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Oil and God - Epilogue

Chapters Two and Three introduced the important role Islam plays in the lives of Muslims, particularly in the Arab world.  


Religious extremism surfaced in the Middle East after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War in 1918. On the ashes of the Ottoman Empire, Britain and France created new states with different religious agendas in the Middle East. 


The firm hand of the Sunni Hanafi Sultans kept religious extremism in the Ottoman Empire under control for six centuries (1280-1918). The Sultans ruled over most of the Arab world for four centuries (1517-1918). They were tolerant. They did not force their Christian subjects in the Balkans in the sixteenth century, for example, to convert to Islam. Had they done so, the cruel Christian/Muslim battles and Catholic/Orthodox fights (1991-1999) in the former Yugoslavia four centuries later would probably not have happened. The tolerance of the Turkish Sultans was also demonstrated in 1492, when Sultan Bayezid-II (1481-1512) allowed Jews, driven out from Spain and Portugal, to settle in Ottoman territories and rebuild their lives.


Within a hundred years after the fragmentation of the Ottoman Empire, the Middle East sank into nasty religious wars. Millions were killed and injured and millions more were displaced. Aside from mayhem and tragedy in the Middle East, Muslim refugees set off alarm bells in Christian Europe. Acts of terror by followers of the so-called Islamic State rocked Western cities. Fear of more acts of terror put security forces on a constant state of alert. Far right anti-immigrant politicians in Europe and America were elected. They widened the religious, cultural, and ethnic dividebetween the East and the West. President Trump’s anti Muslim statements and travel ban on citizens of certain Muslim majority countries helped to fan the fires of Islamophobia. He encourages far right politicians in other countries to follow suit. 


This transformation during the past century demonstrates the validity of Samuel P. Huntington’s hypothesis on the Clash of Civilizations. Recognizing the stresses cultural differences may create, Samuel P. Huntington wrote in Foreign Affairs in 1993:


It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.


The validity of Huntington’s hypothesis extends beyond conflicts between one religion and another. It also explains fights among sects within the same religion, such as Shi’ites and Sunnis, or Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox.  


Significant Events That Loom Large Behind the Huntington Hypothesis 

Chronologically, five events loom large: The formation of the Wahhabi state of Saudi Arabia (1932), the creation of the State of Israel (1948), the Khomeini Shi’ite Revolution in Iran (1979), the September 11, 2001 terror attacks against the US, and the birth of the Shi’ite Crescent (2003).


The first is Wahhabism. Kemal Ataturk’s secularization of the Turkish Republic in the 1920s blamed the decline and defeat of the Ottoman Empire on a rigid Islam in a European world of the Enlightenment, Reformation, and the Industrial Revolution. On the other hand, Abdulaziz al-Saud and his Abdulwahhab compatriots blamed the decline on the Sultans for corrupting the “true” tenets of Islam. They saw the road to greatness through the imposition of the most extreme among the four of Sunni rites. They rebelled against Istanbul. With British help, the rebellion succeeded in creating the Wahhabi state of Saudi Arabia in 1932. With US protection, the Wahhabi enterprise has flourished to this day thanks to Saudi Arabia’s vast oil resources. Not even the atrocities of 9/11 were serious enough for G.W. Bush to retaliate against Riyadh. Instead, he demolished Iraq.


Wahhabism radicalized Islam and polarized Muslims. Propagated in schools, mosques, and the media, Wahhabi palace clerics made hatred of non-Wahhabis a part of Wahhabi culture, especially Christians, Jews, and Shi’ites. They attack democracy as a Western conspiracy to destroy Islam. Billions of dollars have been spent to convert Arab and non-Arab Muslims to the Wahhabi creed, especially Sunni clerics in neighboring countries. Expatriate workers who lived in Saudi Arabia and became indoctrinated in the Wahhabi ways act as foot soldiers in the Saudi campaign. During the past twenty years, Wahhabism metastasized. What was al-Qaeda has become Boko Haram, the so-called Islamic State, Shabab, and Taliban. Also, a new breed of terrorist emerged—the lone-wolf. Using a knife or a car, he has terrorized Berlin, London, New York, Nice, Paris, and Stockholm.


The second event was the creation of Israel. When the Jews politicized the Old Testament of the Bible, the Arabs responded by politicizing the Quran. This ignited a conflict that will burn for generations if not resolved. Israeli and US denial of a connection between Israel’s occupation, oppression, and humiliation of Arabs and Palestinians and the growth of jihadism is as obtuse as Saudi Arabia’s denial of a connection between the Wahhabi way of life and the atrocities of 9/11. To compound matters, on December 6, 2017, President Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. To coerce Palestinians to accept the decision, he cut by 50% US contribution to United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) and threatened the Palestinian Authority with cutting American aid funds. He added salt on the wounds of Palestinians and Arabs and Muslims. He escalated the religious nature of the conflict.


The third event was the Khomeini revolution of 1979. It may be said that the Iranian revolution was in part, at least, a reaction to Wahhabi hatred and abuse of Shi’ites. Shi’ism incorporates the ethnic and cultural differences between Persians and Arabs. It is a repository of the memories of their wars and rivalries over the long sweep of history. Shi’ism may be described as a Persianized version of Arabian Islam. The Iranian revolution exacerbated the Shi’ite/Sunni divide. It led to the eight-year war between Iran and Iraq (September 1980-August 1988), which deepened the already deep sectarian enmity between Riyadh and Tehran.


The fourth event happened on September 11, 2001, when nineteen Wahhabi terrorists flew passenger air planes into buildings in New York and Washington D.C. The heinous attacks may be seen as a conscious strategy by Osama bin Laden to provoke a devastating and long-term American retaliation against Muslims in order to deepen Muslim/Christian hatred of one another.


The fifth event was the birth of the Shi’ite Crescent as a result of the American occupation of Iraq in retaliation for 9/11, among other ostensible reasons. The attack on Iraq opened the gates of sectarian hell in the Muslim Middle East. G.W. Bush’s misadventure in Iraq handed Baghdad to Tehran, and Obama’s inaction in Syria empowered Iran further. Proxy wars between Saudi Arabia and Iran devastated Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. Tension escalated between the Sunni and Shi’ite populations in Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. 


As life becomes harsher in the Middle East due to constant warfare, occupation, oppression, and humiliation, the downtrodden faithful turn to God. The belief in predestination, jihad, and the delights of paradise make martyrdom more attractive than their current lives.


Oil and God contends that once oil is replaced by sustainable sources of energy, Saudi oil will cease to be of interest to Washington. The day will be brought closer if US rivals like China, continental Europe, India, and Japan develop sufficient green energy capacity to stop the importation of oil. Without America's protection and oil wealth the power of Saudi Arabia will fade, religious and democratic reforms in the Arab Middle East will stand a chance, and Wahhabi terror will diminish. When that happens, Huntington’s “great divisions among humankind” will start to narrow.