Today's date:
Summer 2006

Civil Society and Hybrid Cars Will Defeat Islamists

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is the Somali-born Dutch legislator and women’s rights activist who is co-author of the film Submission, about women and Islam, which led to the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Muslim radical. Leon de Winter is the Dutch novelist whose books include About the World’s Emptiness.

“Thanks be to God...oil is in the hands of the Muslims. So others should come and bow down before you, they should kiss your hands, kiss your feet and buy these reserves at the highest price. You shouldn’t bow to them.”

—Ayatollah Khomeini, Nov. 14, 1965, at the Shaykh Ansari Mosque in Najaf, Iraq

Amsterdam—The radical jihadist threat cannot be resolved on the battlefield. And because distrust of Western ideas and values is deeply and widely felt across the Muslim world, with roots going back centuries, the war for hearts and minds cannot be won by satellite TV, radio broadcasts or public diplomacy. It can only be won when the Muslim world evolves its own civil society to displace the tribal mentalities that still rule today.

Until then, the West must fight radicalism with radicalism—radically reducing its reliance on the Arab oil that fuels the global jihad. The essential condition for the rise of civil society anywhere is the establishment of a culture of meritocracy in which skills and qualities of individuals are more highly valued than ethnic or religious affiliations. In modern civil societies, the separation of powers and the stability of government institutions guarantee continuity under the rule of man-made law, upheld by an independent judiciary, even when power changes hands between ruling parties.

Unlike countries in the West, Iraq and Afghanistan are relatively young nation-states in which individuals are part of ancient tribes and clans that still look to God for their laws. There have been elections in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the courage of the voters has been astounding. Nevertheless, one must ask: What does democracy mean when people vote as members of tribes or religious sects and not as individuals, as has been the reality in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Civil and tribal value systems deeply conflict: The transformation from a tribal to a civil society implies the subjugation of tribal decision-making processes and the suppression of cultural patterns that have functioned for centuries. What today’s democratic leaders in Iraq and Afghanistan are asking of their people is nothing less than to negate their tribal identities. No one can tell how many generations it will take for that to succeed, or if it is even possible.

Unfortunately, until civil societies are firmly established, clan loyalties, strengthened by religious sentiment, will be the driving factors in much of the Arab-Islamic world. In such conditions, the fragile democratic institutions in Iraq and Afghanistan cannot resist the pressure of radicalism. Also, unfortunately, changing these realities is beyond the reach of external Western influence. That kind of change must come from within.

Western powers have shown that they can topple tyrannies like those of Saddam or the Taliban. But apart from the victims of the tyrants, many in the Arab-Islamic world see these acts of liberation as nothing more than arrogant Western imperialism. Any Western involvement is considered by many only as an act of humiliation.

Absent the development of a vigorous civil society—which we in the West can try to spur but cannot dictate the pace of—what effective course can we take?

The ideology of radical Islam cannot be defeated by Western military power, but it can be defeated by another power: by the power of creative and inventive Western minds.

In his State of the Union speech earlier this year, President George Bush properly noted America’s oil addiction, but he left the essential point unsaid: This addiction is financing the roadside bombs in Iraq, the development of the Iranian A-bomb, the suppression of women and the proliferation of radical mosques.

With the threat of an Iranian nuclear bomb becoming an ever closer reality, the countries of the free world have to urgently set an ambitious goal: In five years they need to devise a way to cut off dependence on Middle Eastern oil. Just as John F. Kennedy had his goal of man in space, just as the Manhattan Project led within three years to the defeat of Japan with the invention of an unprecedented weapon, so, too, the Western nations must initiate an urgent program to develop an effective, affordable oil-free energy source.

It is up to the West to take the initiative where it has the most advantage: in finding technological solutions to concrete problems. There are already many alternatives to fossil fuels—solar and wind energy, clean-burning coal, biofuels such as ethanol, hybrid cars, hydrogen engines. It is true that it may take decades to transform the global energy system, but a technological breakthrough would dramatically lower oil prices and strangle Osama bin Laden’s vision of a wealthy Islamic Caliphate based upon oil income.

For Bin Laden, only when Muslims, Shiite and Sunni alike are united within the Ummah (the entire Islamic community) will they be able to withstand the West’s seductions. Like Ayatollah Khomeini before him, he knows that only controlling the world’s oil reserves will give the Muslim Ummah the power to triumph over its infidel enemies. Saudi Arabia is the central target of Bin Laden’s revolt because it hosts not only Islam’s holiest sites but also the world’s largest Allah-given oil reserves.

Only the rapid deployment of new technologies and the resolve of car manufacturers, oil companies, energy suppliers and Western governments can in turn ultimately put down the revolt of the mullahs and al-Qaida.

If the West is prepared to make the effort, oil will have outlived its usefulness for the tyrannies and dictatorships in the Arab and Muslim world. Oil is the oxygen of the radical Muslims; without it, their ideology will suffocate.

In the West, reduction of Middle Eastern oil imports will unite both progressives and conservatives. Both environmental concerns and security concerns will be equally addressed. New technologies will produce less pollution and may reduce the greenhouse effect while at the same time undercutting tyrannical Arab and Islamic regimes and ideologies.

In other words, it’s the oil, stupid. If you want to defeat Bin Laden and the mullahs, start by driving a hybrid.