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Synthesis/Regeneration 27   (Winter 2002)

Islam and Oil

by Patrick Eytchison, Redwood Coast Greens

A deep structure interweaving resource depletion, culture trends and the capitalist economy undergirds the Bush administration’s policy of international aggression and domestic repression. Seen in the context of this structure, the administration’s actions are neither inept nor irrational. Instead, they represent the carrying out of a cold logic to preserve the privilege of a ruling class faced with the most severe crisis of its two hundred plus year existence: i.e. the exhaustion of its energy resource base, and the parallel rise of an oppositional semiotic/social movement as strong as, if not stronger than, Marxist communism.

The purpose of this essay is to outline that structure. This will be presented in two sections; one on resource depletion and then one on the rise of the Islamist movement. It is only with an understanding of the historical confluence of these two forces that the profound ecological-historical rootedness of present ruling class insanity can be grasped, and with hope an effective resistance built.

Oil Peak

Although resource depletion means more than petroleum reserve shrinkage—many minerals, metal ores, biologic resources, and water/atmosphere enter the picture—oil is unique in that it is the primary and not easily substituted energy source of modern industrial production, as well as the raw material for many plastics. In fact, the hegemony of the Western corporate elite depends on its control of world oil, but today this control is threatened, first simply by the approaching exhaustion of all large pools of underground crude oil. Bombs will not bring back a one-time-only resource squandered by 100 years of wasteful capitalist consumption.

Contemporary estimates put the Earth’s original oil reserve—in technical terms, Estimated Ultimately Recoverable (EUR) reserves—at about 2,000 billion barrels. As of 1999 industrial civilization had consumed about 857 billion barrels. Modern exploration methods have located almost all existing untouched oil; we can expect no new huge “wild cat” finds. The implication from these figures is that world oil production will peak around 2005, and will gradually decline for perhaps a century (at present or higher usage rates) until crude oil will no longer exist as a significant source of energy; but there are several points to consider.

Although the depletion scenario outlined above is accepted by many petroleum geologists, it is not entirely non-controversial. The US Geologic Survey and the American Petroleum Institute, using an entirely different method for prediction, still claim that oil reserves are essentially “inexhaustible.” This view seems more far-fetched with each passing year. The “inexhaustible” scenario is based on a technology-can-fix-anything assumption, that unknown future methods will be able to find more oil or somehow recover oil from presently unusable sources. But of course, if “anything is possible”—anything is possible.

…the United States, with remaining reserves of only 22 billion barrels, is thermodynamically dependent on Islamic geology and geography for its bloated life style and the hegemony of its elite.

On the other hand, oil peak predictions rely on a proven historical-record methodology which employs actual data rather than supposition. M. King Hubbert, originator of the Oil Peak model, predicted in the 50s that US domestic production would peak in 1971, and this is exactly what happened. Since then Hubbert’s method or similar data-curve prediction models have proved generally successful and it is the US Geologic Survey with its wild optimism that is today the “crank.”

Obviously, the political motive behind “inexhaustibility” is that it leaves corporate capitalism more maneuver time in the inevitable movement to a non-hydrocarbon energy based system of production, but with each passing year this becomes more and more like a game of Russian roulette as conversion time runs out. The possibility of delaying serious efforts to create a sustainable system of global production until such a turn is socially and materially impossible is very real; in fact extreme pessimists such as Richard Duncan hold that it is already too late. Given this self-manufactured dilemma, the natural tendency is to assure the public even more vigorously that there is “plenty of oil.” And beyond this there is another complication.


Unfortunately for the Western corporate ruling class, after 2005 most of a diminishing oil reserve will lie in Muslim nations or in nations with high Muslim populations: in fact, of approximately 1000 billion barrels of unpumped oil 600 billion barrels are located in Persian Gulf states, 260 billion barrels in Saudi Arabia alone. This means that the United States, with remaining reserves of only 22 billion barrels, is thermodynamically dependent on Islamic geology and geography for its bloated life style and the hegemony of its elite. China, which until recently was oil independent, is now an importer and is equally dependent on the oil fields of the Middle East. A world energy noose can be seen tightening.

So-called Caspian Sea Oil, with its “vast untapped reserves,” is commonly called up as a loosening in this loop but this image is in reality not geology but political hype. Journalistic accounts routinely speak of 200 billion barrels of unrecovered Caspian oil but estimates in actual industry literature are 50 to 80 billion barrels; big—if they prove out—but in no way large enough to change essential geopolitical dynamics. This is important because so much analysis on the Left emphasizes the Caspian while totally missing the real nature and depth of the global crisis that is fueling US aggression in Afghanistan and the Middle East. Of course specific corporate profits are involved, but what is really emerging is a fight to the death between the Western ruling class and the Islamic world over oil. In reality, “Terrorist” is a code for Islam: not just fringe radicals but the very hermeneutic core of a world religion of one billion plus people. Something is shaping up that may make the Cold War look like a field of daisies.

…the Left emphasizes the Caspian while totally missing the real nature and depth of the global crisis…

From its beginning, the Muslim religion was seen, by those inside it, as a movement of social revolution. The period of its dominance—roughly 700 to 1200 CE —is viewed by orthodox Islam as the high point thus far of human civilization, and there is a deep, long-existing desire in Islamic culture to reestablish this Islamic hegemony. In the orthodox view, when Islam is practiced properly, by the application of Islamic Law (Sharia), a society will be created wherein every aspect of life (including the economy) is guided by a set of just, unchanging rules derived from God.

A principal driving force in Islamic culture since the late 18th century—somewhat subdued during the “modernization” era of the first half of the 20th century—has been the vision of an Islamic nation governed by the Sharia and fiqh (the science of Islamic jurisprudence). Now, with a growing disillusionment with “modern” solutions, the traditional vision has again taken life with many Muslim intellectuals and the masses. In its most militant aspect, this renewed Islamist trend is what the West labels “terrorism.”

However, what the Western elites find terrible is not really the hijacking of a plane or the destruction of a building (dangers from which they are in the real world mostly removed and protected); it is the Sharia itself and the knowledge that, if actually applied as a pan-Islamic political reality, it could act as a semiotic force uniting more than a billion people against their interests. Here is the “evil” that must be combated.

How such an Islamic turn in geopolitics might play out can only be speculated; here are three possibilities:

1. A progressive fiqh moving towards some form of socialism from inside the tradition itself. Such a progressive interpretation was in fact pioneered by clerics in the Soviet Union under the concept of ijtihad (evolving understanding);

2. An “oil-alliance” between China and the Persian Gulf states; or,

3. A transfer of remaining petroleum profits from Western to Islamic/Arabic investors.

Or some combination of these. These are all scenarios the Western ruling class can only anticipate with fear and trembling.

In this emerging global dynamic, the Taliban and Osama bin Laden each play a particular and significant role. By stubbornly raising their interpretation of the Sharia above secular modernism in the face of international outrage, they move to the front as the vanguard of militant Sunni fundamentalism. By clearly and with a charismatic voice articulating the vision of an Islamic revolt against the West (although his actual demands have been limited to the removal of Western occupying forces from the holy sites of Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem and changes in the present Saudi ruling house) bin Laden, in combination with his financial position and military record in the Afghan War, has put himself forward as a hero-figure on which oppositional Islamic consciousness can focus.

Together these two phenomena make the threat to Western interests inherently embedded in Islam’s self-understanding powerfully explicit. For this, they must be destroyed.

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