What to do about Saudi Arabia

The death of King Abdullah is sad because every death is sad. King Salman is a chip off the old block; no change is to be expected.

On Twitter, I’ve often pointed to this excellent piece by Karen Armstrong. She explains how the Saud family and their tribal rivals have exploited and distorted the ascetic doctrines of Al Wahhabb to create today’s disgusting exemplars in Daesh and the “Kingdom of Saudi Arabia”. The latter is no more legitimate a state than so-called IS – neither Islamic nor a state.

One group is our enemy, the other our “ally”. Both are carrying out acts of the most barbarous cruelty. Both have access to oil; one controls and defiles the Holy Cities of Islam – the most recently egregious case being the public beheading of a woman in Mecca.

It seems, however, that the world is finally finding this hypocrisy nauseous. Louise Mensch this evening had a magnificent anti-Saudi rant on Radio 4 in which she quite rightly pointed out to poor Kim Howells, still trying to defend the indefensible, that ISIS/Daesh are really no worse than the al Saud family racket. Both utterly vile.

The al-Saud family is in an unholy alliance with the clerical establishment which in return for its exclusive control of doctrine is afforded unlimited power in the peninsula. They betray the ummah; exploiting Muslim Bengali workers who build the monstrosities that pass for modernism.

Even Kim Howells agrees that the Saudi regime is barbarous. But he offers only the argument that they are the least bad, most stable of a bad bunch. The Middle East is highly unstable, not made any better by our various interventions and betrayals (from Sykes-Picot onwards). Because they’re a bunch of Arab hotheads? The region has traditions of revenge and honour that don’t entirely belie this racist caricature, but that’s not the problem. The problem, of course, is the oil. It’s why we’ve always been interested in the area. In 1905, Winston Churchill as First Sea Lord made a decision that the Royal Navy, on which the Empire depended, would henceforth be fuelled by oil, not Welsh Dry Steam Coal. A decision that the Navy’s seamen certainly welcomed, because “coaling-ship” was an endless chore whenever ships were in harbour; pumping oil into bunkers was much easier. Time in harbour gave time for a “run ashore” in place of coaling, coaling, coaling, always bloody coaling. But Britain had no oil. It needed access to the oil in the Gulf for it new policy; and its naval base at Aden was essential for that. And the world’s thirst for oil drove the course of most of the wars of the twentieth century.

Oil begets money, and money begets corruption. The trillions of dollars that we have pumped into the economy of the Middle East is, far more than the doctrines of a eighteenth century ascetic Muslim scholar, the cause of the problem. Wahhabism is the vehicle, but oil is the fuel. No, not oil: our greed for oil. Dollars. Dollars are the problem. We pay them dollars for the oil and then grovel with them to buy our jets so we get some of the dollars back.

The solution, then, is to wean ourselves off oil. America begins to realise this, but its fracking/shale solution depends on high world oil prices, and high world oil prices are the problem. The answer is to stop using oil at all. Reduce the demand world-wide. It will hurt the Russians as well. I’m afraid that I expect that the present low oil price will, sooner or later, swing up again. But it doesn’t have to. We need to use the slack provided by low prices to push towards substitution. Invest in alternatives: we know what they are. Wind, solar, nuclear, and energy efficiency. We need a collective push to defeat the law of supply and demand, by keeping demand down even when the price is low. It can be done, it must be done both for the sake of the climate and for cutting off the flow of blood money to the Saudi despots.

The first piece of personal news on today’s iPM on BBC Radio 4 was, “my 94-year old mother joined the Green Party. It was her first Internet transaction ever”. Good to hear. The Green Party has a consistent position on Saudi Arabia. It, alone, is in a position to condemn without hypocrisy. I know Louise Mensch is now living in America, but based on today’s rant she’d do well to join the Greens.

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