Feedback from a Pakistani on oil shortages and neo-Mahdism

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Tue Dec 4 06:44:06 MST 2001


Your parallel between the "war on terrorism" and Britain's war against the
Mahdiite revolt in the Sudan in 1898 has much going for it.  Like Britain's
war, America's war may also turn out to be the desperate acts of a
beleagured superpower trying to prop up a collapsing interstate system.

But there are also important differences.  For one, and this is more
important than it might appear, bin Laden has never claimed to be the
Mahdi.  He does not cloak himself in millenarian terms.  Rather, he speaks
more like a modern day revolutionary with the characteristic overemphasis
of his own capabilities.  His style of fighting is international, unlike
the Mahdi, and more akin to international geurilla war.  He has made no
attempt to capture any territory and assert  his own sovereignty over it.
bin Laden comes out of a different strand in Islamic history than the
Mahdi.  Jihad against collaborative elites within the muslim world was a
tradition that grew after the Mongol invasions, and the doctrines that bin
Laden invokes to justify his war were developed by ibn Taymiyya during
these times.  bin Laden himself learned his Jihad doctrine from Abdullah
Azzam, a Jordanian who taught at al Azhar University in Cairo during the
70s and had links with the Islamic Jihad in those days.  Azzam fled to
Peshawar, Pakistan, after the 1979 assasination of Sadat and remained there
until 1989 when he was killed in a car bomb explosion.  It was there that
he met bin Laden and a whole generation of Arab youth eager to fight in the
Afghan Jihad.  Azzam was a disciple of Sayid Qutb who was profoundly
influenced by Taymiyya.  Even today, the literature and pamphlets produced
by the sectarian and Jihadist Islamic organizations here in Pakistan
repeats in very simplistic language the main arguments laid down by Taymiyya.

The article from the NY Times magazine that you circulated on the WSN list
is good reading, but I don't agree with some of the authors points.  I'm
not convinced that an oil shortage is dangerously imminent.  If that were
so, then why have oil prices in futures markets remained steady through all
the ups and downs that oil prices have experienced in the past couple of
years?  Greenspan has mentioned that pretty much all furnaces being
installed in the US for the past several years use natural gas as their
fuel rather than oil.  In his estimate, it is cheaper to find alternative
sources of fuel, such as natural gas, than fight wars to secure access to

I also am not convinced that the US is fighting a losing battle to prop up
the interstate system.  If anything, the Bush administration seems more
interested in liquidating the interstate system as we know it as part of
their endgame to wipe out all enemies of America from the board.  The
combination of recession at home and war abroad may very well sink the
superpower.  But it is best to not be too sure of this.


Louis Proyect
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