[Marxism] Islamic radicalism and oil

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Dec 15 10:54:48 MST 2004


(Interesting article by the autonomist-leaning George Caffentzis. It puts 
Islamic radicalism into the same context as the U'Wa, Ogoni and Chiapas 
struggles against oil companies.)


Counterpunch, December 15, 2004
Local, Islamic and Global
The Petroleum Commons

By GEORGE CAFFENTZIS

(clip)

The Islamic Petroleum Commons: From Morocco to Indonesia

Another conception of a petroleum commons has developed in Islamic economic 
theory and political practice since the 1970s. It claims that petroleum 
found beneath Islamic territory is the common possession of the worldwide 
Islamic community (Ummah) and consequently it is neither state nor private 
property. This conception is challenging the relations that have been 
worked out between the oil companies and Islamic nation-states since World 
War I.

A key event in the development of the international oil industry was the 
destruction of the last Caliphate, the Ottoman Empire, at the end of World 
War I. A Caliphate requires a secular military-political entity that is 
pledged to defend the worldwide Islamic community. The Ottoman Turks had 
been performing this role of "defenders of the faith" since the 15th 
century. Their imperial lands included Iraq, Kuwait, and parts of Saudi 
Arabia--i.e. the center of the main oil reserves of the planet. In order 
for the petroleum industry to operate on a capitalist basis, the large 
international oil companies and main imperialist powers at the end of World 
War I (US, Britain, France) tore up the Ottoman Caliphate and created a 
number of rentier states that were largely under their control.

The incompatibility between the existence of the Caliphate and the 
for-profit operations that were required by the oil industry is evident. An 
Islamic Caliphate had to be committed, at least in principle, to specific 
re-distributive economic principles (including the concept of a petroleum 
common owned by the ummah, the entire Islamic community) that were in 
contrast with the corporate control envisioned by the founders of the oil 
industry in the Middle East in period between 1918 and 1945. A genuine 
Caliphate would have had to invest in ways that would have made it 
autonomous from the directives of the imperialist powers (governmental or 
corporate). Last, a genuine Caliphate would have had worldwide reach, and 
would have had to be committed to intervening in areas where the Islamic 
community resided. These areas, however, were often essential parts of the 
empires of Britain, France and Holland. (e.g., India, Algeria, and Indonesia).

What is presently called Islamic fundamentalism, or political Islam, or 
Islamism, is in part an effort to revive the Caliphate almost a century 
after its end. This gives these social movements a "global reach," as they 
claim to unite and "protect" the Islamic community presently stretching 
from Morocco to Indonesia and, through immigration, into the heart of 
Europe and North America. Whatever the ultimate fate of this type of 
patriarchal politics and whatever its class composition, this drive towards 
a Caliphate represents an important reality for the oil industry since both 
are operating at the center of the major oil reserves of the planet. 
Indeed, if one correlates the nation-state members of the Organization of 
Islamic Congress with the oil reserves that are estimated to lie in their 
territories, one sees that nearly two-thirds of the world's petroleum is 
"Islamic" Such a drive is toward an "imagined community"--but then, what 
community except the most intimate is not imagined?

Along with the revival of Islam as a political force has come the 
development of an "Islamic economics" that has a number of tenets relevant 
to the oil industry. First, since oil is a sub-soil resource, from an 
Islamic perspective, it is seen as a gift from Allah and hence a community 
good. Although Islamic economics respects private property --after all, 
Islam is a religion founded by a merchant-- it also recognizes the role of 
communally shared resources. Islamic economics accepts the standard 
division of private, state, and common property, and oil is definitely 
included in the category of common property. It is now traditional to 
repeat at this juncture the famous statement of Mohammed: "The people are 
partners in three things: water, pastures and fire [today, petroleum]." The 
recognition of an Islamic petroleum commons is seen as a first step in the 
realization of an Islamic economics.

True, some common property must be mined (like oil, gold, silver, and 
iron), but the minerals themselves remain the common property of all 
Muslims. The Caliphate itself might mine them or sub-contract their 
collection, but all revenues gained from their sale should be kept in the 
Bait al-Mal--the same treasury that the zakat, or redistributive tithe, is 
destined for.

The second principle of Islamic economics is the redistributive one. Islam, 
for all of its respect of private property, instituted from its beginning a 
system of income transfers. Even non-Muslims know of the zakat, but there 
are many other re-distributive mechanisms (e.g., the prohibition of 
charging interest) that make the doctrine of neo-liberalism anathema in 
Islamic discourse. A Caliphate is duty-bound to fund the poor, the needy, 
the travelers, the debtors and its jihad from the funds in the Bait al-Mal. 
This is especially true of revenues derived from oil, since they are 
directly derived from the sale of a communal good. Thus the charges of 
corruption hurled against the Saudi Arabian elite by Islamists are 
especially damning, since the Saudi elite's extravagant ways of living can 
be accused of denying bread to the mouths of the poor children Allah 
destined it for.

The third principle of Islamic economics is based on the prohibition of 
waste and the concern for conserving scarce resources. Islamists can 
plausibly argue that if the conspicuous consumption and self-protective 
expenditure on military hardware indulged in by the present elites are 
ended, more oil could be left in the ground. Such an economic policy would 
clearly have a significant impact on the price of oil, since oil would no 
longer be considered a state or corporate commodity to be sold to the 
highest bidder, and instead would be viewed as a common good whose 
conservation would be valuable in itself.

Common property in the Islamic tradition is often not emphasized in 
academic expositions of Islamic economics, where the pride of place is 
given to a symbolic zakat and a banking system that denies a role to 
interest. The works of Pakistani social thinker Savyid Abul-Ala Mawdudi 
(1903-79), martyred Egyptian Islamist Sayyid Qutb (1906-66) and Iraqi 
writer Muhammad Baquir al-Sadr (1931-80) --the intellectual progenitors of 
Islamic economics-- are often taken to task for imposing unrealistic 
constrains on the development of capitalism in the Islamic world. 
Nevertheless, if the doctrine of the petroleum commons were implemented as 
the basis of social planning, in an Islamic world that counts more than a 
billion people, we can presume it would have a far greater impact than any 
other of its economic recommendations.

If Islamic nations turned their petroleum resources into a commons, then 
three major, even revolutionary changes would follow. First, this would 
lead to a tighter control of the pace of extraction and a willingness to 
exercise the "Right to say 'No'," resulting in much higher oil prices. 
Second, the surplus of the commons would flow into re-distributive projects 
in the Islamic world, rather than being channeled into the economies and 
financial systems of Europe and the US. Last, the neo-liberal program for 
the Middle East (as outlined in George W. Bush's plan for the outcome of 
the Iraq war) would be challenged.

full: http://www.counterpunch.org/

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