/Alamy

Tech + Health

05.15.155:15 AM ET

How to Get Good at Stress

By Zahra Barnes for Life by DailyBurn

From wrecking your workouts to sabotaging your sleep, stress can wreak havoc on your life. But it can also be energizing, motivating and life changing — if you embrace it. That’s the theory behind a new book called The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You and How to Get Good At It, by Kelly McGonigal, PhD, a lecturer at Stanford University. Based on a course McGonigal teaches called the New Science of Stress, the book offers loads of stress-related research, along with mental exercises and personal stories to present a compelling argument that stress may not be so bad. “It’s about seeing stress as a challenge rather than a threat,” McGonigal says.

She didn’t always see it that way, though. “I made a career out of telling people stress is the enemy and they need to reduce it,” says McGonigal. But that all changed when she came across an intriguing study published in 2012. It shows that, yes, stress increased participants’ mortality. But there was one major catch: Stress only increased mortality when people believed it was harmful to their health. “When people had a lot of stress in their lives and didn’t hold that view, they seemed to be protected against mortality,” says McGonigal.

RELATED: 6 Scenarios That Stress You Out But Shouldn’t

If you sprint away from stressful situations like you’re gunning for a medal, you probably see stress as a threat. “When you view stress as inherently harmful, you shy away from things that are difficult and meaningful, whether that’s repairing a relationship or seeking out a promotion,” says McGonigal.

If, on the other hand, you welcome stress, you’ll see it as an opportunity to learn and grow. Even better: Viewing stressors in a positive light may help you feel like you can overcome it. “Studies show that people who think of stress this way are more likely to feel like they have the resources to handle it, such as self-efficacy and self-confidence,” says McGonigal.

How Do You Get Good at Stress?

If you’re thinking, “OK, this is all well and good, but how do I actually change my mind about stress?” we don’t blame you. The cultural thinking about stress is so deeply engrained that it can be hard to shake loose, but McGonigal offers a few tips:

1. Repeat This Phrase: “I’m Excited”

When you start stressing, call on a motivating mantra. “Tell yourself you’re excited,” says McGonigal. In one study cited by McGonigal, researchers put participants through stressful situations, like mock job interviews, and evaluated their bodies’ responses. Before the interviews, each participant watched one of two videos about stress. One presented stress as an “enhancing” chance to learn and grow, and as something that could be helpful to job performance. The other video claimed that stress was more debilitating to both health and work-related performance than people thought. The purpose: To analyze how the videos affected participants’ levels of cortisol and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), two stress hormones.

“People who had experienced the most stressful events were also the most likely to think they led meaningful lives.”

Neither video affected levels of cortisol, which is associated with things like impaired immune function and depression when it’s present in higher levels, says McGonigal. It was only when they did the mock interviews that cortisol levels went up. But when participants watched the video that presented stress as a positive thing, their brains released more DHEA, which can help reduce your risk of anxiety, depression, and alleviate whole host of other things that higher levels of cortisol (aka: stress) can bring about. Yup, positivity may literally change the way stress hormones react in your brain.

RELATED: 8 Signs You’re Way Too Stressed (and How to Deal)

2. Keep Your Eye on the Prize

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, thinking of the long-term benefits of your situation might help. “You can deal with stressful life experiences with strength from past ones,” says McGonigal. One study out of Hope College showed that after two minutes of thinking of the positive outcomes of a tough experience, participants felt happier and more in control of their lives. So when you’re freaking out about a presentation because you’re certain you’ll bomb, remember that you’ll learn from the experience, no matter how terrible or awesome.

3. Make a Stress Playlist

A group fitness instructor on the side, McGonigal loves making playlists to help her power past rough patches — just like she does to help her get through a workout. “Exercise is a way of practicing being good at stress. It’s uncomfortable, but there’s also the payoff,” says McGonigal. Create a list of songs that would hype you up if you were an Olympic athlete about to compete. “In the moment, when you’re feeling overwhelmed by stress, put on one of those songs. Research shows music can shift the physiology of your stress response and increase your confidence,” says McGonigal. Lady Gaga, anyone?

RELATED: 12 Keys to Achieving Work-Life Balance

4. Remember That Stress = Meaning

Even though stress is scary, it helps make life more worthwhile. “One study found that people who have meaningful lives also experience more stress, any way you want to measure it,” says McGonigal. Researchers let participants define “meaning” however they liked, but summed it up as a life with “purpose and value.” The study authors found that people who had experienced the most stressful events were also the most likely to think they led meaningful lives. Sure, you could try to completely eradicate stress from your life, but you’d also be erasing most of what’s meaningful along with it. Instead, open your arms, embrace stress, and use it to your benefit.

In this Aug. 22, 2012 photograph, ever a showman, an 86-year-old B.B. King thrills a crowd of several hundred people at the 32nd annual B.B. King Homecoming, a concert on the grounds of an old cotton gin where he worked as a teenager many years ago, in Indianola, Miss. Now the place_ the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center _ is a monument to him and the blues.

Rogelio V. Solis/AP

The Thrill Is Gone

05.15.159:28 AM ET

B.B. King: The Big Life of a Blues Giant

He was a sharecropper’s son who transformed the very foundations of modern popular music, with ‘Lucille’ and his influential, innovative sound.

B.B. King was, in every sense, a giant figure in blues, intimately connected with the origins of the form, crucial to its development, and instrumental in its increasing mainstream popularity.

He combined technical skill with showmanship, married the raw emotional power of blues and the more complex structures of jazz and was an enormous influence not only on individual rock guitarists, but the very foundations of modern popular music.

His industry was no less prodigious than his influence. King released at least 50 studio albums and almost two dozen live recordings; he toured tirelessly, routinely playing 300 dates a year. He worked with artists as varied as Gladys Knight, Sonny Boy Williamson, Eric Clapton, Gary Moore, Cyndi Lauper, U2, and played at the White House in 2012 for President Barack Obama and, earlier, for Pope John Paul II.

In Rolling Stone’s 2011 list of the greatest guitarists of all time, King was ranked first. He died on May 14, aged 89.

RELATED: B.B. King: A Life in Photos

MEMPHIS - CIRCA 1948: Young blues singer B.B. King a local DJ at WDIA poses for a portrait circa 1948 in Memphis, Tennessee. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

He was born Riley King on Sept. 16, 1925, on a cotton plantation near Indianola, in the Mississippi Delta, where his parents were sharecroppers. His parents separated when he was a toddler and his mother died when he was only 9, leaving him to be brought up by his grandmother. He was later taken in by his father and stepmother.

As a child, King worked in the fields, first as a picker, then as a plowman. He was eventually promoted to tractor driver. “The earliest sound of blues that I can remember was in the fields,” he recalled in a 1988 interview. “When I sing and play now I can hear those same sounds.”

His Aunt Jemima’s Victrola introduced him to the recordings of Robert Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Sonny Boy Williamson, but his parents took a dim view of the Devil’s music, and his first musical experience was singing in the church choir.

In his early teens, however, he began to play guitar, having been given some tips by the bluesman Booker “Bukka” White (1909-77), who was his mother’s cousin.

He briefly served in the Army in 1943, which expanded his musical knowledge. On his return to Indianola and the plantation, he began to play on street corners in the evenings and on weekends. He would play any song requested of him, but found that while the gospel numbers brought compliments, the blues would more often lead to a tip—“sometimes even a beer.”

Indianola had its share of clubs and cafés in which to play, but he wanted wider opportunities. The primary impetus for his leaving, however, was racial violence. “I saw lynchings, seen people hanging, seen people drug through the streets,” he said in 1993. “Blues music actually did start because of pain.”

He made his way to Memphis, Tennessee, where he lodged for several months with White, first met Williamson, and began playing gigs for $12 a night. King soon landed a slot as a disc jockey on the WDIA radio station, where he was known as the Beale Street Blues Boy, a nickname that gradually morphed into “BB.” The defining moment of his musical development came when he heard T-Bone Walker and at once realized that he “had to” get an electric guitar—though King, who had few vices, stressed that “had to” meant “short of stealing.”

In 1949, King made his first recording, four sides for Bullet Records, and was then introduced by Ike Turner (then a talent scout) to Modern Records, recording at Sun Studios. Three OClock Blues, his 1951 recording for the label, went to No. 1 on the rhythm and blues charts for 17 straight weeks, and launched him to stardom.

King tended to perform in tuxedo, having been advised early on that bluesmen were so disreputable that it was best to look “as though you were going to the bank for a loan.”

During the 1950s alone, King recorded more than 200 discs and was regularly playing more than 300 gigs a year, a punishing schedule which he maintained for most of the next two decades. The touring was financially essential, since his records, though they sold well, benefited the label. But by 1956, when he founded his own label, Blues Boys Kingdom, and played 342 gigs, he was earning $2,500 a week.

There was a major financial setback, however, in 1958 when King’s backing band ,the BB King Review, were involved in a tour bus crash and it turned out that their insurance had lapsed. King had to pay out $100,000, a sum it took him years to work off.

At a dancehall in Twist, Arkansas, a fight broke out during a gig, during which a stove was knocked over and set the building on fire. King escaped, but rushed back into the burning building when he realized he had forgotten his guitar. He christened it—and his subsequent instruments—“Lucille,” after the girl over whom the two men had quarreled.

In 1962, King signed to ABC Records (later part of MCA), and two years later released what many regard as his greatest live album, which was recorded at the Regal Theatre in Chicago. During the mid-1960s, King also began to adapt his style. He had initially been resistant to rock ’n’ roll, preferring to tinge pure Delta blues with the harmonic subtleties of jazz guitarists such as Django Reinhardt, and adapting the crosspicking and finger sliding techniques of acoustic guitar to the electric instrument. This led, among other innovations, to the first finger vibrato shaken at the wrist that became one of his most distinctive sounds.

But if there had been a slight dip in the popularity of pure blues music among American audiences caught up in the excitement of early rock ’n’ roll, on the other side of the Atlantic, King, along with other blues guitarists, had become a huge influence on emerging British bands.

By 1967, King was mildly surprised to find “long-haired white kids” in his audiences; the following year, after Martin Luther King’s assassination, he played a benefit gig alongside Jimi Hendrix, and in 1969 he opened for the Rolling Stones on their U.S. tour. The Thrill Is Gone in 1970 sold a million copies, and brought him a new following, playing at rock festivals on the same bill as artists such as Led Zeppelin, Jefferson Airplane, Santana, and Janis Joplin.

Later collaborators included Carole King and Ringo Starr (on BB King in London), the rock groups Living Colour and U2 (on the album Rattle and Hum and the single “When Love Comes to Town”).

He was extravagantly generous, and set up a charity for the rehabilitation of prisoners, regularly played penitentiaries—once, in Florida, the audience included one of his daughters, who was serving time for a drug violation. King, who was twice married and divorced, had 15 children by a number of women—“the only thing society will frown on me that I know about.” He was, by all accounts, remarkably abstemious in other matters, certainly by the standards of blues musicians, though he was a keen gambler, and in his later years lived in Las Vegas.

King tended to perform in tuxedo, having been advised early on that bluesmen were so disreputable that it was best to look “as though you were going to the bank for a loan.” He began a “farewell” world tour in 2006, at the age of 80, but did not play his last gigs until October 2014.

King’s honors were too numerous to list. Among his many awards, he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, received the National Medal of Arts, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and won more than a dozen Grammy awards, including a Lifetime Achievement and Grammy Hall of Fame award for The Thrill Is Gone.

People visit the Catholic church of Santa Maria della Misericordia in Venice which has been provisionally transformed into a mosque for the Biennale festivities in the northern Italian city on May 10, 2015.. Swiss artist Christian Buchel rented out the church for his art project titled The Mosque: The First Mosque in the Historic City of Venice. (Photo by Baris Seckin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Baris Seckin/Anadolu Agency via Getty

Religious Wrangle

05.15.155:25 AM ET

Venice’s Only Mosque Is Inside a Church

It was built for an art exhibit, and now Muslims actually pray there. But authorities are hell-bent on shutting it down.

VENICE — The last time the Catholic church of Santa Maria della Misericordia was used for religious purposes was in the summer of 1969, when the local priest celebrated the last mass before it was left to ruin. Since then, the main door has been boarded up with gray wooden slats that are generally covered with nasty graffiti. It has had cameos in a few movies, including James Bond’s Moonraker and a German vampire flick called Nosferratu in Venice, but it has mostly been a den of iniquity. Neighbors in the Cannaregio district of Venice still complain about the condoms and beer bottles that float in the nearby canals, apparently thrown out of the broken windows of the dilapidated church.

The church was built as Santa Maria Valverde in the 10th century and the extensive compound, far from the city’s better-known tourist attractions, housed Venice’s first hospital along with a busy monastery that was depleted when the plague killed all the monks in the 14th century, according to the Almanac of Venice. There are also rumors that the church Patriarch Girolamo Savina was murdered there in 1611 by a monk who poisoned his communion wine. Long forgotten and rarely noticed by tourists in a town not lacking open churches, Santa Maria della Misericordia is now the talk of Venice after Swiss-Icelandic artist provocateur Christoph Büchel used it to house a functioning mosque as the Icelandic Biennale art installment.

Outside, the church still looks very much like a Catholic place of worship with a bas-relief of the Madonna and Child, Latin script and the usual statues of crowned saints holding crosses. Inside, the church has been essentially gutted of its Catholic icons, and in the niches are signs with Arabic script and a mihrab to indicate the direction in which to pray towards Mecca. There is a large colorful red and green prayer rug covering the old marble floors and a lowered candelabra with hand-blown glass globes hanging from the vaulted wooden ceiling. The prayer area is cordoned off with several signs that tell visitors to remove their shoes before entering. Along the back walls are shoe racks and Quran shelves beside a row of hooks draped with headscarves for women who are not adequately covered up. In one of the apses is a bright vending machine selling shiny cans of “Mecca cola” to worshipers and art patrons alike.

At The Mosque inauguration on May 9, which included traditional Muslim call to prayers, Büchel said that the intent of the art installment, which was designed with the region’s Muslim leaders, was to “draw attention to the political institutionalization of segregation and prejudice, and to settlement policies that lie at the heart of global ethnic and religious conflicts today.”

“Closing it down will undoubtedly have an adverse impact.”

In less than a week, he has certainly achieved that goal. Local authorities in Venice now say they will close the mosque down on May 20 if a series of permissions are not in place. Apparently, according to a letter published in the local newspaper by the Venetian diocese, a Catholic church must never be used for any other non-Catholic religious purpose unless it has been deconsecrated, which, according to the Patriarch of Venice, Santa Maria della Misericordia has not been. “The pavilion is not and cannot be a place of worship, as the promotional material issued in recent days suggests it is,” according to the Church letter, referring to the advertisements in Arabic, English and Italian announcing the Icelandic pavilion as a place for Muslims to pray. The diocese letter also noted that they prohibited clothing “different from that worn at any other place of exhibition at the Venice Biennale.”

Mohamed Amin Al Ahdab, a Syrian who is the head of the Islamic Community of Venice, told The Daily Beast that he was surprised the mosque was allowed to open at all, but closing it will no doubt create further tensions in the city. The northern region of Italy around Venice has long been a hotbed for religious tensions led by the xenophobic Northern League, which has successfully prohibited the building of mosques and study centers in several northern cities. Local authorities have been criticized in some northern cities for cataloguing and photographing Muslims who pray at mosques.

Al Ahdab says Venice has a Muslim community of several thousand from around 30 countries who currently do not have a mosque in the city where they can pray. That’s why those who live in the city see the Icelandic pavilion as much more than an art exhibit. “When it opened, we saw it as an encouraging sign that the local government was perhaps softening its tone,” he said. “Closing it down will undoubtedly have an adverse impact.”

The Venice City Hall did, in fact, give permission in April for the art installation to be built, but a city spokesperson told The Daily Beast that they did not give permission to construct a place of worship, which the mosque exhibit clearly is. On Wednesday, city officials hung a sign inside the church mosque warning visitors that it was “not a place of prayer” and that “visitors do not need to remove their shoes” in stark contrast to the signs in place as part of the exhibition that say they do. Amin Al Ahdab says that an Icelandic guest imam will be leading Friday prayers this week, and if the city says they can’t pray in the church, they will not resist. “It would be a heavy blow,” he says. “But we have never been allowed a mosque in Venice, so what would closing it really change?”