Nationalism and Industry
It is commonly said that one reason Islam and the West cannot see eye to eye, is that the West has separation of Church and State, while Islam mixes the two beyond visible distinction. There is something to that at one level, but on another, the problem for Islam devolves from an even sharper separation of Mosque and State than in the West. This is nowhere more obvious than in the National histories of the modern Arab states, and the industries which feed them.
For many years, the Middle East was fairly amorphous in terms of borders. This was partly due to the nomadic nature of tribes in the region, as well as Islam’s reluctance to accept boundaries to its territory; it is as if the Imams hoped to renew the push to regain lost territory, and to claim new lands for the Prophet. Certainly, Islam developed a largely theoretical existence, as Mullahs were forced to accept the rulings of Sheikhs and Emirs in legal judgments, ostensibly based on Sharia but far more often just the whim of the ruler. This was especially the case in those territories held by the Ottomams, who preferred to rule “loosely” and let the locals handle smaller issues. Then the Germans came out to play. And the Ottomans backed the wrong horse, which cost them their empire.
“War for Oil” is a modern-sounding slogan, but it is far from accurate in the present conflict. It is, however, an apt description of the Middle East’s value in World War One. Germany grabbed the Industrial Revolution in a big way, and this helped establish its independence as a European power, so long restrained by the old Continental powers. But Germany was a hungry nation, and the Kaiser knew that German Industry needed oil. And the most convenient place for readily-processed petroleum was the Middle East. Some historians have even speculated that the unrest in the Balkans was a German/Austrian pretext to move South. Certainly all of Europe saw the Middle East as a prize which they had to hold. For all the romance of Lawrence of Arabia, people too often forget that the British sent him in there to keep the Germans from gaining the upper hand in the region.
Britain made a number of promises to various groups, sometimes in conflict with other promises, the most famous of which is known as the Balfour Declaration. In short order the agreements were intended to grant a measure of independence to the Middle East, while insuring good relations with Great Britain. To that end, Britain drew up borders for Iran, Iraq, and Egypt, while France gained control of ‘Syria’, which originally included present-day Lebanon, and is part of Syria’s claim to control of that region. Germany, having lost the war, was shut out of controlling any Middle East country, while the Emirates largely mistrusted Europe and made deals directly with large American firms, especially Standard Oil. As a result, even before the beginning of World War Two, Oil was a strategic commodity, the Arabs were well aware of its potential as a bargaining chip, and there was intense competition for trade and cooperation with the people who held control of the oil fields. In the Middle East then, there were essentially three power blocs as of 1935:
· The monarchies set up by Britain and France to keep order, usually with loose cooperation between Sultan and Imam;
· The families who represented the various countries in possession of the oil fields;and
· Political opposition groups who saw an opportunity for revolution and change in power, usually backed by a nation on the outside of the Oil deals, such as Germany, the USSR, or Italy.
Note that in that earlier time, the power structure of Islam generally lined up behind the thrones of the Middle East, the various Sultans, Emirs, and Sheikhs who held title. This was largely in the model of Ibn Saud, whose claim to Arabia changed it to Saudi Arabia, and whose policies blended secular rule with the imprimatur of Islam, by including appointments and favors to Wahhabist Imams.
After World War Two, this all changed. Partly because the Soviets took a rather direct approach to meeting their oil supply needs. They simply grabbed Iran, and it took the threat of nuclear force by President Truman in 1947 to get them to back off, But even then Moscow made deals with Baghdad and Damascus, and a bipolar structure took hold, essentially stopping all growth towards true independence for a time.
That changed, in an ironic fashion, in 1974. When the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) seized the conference of the Oil Production and Exporting Countries (OPEC), it changed the course of government control of terrorist groups, and also showed the weak infrastructure to Middle Eastern governments. Arabs already enraged by the scale of losses taken in the 1967 War with Israel, and the unsatisfactory conclusion to the Yom Kippur War which followed it, believed that only a radical Islamic State could hope to alter the demise of the Middle East into either a Soviet or American puppet. This spurred the creation of dozens of fragmentary groups, sponsored no longer by governments but by families and individuals, often in the Saudi and Iraqi governments. Oil money was funneled into slush funds, and the terrorist groups became significantly more sophisticated and aggressive. Many Americans are unaware of the large number of kidnappings and murders of foreigners during the 1970s and 1980s, including operations in Europe. Many Americans are unaware of Arab connections to such groups as the Red Brigade in Italy, and several Muslim groups in Croatia during the late 1980s. The regional infrastructure permanently changed, and for the worse, when the Ayatollah Khomeini took power in Iran in 1979. Within months, Islamic groups began to desert support for the traditional kingdoms, in favor of revolutionary Jihad, and so began the new wave of Jihad in earnest. Political leaders found themselves choosing to either suppress the rebellion, or pronounce it the will of Allah. With both the Carter Administration and Breshnev regimes oddly timid on the matter, most royals became loyal supporters of the Revolution, which is to say Jihad. By so doing, they hoped to ride out the wave of anger which was palpable in the Middle East. But by so doing, they committed the region to a bloody future. Jihad became the de facto policy of the major powers in the region.
NEXT - Part 3, Policies of the Terror State