Peak oil and Islamic fundamentalism

Will the power of Islamic fundamentalism decline as the world’s oil production begins to decline?

Fanaticism alone isn’t enough to advance a radical agenda. You have to have the capital to finance your fanaticism if you want to be anything more than merely a local nuisance. Fred Phelps is a pain in the ass, but his poverty puts severe limits on how much mischief he can cause.

Fortunately, fanaticism in the modern world tends to be self-correcting. Ideological or religious extremism tends not to be economically viable in the long run. The result is continual market pressure toward either moderation or marginalization of more extreme views. Ultimately this is what did in the Soviet Union, for example.

So … has the petroleum bounty of many Muslim nations created a temporary buffer that insulates them from the economic consequences of their ideology? Saudi Arabia is not a China or an India. It’s not building its prosperity step-by-step by creating a profitable industrial base as part of an integrated market economy. Instead it’s maintaining its repressive ideology while living off the profits from selling its oil. But sooner or later (more likely sooner) the oil will run out. How much would we worry about the threat of radical Islam if Saudi Arabia’s economy more closely resembled Sudan’s? Darfur is a tragedy, but it’s a LOCALIZED tragedy.

Will dwindling oil reserves rob fundamentalist Islam of its consequence-free funding, forcing a move to either moderation or marginalization?

(And lest you think I’m just picking on the Arabs … I think a similar process is at work with the United States. The crippling of most of the major powers in World War II left the United States with a tremendous economic lead on the rest of the world. This “cushion” has allowed ideology to trump pragmatism for decades in American politics. I think we’re in the middle of a major self-correction on that front as well … but that’s a subject for a different thread … .)

Insofar as the civilized world is forced to shift to other energy sources, the financial backing, and thus power, of Islamic Fundamentalists will inevitably decline. It’ll take a while, though.

I agree. Also, without the oil there, there will be a lot less incentive for Western nations to involve themselves. So it is likely that a lot of the anti-U.S. sentiment will die down.

I look forward to the marginalization of the arab world. I wonder what will become of the elites? Will they move to Switzerland? The Arab world (sans oil) will be poor, backward, and of no interest to world affairs. That is probably a good thing.

No, loss of oil won’t stop Islamic fundamentalism.

Islamic fundamentalism began when the Muslim world realized that they’d been outpaced by the West, and some of them decided that the reason why was that they had strayed from Islam, and were thus being punished by God. I don’t see even greater poverty and desperation reversing that. Not by itself, anyway.

To the contrary. As oil production declines (that is, as the cost of pumping each barrel increases), the importance of what remains in the ground becomes even greater.

Iraq, in particular, will become a much more important global oil source – if and when things quiet down enough to allow pumping & export to resume at something near pre-invasion levels – because it has more remaining; its production has been artificially depressed for decades, for the sake of shoring up global prices. As Greg Palast notes in Armed Madhouse, Chapter 2, “The Flow,” Iraq has 74 known oil fields and only 15 in production. in 1927, the major oil company execs met at a hotel room in Belgium and signed an agreement: The Anglo-Persian company (now British Petroleum) would pump almost all its oil from Iran; Standard Oil, under the name of the Arabian-American Oil Company (Aramco), would limit almost all its drilling to Saudi Arabia; Anglo-Persian would drill in Iraq’s Kirkuk and Basra fields but it would drill very little.

In the early '60s, the frustrated Iraqi government canceled the BP-Shell-Exxon concession and nationalized the oil fields, but that didn’t solve the problem.

And since the invasion, of course, the question of Iraq pumping in excess of OPEC production quotas has not even arisen.

I agree. Religious fanaticism tends to do well under adverse conditions, not badly. What I expect will happen, is that it will become even stronger in the areas where Islam is already strong, but lose much of the power it has outside of those areas.

As for the Islamic world losing any of it’s hatred for America, perhaps but I doubt it. It’ll be generations before the memory of what we’ve done to them begins to fade. And that’s ignoring all the religiously motivated hatred piled atop of their legitimate grievances.

How? It wouldn’t make terrorism any less of a problem. Islamic extremists are motivated by humiliated pride. If they grew poorer that would just make it worse.