I’m finally reading Juan Cole’s Engaging the Muslim World, and because of the competing demands on my time and the book’s range of topics, I’ve decided to respond to it chapter by chapter. The first chapter, “The Struggle for Islamic Oil: The Truth about Energy Independence,” hits what I suspect will be a common theme throughout the book: That the United States and the Islamic world have little choice but to work together constructively in common areas of interest if both are to prosper.
The chapter’s subtitle comes from Cole’s argument that U.S. energy independence simply isn’t in the cards in the near term, as it can only be sustainably guaranteed by solar power, which cannot reach its potential until problems of cost and storage are resolved. One might quibble here that Cole does not do justice to possible combinations of different energy sources and degrees of independence, but his main point is undeniable: For the foreseeable future, the United States and the rest of the world will depend on fossil fuels for most of their energy, and those fossil fuels will come predominantly from countries with Muslim majorities.
Cole’s book is directed primarily at an American audience, and an audience of the interested general public, at that, so he doesn’t spend much time taking apart the phrase “Islamic oil” which titles the chapter, preferring instead to make his major points simply and effectively before moving on. Cole therefore bypasses the issue of what sense, if any, energy supplied by Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan deserve to be called “Islamic oil” and focuses almost exclusively on the Middle East and Muslim South Asia. One might, however, shake loose the point that by joining OPEC, the Arab Gulf states went against the hopes of Arab nationalists such as Nasser, placing their own national economic interests above the pan-Arab concerns that animated the original “Arab street” whose specter analysts continue to invoke. Oil his not been a barrier to relations between the U.S. and these states, but rather the major bond, with the U.S. guaranteeing the regimes’ stability and independence to safeguard the free flow of oil, and frequently adopting what Americans consider the “moderate” line on foreign affairs to help maintain that alliance and the goodwill of their customer base. In Cole’s brief discussion of sanctions, one might go even further in discussing U.S. aid to Egypt and the economic benefits Egypt and Jordan get under the Qualifying Industrial Zone protocol to highlight the ways in which the U.S. has used economic carrots and sticks to create relations of dependence which are similar to those it has with the oil-producing Gulf states.
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