North America, the House of Saud and the real gas Gouging Rabbits, royals and wahabis driving us nuts.
While North Americans may complain about summer gas gouging when paying more than rly $2.80 per gallon for a fill-up before driving to the cottage, current bickering about gas, and its cost, misses the real price.
“Every time you squeeze the trigger on the gas pump, you are putting money into the pockets of terrorists,” notes Hudson Institute scholar and former Wall-Street Journal editorial writer Richard Miniter, in a somewhat hyperbolic assessment of the ‘real’ gas price.
A more accurate metaphor on the real price can be found in the novel Watership Down, which follows the travels, trials and tribulations of a merry band of British rabbits. In the book, floppy eared protagonists visit a rabbit village that seems like paradise; the locals have free reign over the lettuce and carrots in a nearby farmer’s field. But, like our gas, the food comes with an unseen price, as local rabbits inexplicably disappear on a frequent basis.
It turns out the farmer allows rabbits to eat his crops, but in return for letting them graze freely – like SUV drivers who proclaim support for the troops on their bumper stickers while filling their tanks – the farmer kills and eats a couple of bunnies each week. The unspoken Faustian bargain between rabbits and the farmer is much like the noxious relationship between the West and Saudi Arabia.
With proven oil reserves of 264 billion barrels, Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest oil producer. It’s also the world’s only country named after a family. In some ways, current international gas gouging started with Ibn Saud, the creator and first king of modern day Saudi Arabia, which is still run by his family ‘the house of Saud’.
In the early 1900s, Ibn Saud was trying to build an empire. As one of many competing warlords, he controlled the central city of Riyadh (now the capital of Saudi Arabia) and built a contradictory military and economic alliance with both the British and a group of religious fundamentalist tribesmen called the Ikhwan.
The British, then the dominant player in the Middle East, wanted a reliable and sufficiently powerful local vassal, so they supported Ibn Saud with weapons. The Ikhwan were adherents to a conservative and intolerant Islamic doctrine Westerners know as Wahhabism; which pushes adherents to attack other religions and demands a strict moral and behavioural code including the banning of alcohol and tobacco and the covering of women.
Defended by local zealots and foreign imperialists, Ibn Saud consolidated his control over the Arabian territory. In 1930, Saud switched alliances from the British to the Americans and made a deal with the Standard Oil Company of California to create the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco) to extract the fuel for his kingdom and our cars. Aramco paid oil royalties directly to King Ibn Saud. Today, Aramco still pays its massive oil rents to the descendants of King Saud; Ibn was a profligate young man and his family is now said to number some 7,000.
During the 1930s and today, fundamentalist religious elements, who had initially helped Saud create his Kingdom, weren’t happy about American infidels operating oil wells and military bases in Arabia. So, Ibn Saud started a tradition that continues in the Kingdom: the ruling family finances a conservative religious establishment, which has created a well-oiled machine of schools, mosques and charities to promote its brand of intolerant, fundamentalist doctrine all over the world. The Saudi royal family garners a form of political legitimacy among the 24 million people it rules over by financing this brand of religious activity and positioning itself as the defender of the faith.
It’s a nasty threesome: undemocratic Saudi royals, western oil interests, and Wahhabi theologians. They all depend on each other. Oil interests need the house of Saud, because they know that if the monarchy was defeated, an anti-western government would likely take its place. The Saudis need the oil companies to finance their regime while they need the Wahhabis to give them political and religious legitimacy.
Thus, as Timothy Mitchell, director of the International Center for Advanced Studies at New York University, correctly notes, without irony, “political Islam plays an unacknowledged role in the making of global capitalism… American oil executives and the forces of Jihad worked hand in hand to keep the political economy of oil in place.”
Now granted, not all gasoline comes from extremist fiefdoms like Saudi Arabia. Canada is now the largest oil exporter to the United States, and while the tar-sands are an environmental abomination; Canada’s leading supplier of greenhouse gases which should be closed down, al-Qaeda has yet to open an Alberta chapter.
But, as the world leader in proven oil reserves, the House of Saud still exercises enormous power over world energy markets, which supply our gas. And, some that money is used to finance violent religious activity. So, maybe complain a little about the higher than usual price and then hop, like a bunny, to your nearest gas station.