By Nauman Sadiq
In its July 2013 report  the European Parliament identified the Wahhabi-Salafi roots of global terrorism. It was a laudable report. but it conveniently absolved the Western powers of their culpability and chose to overlook the role played by the Western powers in nurturing Islamic radicalism and jihadism since the Cold War against the erstwhile Soviet Union. The pivotal role played by the Wahhabi-Salafi ideology in radicalizing Muslims all over the world is an established fact as mentioned in the European Parliament’s report; this Wahhabi-Salafi ideology is generously sponsored by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf-based Arab petro-monarchies since the 1973 oil embargo when the price of oil quadrupled and the contribution of the Arab sheikhs towards the “spiritual well-being” of Muslims all over the world magnified proportionally; however, the Arab despots are in turn propped up by the Western powers since the Cold War; thus syllogistically speaking, the root cause of Islamic radicalism is the neocolonial powers’ manipulation of the socio-political life of the Arabs specifically, and the Muslims generally, in order to appropriate their energy resources in the context of an energy-starved industrialized world. This is the principal theme of this essay which I shall discuss in detail in the following paragraphs.
Capitalism, not religion, is the original sin of the contemporary world
Peaceful or not, Islam is only a religion just like any other cosmopolitan religion whether it’s Christianity, Buddhism or Hinduism. Instead of taking an ‘essentialist’ approach, which lays emphasis on ‘essences,’ we need to look at the evolution of social phenomena in its proper historical context. For instance: to assert that human beings are evil by ‘nature’ is an essentialist approach; it overlooks the role played by ‘nurture’ in grooming human beings. Human beings are only ‘intelligent’ by nature, but they are neither good nor evil by nature; whatever they are, whether good or evil, is the outcome of their nurture or upbringing. Similarly, to pronounce that Islam is a retrogressive or violent religion is an ‘essentialist’ approach; it overlooks how Islam and the Quranic verses are interpreted by its followers depending on the subject’s socio-cultural context. For example: the Western expat Muslims who are brought up in the West and who have imbibed the Western values would interpret a Quranic verse in a liberal fashion; an urban middle class Muslim of the Muslim-majority countries would interpret the same verse rather conservatively; and a rural-tribal Muslim who has been indoctrinated by the radical clerics would find meanings in it which could be extreme. It is all about culture rather than religion or scriptures per se.
Moreover, as I said that Islam is only a religion just like any other religion. But certain reductive neo-liberals blame the religion, as an institution and ideology for all that is wrong with the world. I have not read much history since I am only a humble student of international politics; that’s why I don’t know what the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition were all about? Although, I have a gut feeling that those were also political conflicts which are presented to us in a religious garb. However, I am certain that all the conflicts of the 20th and 21st centuries were either nationalist (tribal) conflicts; or they had economics and power as their goals. Examples: First and Second World Wars; Korea and Vietnam wars; Afghanistan and Iraq wars; and Libya and Syria wars.
When the neo-liberals commit the fallacy of blaming religion as a root factor in the contemporary national and international politics, I am not sure which ancient global order they conjure up in their minds, the Holy Roman Empire perhaps? Religion may have been a paramount factor in the ancient times, if at all, but the contemporary politics is all about economics and power: the Western corporations rule the world and politics and diplomacy is all about protecting the trade and energy interests of the Corporate Empire. Thus, the root of all evil in the contemporary politics is capitalism, not religion, which has been reduced to a secondary role and at times to complete irrelevance especially in the liberal and secular Western societies.
More to the point, when the neo-liberals blame religion for all that is wrong with the world, they are actually engaging in a peculiar kind of juvenile thinking: a child mistakenly assumes that the world can only be seen from his eyes; and that all the people think exactly like he does. He does not understands that the outlooks and worldviews and the preferences and priorities of the people could be very different depending on their upbringing, circumstances and stations in life. You are not supposed to put yourself in another person’s shoes because sizes vary; you are supposed to put that other person in his own shoes, keeping in view his upbringing and mindset and then prescribe a viable future course of action for his individual and social well-being.
As we know that politics is a collective exercise for creating an ideal social matrix in which individuals and their families can live peacefully and happily, and in which they can maximally actualize their innate potentials. The first priority of the liberals, especially the privileged liberal elite of the developing countries, seems to be to create a liberal society in the developing countries in which they and their families can feel at home. I don’t have anything against a liberal society, especially if looked at from a feminist, inclusive and egalitarian angle, but the ground reality of the developing world is very different from the reality of the developed world. The first and foremost preference of the developing world isn’t social liberalization; it is reducing poverty, ensuring equitable distribution of wealth and economic growth. Liberal ethos and values, important as they are, can wait; our first preference ought to be to create a fair and egalitarian social and economic order on a national and international level, only then can our interests and priorities converge on a single and common goal.
If the liberals are willing to compromise on the foremost goal of equitable distribution of wealth, then the heavens won’t fall if they could show a little flexibility and maturity on the subject of the enforcement of liberal values too, which affects them on a personal level, more than anything. The socialist liberals of ‘60s and ‘70s at least made sense when they promoted liberalism along with the promise of radical redistribution of wealth. But the neo-liberals of 21st century are a breed apart who shrug off abject poverty and gross inequality of wealth in the developing nations as a secondary preference and espouse liberal values as their first and foremost priority.
The wellspring of Islamic radicalism
If we look at the evolution of Islamic religion and culture throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, it hasn’t been natural. Some deleterious mutations have occurred somewhere which have negatively impacted the Islamic societies all over the world. Social selection (or social conditioning) plays the same role in the social sciences which the natural selection plays in the biological sciences: it selects the traits, norms and values which are most beneficial to the host culture. Seen from this angle, social diversity is a desirable quality for social progress; because when diverse customs and value-systems compete with each other, the culture retains the beneficial customs and values and discards the deleterious traditions and habits. A decentralized and unorganized religion, like Sufi Islam, engenders diverse strains of beliefs and thoughts which compete with one another in gaining social acceptance and currency. A heavily centralized and tightly organized religion, on the other hand, depends more on authority and dogma than value and utility. A centralized religion is also more ossified and less adaptive to change compared to a decentralized religion.
The Shia Muslims have their Imams and Marjahs (religious authorities) but it is generally assumed about the Sunni Islam that it discourages the authority of the clergy. In this sense, Sunni Islam is closer to Protestantism theoretically, because it promotes an individual and personal interpretation of scriptures and religion. It might be true about the educated Sunni Muslims but on a popular level of the masses of the Third World Islamic countries, the House of Saud plays the same role in Islam that the Pope plays in Catholicism. By virtue of their physical possession of the holy places of Islam – Mecca and Medina – they are the de facto Caliphs of Islam. The title of the Saudi King, Khadim-ul-Haramain-al-Shareefain (Servant of the House of God), makes him the vice-regent of God on Earth. And the title of the Caliph of Islam is not limited to a nation-state, he wields enormous influence throughout the Commonwealth of Islam: that is, the Muslim Ummah.
Islam is regarded as the fastest growing religion of the 20th and 21st centuries. There are two factors responsible for this atavistic phenomena of Islamic resurgence: firstly, unlike Christianity which is more idealistic, Islam is a more practical religion, it does not demands from its followers to give up worldly pleasures but only to regulate them; and secondly, Islam as a religion and ideology has the world’s richest financiers. After the 1973 collective Arab oil embargo against the West, the price of oil quadrupled; the Arabs petro-sheikhs now have so much money that they don’t know where to spend it? This is the reason why we see an exponential growth in Islamic charities and madrassahs all over the world and especially in the Islamic world.
Although the Arab sheikhs of the oil-rich Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and some emirates of UAE generally sponsor the Wahhabi-Salafi brand of Islam but the difference between the numerous sects of Sunni Islam is more nominal than substantive. The charities and madrassahs belonging to all the Sunni sects get generous funding from the Gulf states as well as the private Gulf-based donors.
The phenomena of religious extremism and jihadism all over the Islamic world is directly linked to the Wahhabi-Salafi madrassahs which are generously funded by the Saudi and Gulf’s petro-dollars. These madrassahs attract children from the most impoverished backgrounds in the Third World Islamic countries because they offer the kind of incentives and facilities which even the government-sponsored public schools cannot provide: such as, free boarding and lodging, no tuition fee at all, and free of cost books and stationery.
Apart from madrassahs, another factor that promotes the Wahhabi-Salafi ideology in the Islamic world is the ritual of Hajj and Umrah (the pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina.) Every year millions of Muslim men and women travel from all over the Islamic world to perform the pilgrimage in order to wash their sins. When they return home to their native countries after spending a month or two in Saudi Arabia, along with clean hearts and souls, dates and “zamzam,” they also bring along the tales of Saudi hospitality and their “true” and puritanical version of Islam, which some Muslims, especially the rural-tribal folk, find attractive and worth-emulating.
Authority plays an important role in any thought system; the educated people accept the authority of the specialists in their respective field of specialty; similarly, the lay folk accept the authority of the theologians and clerics in the interpretation of religion and scriptures. Aside from authority, certain other factors also play a part in an individuals’ psychology: like, purity or the concept of sacred, and originality and authenticity, as in the concept of being closely corresponding to an ideal or authentic model. Just like the modern naturalists who prefer organic food and natural habits and lifestyles, because of their supposed belief in “the essential goodness of nature” (naturalistic fallacy,) or due to their disillusionment from the man-made fiascoes, the religious folks also prefer a true version of Islam which is closer to the putative authentic Islam as practiced in Mecca and Medina: “the Gold Standard of Petro-Islam.”
Yet another factor which contributes to the rise of Wahhabi-Salafi ideology throughout the Islamic world is the immigrant factor. Millions of Muslim men, women and families from all over the Third World Islamic countries live and work in the energy-rich Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, Kuwait and Oman. Some of them permanently reside there but mostly they work on temporary work permits. Just like the pilgrims, when they come back to their native villages and towns, they also bring along the tales of Arab hospitality and their version of “authentic Islam.” Spending time in Arab countries entitles one to pass authoritative judgments on religious matters, and having a cursory understanding of Arabic, the language of Quran, makes one equivalent of a Qazi (a learned jurist) among the illiterate village folk; and they simply reproduce the customs and attitudes of the Arabs as an authentic version of Islam to their communities.
After sufficiently bringing home the fact that Islam as a religion isn’t different from other cosmopolitan religions in regard to any intrinsic feature and that the only factor which differentiates Islam from other mainstream religions is the abundant energy resources in the Muslim-majority countries of the Persian Gulf and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region; and the effect of those resources and the global players’ manipulation of the socio-political life of the inhabitants of those regions to exploit their resources culminated in the emergence of the phenomena of Petro-Islamic extremism and violent Takfiri-Jihadism, our next task is to examine the symbiotic relationship between the illegitimate Gulf rulers and the neo-colonial powers.
The global neocolonial political and economic order
Before we get to the crux of the matter, however, let us first cursorily discuss that why is it impossible to bring about a major fundamental change: political, social or economic, on a national level under the existing international political and economic dispensation? As we know that the Western so-called liberal-democracies could be liberal, however, they are anything but democracies; in fact, the right term for the Western system of government is plutocratic oligarchies. They are ruled by the super-rich corporations whose wealth is measured in hundreds of billions of dollars, far more than the total GDPs of many developing nations; and the status of those multinational corporations as dominant players in their national and international politics gets an official imprimatur when the Western governments endorse the Congressional lobbying practice of the so-called ‘special interest’ groups, which is a euphemism for ‘business interests.’
Moreover, since the Western governments are nothing but the mouthpieces of their business interests on the international political and economic forums, therefore, any national or international entity which hinders or opposes the agenda of the aforesaid business interests is either coerced into accepting their demands or gets sidelined. In 2013 the Manmohan Singh’s government of India had certain objections to further opening up to the Western businesses; the Business Roundtable which is an informal congregation of major US businesses and which together holds a net wealth of $6 trillion (6000 billion) held a meeting with the representatives of the Indian government and made them an offer which they couldn’t refuse. The developing economies, like India, are always hungry for the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) to grow further, and that investment comes mostly from the Western corporations.
When the Business Roundtables or the Paris-based International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) form pressure groups and engage in ‘collective bargaining’ activities, the nascent and fragile developing economies don’t have a choice but to toe their line. State ‘sovereignty’ that the sovereign nation-states are at liberty to pursue an independent policy, especially an economic and trade policy, is a myth. Just like the ruling elites of the developing countries who have a stranglehold and a monopoly over domestic politics; similarly the neo-colonial powers and their multinational corporations control the international politics and the global economic order. Any state who dares to transgress becomes an international pariah like Castro’s Cuba, Mugabe’s Zimbabwe or North Korea; and more recently Iran, which had been cut off from the global economic system, because of its supposed nuclear aspirations. Good for Iran that it has one of the largest oil and gas resources, otherwise it would have been insolvent by now; such is the power of global financial system especially the banking sector, and the significance of petro-dollar because the global oil transactions are pegged in the US dollars all over the world, and all the major oil bourses are also located in the Western world.
There is an essential precondition in the European Union’s charter of union according to which the under-developed countries of Europe who joined the EU allowed free movement of goods (free trade) only on the reciprocal precondition that the developed countries would allow the free movement of labor. What’s obvious in this condition is the fact that the free trade only benefits the countries which have a strong manufacturing base, and the free movement of workers only favors the under-developed countries where labor is cheap. Now when the international financial institutions, like the IMF and WTO, promote free trade by exhorting the developing countries all over the world to reduce tariffs and subsidies without the reciprocal free movement of labor, whose interests do such institutions try to protect? Obviously, such global financial institutions espouse the interests of their biggest donors by shares, i.e. the developed countries.
Some market fundamentalists who irrationally believe in the laissez-faire capitalism try to justify this unfair practice by positing Schumpeter’s theory of ‘creative destruction’ that the free trade between unequal trade partners leads to the destruction of the host country’s existing economic order and a subsequent reconfiguration gives birth to a better economic order. Whenever one comes up with gross absurdities such as these, they should always make it contingent on the principle of reciprocity: that is, if free trade is beneficial for the nascent industrial base of the underdeveloped countries, then the free movement of labor is equally beneficial for the labor force of the developed countries. The policy-makers of the developing countries must not fall prey to such deceptive reasoning, instead they must devise a policy which suits their national interest. But the trouble is that the governments of the Third world are dependent on the global loan sharks, such as IMF and World Bank, that’s why they cannot adopt an independent economic and trade policy.
From the end of the Second World War to the beginning of the 21st century the neo-colonial powers have brazenly exploited the Third world’s resources and labor, but after China’s accession to the World Trade Organization in 2001 things changed a little. Behind the “Iron Curtain” of international isolation, China successfully built its manufacturing base by imparting vocational and technical education to its disciplined workforce and by building an industrial and transport infrastructure. It didn’t allow any imports until 2001, but after entering the WTO it opened up its import-export policy on a reciprocal basis; and since the labor in China is much cheaper than its Western counterparts, therefore, it now has a comparative advantage over Western bloc which China has exploited in its national interest.
Asking the neo-colonial powers to act in the interests of the developing world is incredibly naïve. It’s like asking the factory-owners to act in the interest of their factory-workers on altruistic grounds. This is not the way forward, the factory-workers must strengthen their own labor unions and claim what’s rightfully theirs. The developing countries must form regional blocs and settle things among themselves. If a country takes interest in the affairs of its regional neighbor; like if India takes interest in the affairs of Pakistan, or if Pakistan is wary of the happenings in Afghanistan and Iran, their concerns are understandable. But what “vital strategic interests” does the US has in the Middle East where 35,000 of its troops are currently stationed, ten thousand kilometers away from its geographical borders? ‘Humanitarian imperialism’ is merely a charade, it’s the trade and energy-interests of the corporate empire which are ‘vitally’ important to the neo-colonial powers.
Cold War and the birth of Islamic Jihad
The Western powers’ collusion and conflicted relationship with the Islamic jihadists (aka moderate rebels) in Syria isn’t the only instance of its kind. The Western powers always leave such pernicious relationships deliberately ambiguous in order to fill the gaps in their self-serving diplomacy and also for the sake of “plausible deniability.” Throughout the late ‘70s and ‘80s during the Cold War, they used the jihadists as proxies in their war against the Soviets. The Cold War was a war between the Global Capitalist bloc and the Global Communist bloc for global domination. The Communists used their proxies the Viet Congs to liberate Vietnam from the imperialist hegemony. The Global Capitalist bloc had no answer to the cleverly executed asymmetric warfare.
Moreover, the Communist bloc had a moral advantage over the Capitalist bloc: that is, the mass appeal of the egalitarian and revolutionary Marxist and Maoist ideologies. Using their: “Working men and women of all the countries, unite!” rhetoric, the Communists could have instigated an uprising anywhere in the world; but how could the Capitalists retaliate, through “the trickle-down economics” and “the American way of life” rhetoric? The Western policy-makers faced quite a dilemma, but then their Machiavellian strategists, capitalizing on the regional grassroots religious sentiment, came up with an equally robust antidote: that is, the Islamic Jihad.
During the Soviet-Afghan conflict from 1979 to 1988 between the Global Capitalist bloc and the Global Communist alliance, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arab petro-monarchies took the side of the former; because the USSR and the Central Asian states produce more energy and consume less of it; thus they are net exporters of energy; while the Global Capitalist bloc is a net importer of energy. It suits the economic interests of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries to maintain and strengthen a supplier-consumer relationship with the Capitalist bloc. Now the BRICS are equally hungry for the Middle Eastern energy but it’s a recent development; during the Cold War an alliance with the Western countries suited the economic interests of the Gulf Arab petro-monarchies. Hence, the Communists were pronounced as Kafirs (infidels) and the Western capitalist bloc as Ahl-e-Kitaab (People of the Book) by the Salafi preachers of the Gulf Arab states.
All the celebrity terrorists, whose names we now hear in the mainstream media every day, were the products of the Soviet-Afghan war: like Osama bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri, the Haqqanis, the Taliban, the Hekmatyars etc. But that war wasn’t limited only to Afghanistan; the NATO-GCC alliance of the Cold War had funded, trained and armed the Islamic Jihadists all over the Middle East region; we hear the names of Jihadists operating in the regions as far afield as Uzbekistan and North Caucasus. In his 1998 interview , the National Security Adviser to President Carter, Zbigniew Brzezinski, had confessed that the President signed the directive for secret aid to the Afghan Mujahideen in July 1979 while the Soviet Army invaded Afghanistan in December 1979. Here is a poignant excerpt from his interview:
Question: “And neither do you regret having supported the Islamic Jihadis, having given arms and advice to future terrorists?”
Brzezinski: “What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?”
Despite the crass insensitivity, you got to give credit to Zbigniew Brzezinski that at least he had the guts to speak the unembellished truth. The hypocritical Western policy makers of today, on the other hand, say one thing in public and do the opposite on the ground. However, keep in mind that the aforementioned interview was recorded in 1998. After the WTC tragedy in 2001, no Western policy-maker can now dare to be as blunt and honest as Brzezinski.
All the recent wars and conflicts aside, the unholy alliance between the Anglo-Americans and the Wahhabi-Salafis of the Persian Gulf’s petro-monarchies, which I would like to call “the Anglo-Wahhabi alliance,” is much older. The British stirred up uprising in Arabia by instigating the Sharifs of Mecca to rebel against the Ottoman rule during the First World War. After the Ottoman Empire collapsed, the British Empire backed King Abdul Aziz (Ibn-e-Saud) in his struggle against the Sharifs of Mecca; because the latter were demanding too much of a price for their loyalty: that is, the unification of the whole of Arabia under their suzerainty. King Abdul Aziz defeated the Sharifs and united his dominions into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932 with the support of the British. However, by then the tide of British Imperialism was subsiding and the Americans inherited the former possessions and the rights and liabilities of the British Empire.
At the end of the Second World War on 14 February 1945, President Franklin D. Roosevelt held a historic meeting with King Abdul Aziz at Great Bitter Lake in the Suez canal onboard USS Quincy, and laid the foundations of an enduring Anglo-Wahhabi friendship which persists to this day; despite many ebbs and flows and some testing times especially in the wake of 9/11 tragedy when 15 out of 19 hijackers of the 9/11 plot turned out to be Saudi citizens. During the course of that momentous Great Bitter Lake meeting, among other things, it was decided to set up the United States Military Training Mission (USMTM) to Saudi Arabia to “train, advise and assist” the Saudi Arabian Armed Forces.
Aside from USMTM, the US-based Vinnell Corporation, which is a private military company based in the US and a subsidiary of the Northrop Grumman, used over a thousand Vietnam war veterans to train and equip the 125,000 strong Saudi Arabian National Guards (SANG) which is not under the authority of the Saudi Ministry of Defense and which acts as the Praetorian Guards of the House of Saud. The relationship which existed between the Arab American Oil Company (ARAMCO) and the House of Saud is no secret. Moreover, the Critical Infrastructure Protection Force, whose strength is numbered in tens of thousands, is also being trained and equipped by the US to guard the critical Saudi oil infrastructure along its eastern Persian Gulf coast where 90% Saudi oil reserves are located. Furthermore, the US has numerous air bases and missile defense systems currently operating in the Persian Gulf states and also a naval base in Bahrain where the Fifth Fleet of the US Navy is based.
The point that I am trying to make is that left to their own resources, the Persian Gulf’s petro-monarchies lack the manpower, the military technology and the moral authority to rule over the forcefully suppressed and disenfranchised Arab masses, not only the Arab masses but also the South Asian and African immigrants of the Gulf Arab states. One-third of Saudi Arabian population is comprised of immigrants; similarly, more than 75% of UAE’s population is also comprised of immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka; and all the other Gulf monarchies also have a similar proportion of the immigrants from the developing countries; moreover, unlike the immigrants in the Western countries who hold the citizenship status, the Gulf’s immigrants have lived there for decades and sometimes for generations, and they are still regarded as unentitled foreigners.
Petroimperialism and the Western energy interests
A legitimate question arises in the mind of a curious reader, however, that why do the Western powers support the Gulf’s petro-monarchies, knowing fully well that they are the ones responsible for nurturing the Takfiri-Jihadi ideology all over the Islamic world; does that not runs counter to their professed goal of eliminating Islamic extremism and terrorism? When you ask this question, you get two very different and contradictory responses depending on who you are talking to. If you ask this question from a Western policy-maker or a diplomat that why do you support the Gulf’s despots? He replies that it’s because we have vital strategic interests in the Middle East and North Africa region; by which he means abundant oil and natural gas reserves and also the fact that the Arab Sheikhs have made substantial investments in the Western economies at a time of global recession and the outsourcing of most of manufacturing to China. Thus, the Western policy-makers’ defense is predicated on self-interest, i.e. the Western national interests.
When you ask the same question, however, from the constituents of the Western liberalism that what is the Western policy in the Middle East region? The constituents’ response is quite the opposite, they don’t think that the Western powers control the Middle East, or the global politics and economics in general, for their trade and energy interests; they believe that the motives of the Western powers are more altruistic than selfish. The constituents of the Western liberalism mistakenly believe in the counterfactual concepts of humanitarian and liberal interventionism and the responsibility to protect.
Coming back to the question, why do the Western powers prop up the Middle Eastern dictators knowing fully well that they are the ones responsible for nurturing Islamic jihadism and is it possible that in some future point in time they will withdraw their support? It is highly unlikely at least in the foreseeable future. The Western powers have become so dependent on the Arab petro-dollars that they would rather fight the Arab tyrants’ wars for them against their regional rivals. Presently, there are two regional powers vying for dominance in the Middle East: Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Syrian civil war is basically a Sunni Jihad against the Shi’a Resistance axis. The Shi’a alliance is comprised of Iran and Syria, the latter is ruled by an Alawi (Shi’a) regime, even though the majority of Syria’s population is Sunni Muslims and the Alawites constitute only 12% of the population. Lebanon-based Hezbollah (which is also Shi’a) is an integral part of the Shi’a Resistance axis. And recently the Nouri al Maliki and Haider al Abadi administrations in Iraq, which also has a Shi’a majority, have formed a tenuous alliance with Iran.
Moreover, Saudi Arabia has long-standing grievances against Iran’s meddling in the Middle Eastern affairs, especially the latter’s support to the Palestinian cause, the Houthis in Yemen, the Bahraini Shi’as and more importantly the significant and restive Shi’a minority in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia where 90% of Saudi oil reserves are located along the Persian Gulf’s coast. On top of that Saudi Arabia also has grievances against the US for toppling the Sunni Saddam regime in Iraq in 2003 which had formed a bulwark against the Khomeini influence in the Middle East because of Saddam’s military prowess. Furthermore, in the wake of political movements for enfranchisement during the Arab Spring of 2011, Saudi Arabia took advantage of the opportunity and militarized the peaceful and democratic protests in Syria with the help of its Sunni allies: the Gulf monarchies of Qatar, UAE, Kuwait and Jordan and Turkey (all Sunnis) against the Shi’a regime of Bashar al Assad.
However, why did the Western powers preferred to join this Sunni alliance against the Shi’a Resistance axis? It’s because the Assad regime has a history of hostility towards the West; it had also formed a close working relationship with the erstwhile Soviet Union and it still hosts a Russian naval facility at Tartus; and its proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah, has emerged over the years as the single biggest threat to the Israel’s regional security. On the other hand, all the aforementioned Sunni states have always been the steadfast allies of the Western powers along with Israel; don’t get misled by the public posturing, all the aforementioned Sunni states along with the Western support are in the same boat in the Syrian civil war as Israel.
Hypothetically speaking, had the Western powers not joined the ignoble Syrian Jihad which has claimed 250,000 lives so far and made millions of Syrians refugees, what could have been an appropriate course of action to force the Gulf monarchies, Turkey and Jordan, not to engage in fomenting trouble in Syria? This is a question of will, if there is will there are always numerous ways to deal with the problem. However, after what has happened in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria only a naïve neoliberal will prescribe a Western military intervention anywhere in the world. But if military intervention is off the table, is there a viable alternative to enforce justice and to force the states to follow moral principles in international politics? Yes there is.
The crippling “third party” economic sanctions on Iran in the last few years may not have accomplished much, but those sanctions have brought to the fore the enormous power which the Western financial institutions and the petro-dollar as a global reserve currency wields over the global financial system. We must bear in mind that the Iranian nuclear negotiations were as much about Iran’s nuclear program as they were about its ballistic missile program, which is a much bigger “conventional threat” to the Gulf’s petro-monarchies just across the Persian Gulf. Despite the sanctions being unfair, Iran felt the heat so much that it remained engaged in the negotiations throughout the last few years, and finally the issue was amicably settled in the form of the Iran nuclear deal in April 2015. However, such was the crippling effect of those “third party” sanctions on the Iranian economy that had it not been for Iran’s enormous oil and gas reserves, and some Russian, Chinese and Turkish help in illicitly buying Iranian oil, it could have defaulted due to those sanctions.
All I am trying to suggest is, that there are ways to arm-twist the Gulf’s petro-monarchies to implement democratic reforms and to refrain from sponsoring the Takfiri-Jihadist terror groups all over the Islamic world, provided that we have just and upright international arbiters. However, there is a caveat: Iran is only a single oil-rich state which has 160 billion barrels of proven crude oil reserves and around 4 million barrels per day (mbpd) production. On the other hand, the Persian Gulf’s petro-monarchies are actually three oil-rich states: Saudi Arabia with its 265 billion barrels of proven reserves and 10 mbpd of daily crude oil production; and UAE and Kuwait with 200 billion barrels (100 billion barrels each) of proven reserves and 6 mbpd of daily crude oil production; together their share amounts to 465 billion barrels, almost one-third of the world’s 1477 billion barrels of total proven crude oil reserves; and if we add Qatar to the equation, which isn’t oil-rich, as such, but has substantial natural gas reserves, it must take a morally very very upright arbiter to sanction all of them.
Therefore, though sanctioning the Gulf petro-monarchies sounds like a good idea on paper, but bear in mind that the relationship between the Gulf’s petro-monarchies and the industrialized world is that of a consumer-supplier relationship: the Gulf Arab states are the suppliers of energy and the industrialized world is its consumer, therefore, the Western powers cannot sanction their energy-suppliers and largest investors, if anything, the Gulf’s petro-monarchies have in the past “sanctioned” the Western powers by imposing an oil embargo in 1973 after the Arab-Israel war. The 1973 Arab oil embargo against the West had lasted only for a short span of six months but it had such a profound effect on the psyche and the subsequent strategy of the Western powers that after the embargo the price of crude oil in the international market quadrupled; the US imposed a ban on the export of indigenously produced crude oil outside the US’ borders which is still in place; and the US started keeping a strategic oil reserve amounting to two months of fuel supply for its total energy needs for the military purposes that includes jet fuel for its aircrafts and petrol and diesel for the armored personnel carriers, battle tanks and naval vessels.
Recently, some very upbeat rumors about “the Shale Revolution”  have been circulating the mainstream media. However, the Shale revolution is primarily a natural gas revolution: it has increased the ‘probable-recoverable’ resources of natural gas by 30%. The ‘shale oil’ on the other hand, refers to two very different kinds of energy resource: one, the solid kerogen, though substantial resources of kerogen have been found in the US’ Green River formations, but the cost of extracting liquid crude from solid kerogen is so high that it is economically unviable for at least another 100 years; two, the tight oil which is blocked by the shale, it is a viable energy resource, but the reserves are so limited, around 4 billion barrels in Texas and North Dakota, that it will run out in a few years.
Although, the Canadian oil sands and the Venezuelan heavy crude are environmentally polluting energy resources but economically they are viable sources of crude oil. More than the size of the oil reserves, however, it is also about the per barrel extraction cost, which determines the profits for the multinational oil companies and in that regard the Persian Gulf’s crude oil is the most profitable. Moreover, regarding the US’ supposed energy independence after the so-called “Shale Revolution,” the US produced 11 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil in the first quarter of 2014; that is, more than Saudi Arabia and Russia’s output, each of which produces around 10 million bpd, but the US still imported 7.5 million bpd during the same period of time; that is, more than the oil imports of France and Britain put together. More than the total volume of oil production, the volume which an oil-producing country exports determines its place in the “hierarchy of petroleum” and the Gulf’s petro-monarchies constitute the top tier of that pyramid.
It is generally believed that political Islam is the precursor of Islamic extremism and Jihadism, however, there are two distinct and separate types of political Islam: the despotic political Islam of the Gulf variety and the democratic political Islam of the Turkish and the Muslim Brotherhood variety. The latter Islamist organization never ruled over Egypt except for a brief year long stint, it would be unwise to draw any conclusions from such a brief period of time in history. The Turkish variety of political Islam, the oft-quoted ‘Turkish model,’ however, is worth emulating all over the Islamic world. I do understand that political Islam in all its forms and manifestations is an anathema to the liberals, but it is the ground reality of the Islamic world. The liberal dictatorships no matter how benevolent they may be, had never worked in the past, and they will meet the same fate in the future.
The mainspring of Islamic extremism and militancy isn’t the moderate and democratic political Islam, because why would people turn to violence when they can exercise their right to choose their rulers? The mainspring of Islamic militancy is the despotic and militant political Islam of the Gulf variety. The Western powers are fully aware of this fact, then why do they choose to support the same forces that have nurtured jihadism and terrorism when their ostensible and professed goal is to eliminate Islamic extremism and militancy? It is because it has been a firm policy-principle of the Western powers to promote ‘stability’ in the Middle East rather than representative democracy. They are fully cognizant of the ground reality that the mainstream Muslim sentiment is firmly against any Western military presence and interference in the Middle East region. Additionally, the Western policy-makers also prefer to deal with small groups of Middle Eastern ‘strongmen’ rather than cultivating a complex and uncertain relationship on a popular level, certainly a myopic approach which is the hallmark of the so-called ‘pragmatic’ politicians and strategists.
Sources and links:
 European parliament identifies Wahhabi and Salafi roots of global terrorism:
 How Jimmy Carter and I started the Mujahideen? Zbigniew Brzezinski:
 Difference between shale oil and tight oil:
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