Four Simple Facts

Whenever I’ve been concerned, these past few weeks, about the future of Egypt, Libya, Tunis, and the other countries where the people (the People? which people? — Sorry, just a digression) have been revolting;

about why the revolters are chanting “Allah’u akbar”;

about what is true and what is not about Al-Qaida and the Muslim Brotherhood standing in the shadows and controlling the whole thing;

about what would happen if this were actually the case;

about a host of questions along the same lines — I’ve quietly sat down and gone through the following simple facts:

1. Most or all major conflicts in the world since the WWII have been played out in areas with substantial oil resources.

2. “Democracy” — despite the almost religious ring the word has in the mouths of certain Western leaders — is not an obvious, natural system which guarantees the freedom, wellbeing, and empowerment of all citizens.

3. There is no reason to be surprised that some people (hm… there’s that “people” again. Wonder who’s hiding behind it this time. Sorry — digressing again.) may express suspicion, spite, distrust, hatred, anger towards the Western world and any of its symbols of faith, such as, e.g., “democracy”. But that does not mean that people wouldn’t want to govern themselves. As Richard Pithouse points out in the Pambazuka News:

The Europe of colonialism, slavery and genocide has no claim to moral leadership in this world. The Europe that backed the Mubarak dictatorship for thirty years and the Ben Ali dictatorship for twenty-three years has no claim to moral leadership in this world. […]

Any serious commitment to democracy has to reject the moral and political authority of Europe and the United States of America. […]

Anyone who says that anyone else isn’t yet ready for democracy is no democrat.

4. Oppression may benefit many others than the actual oppressor, and the end of oppression may be disadvantageous for many others than the fallen despot, and for many reasons. Apparently, both Al-Qaida and Israel are concerned about the current events.

When I’ve considered these four simple facts, … well, I can’t say that I’m not as concerned anymore. But I’m far less afraid of the islamists than of whatever the USA and the oil lobby may come up with in terms of safe-keeping measures to guarantee “democracy”, “universal (i.e. Western) values”, and, uh, the safe flow of oil.

As Pink Floyd put it: “Get your filthy hands off my desert”. In the current situation, that’s probably more a vain hope than something that can actually be a reality, but it’s my democratic right to hope, right?

(I’m still curious why they are chanting “allah’u akbar”, though…)


I found out. It’s equivalent to those American propaganda movies for militant Christian fundamentalism, where people — often portrayed in combat, fierce, desperate but unyielding — shout: “Oh my God!” or “Jesus Christ!” all the time. Platoon, Black Hawk Down, or whatever they’re all called.

In other words: it functions as a general exclamation, usually associated with joy or sorrow, or some other stressful situation — without any specific religious meaning, and definitely not as a sign of islamism.

So now I know. (Thanks, Amal. :)

20 thoughts on “Four Simple Facts

  1. But I’m far less afraid of the islamists than of whatever the USA and the oil lobby may come up with in terms of safe-keeping measures to guarantee “democracy”, “universal (i.e. Western) values”, and, uh, the safe flow of oil.

    Why is that? It is hard for me to understand this mindset of distrust.

    Anyway, people (i.e., human beings) who have been denied freedom are becoming free. We have reason to be joyful. At least I am, as long as I don’t think about the 3000+ dead people in Libya…

  2. Call it an instance of Ockam’s razor. Sure, everything that has happened in the Middle East over the past couple of generations can be explained without considering oil and the power struggle which it invites as one of the most influential factors in this development. But it is much easier, the explanatory force is greater, if it is counted in. “Power and greed and corruptible seed,” you know.
    Besides, I didn’t say anything about distrust, did I? On the contrary, I’m less afraid of some than of others, and if you convince me that those others are not to be feared, then everything should be fine — right? :)

  3. I still don’t get it. Not only the US need oil. Canada, China or … Europe, anyone? Being more afraid of the USA than of Islamists (in general?) seems nuts to me.

    But that’s just me.

    About the “explanatory force” of the oil factor: What does it explain? I see little difference between Arab states with and without oil; the “main” conflict with Israel does not seem to concern oil; and Norway seems to be doing fine as well. (I am not trying to sound sarcastic, just to get to more than common buzzwords. Comparative sociology is not for the faint of heart.)

    One more thing: Only #4 of your four points seems immediately obvious to me. Are you sure about #1? Point #2 may be true as stated, but what does it mean or imply? There are few countries with free, empowered citizens that are not democratic. (Singapore is the only one that comes to my mind at this point, but I am not even sure it qualifies.)

  4. As for #1, I found this list illuminating — if not exactly surprising. That said, I would of course not claim a 1:1 correlation between oil and conflict (besides, Norway is already firmly and unquestionably within the strategic zone of control of the US, so no need for conflict there). It is a fairly openly stated US policy that strategic presence in the Middle East is necessary, not least in order to control the oil reservoirs, “a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history”, to quote a US State Department memo.
    It is also no secret that the US has supported the now falling dictators for 30-40 years.

    As for #2: yes, what does it imply to be free and empowered? I am free to go wherever I want to, but that’s mainly because most countries in the world would welcome me, whereas there’s no end to the obstacles facing, say, a black person from South Africa or Iraqui refugees should they want to come here. Empowered? The electorial system in the so-called democracies isn’t exactly a good example of empowerment. If I feel I have any say over my own situation at all, it’s not because of representative democracy.

    I’m not trying to be sarcastic either. I’m just wondering about the criteria for feeling – say – lucky, happy, in control, free.
    All my life, I’ve been fed images of starving Africa and belligerent, yelling Arabia. If those images were a true representation of reality for people of one and a half continent, it would be a miracle of a higher order. And if I rate those images according to any standard of living I’m familiar with, there is no way on earth I could imagine anyone living decent lives under such conditions, let alone happy lives. And yet, as it seems, many do in fact just that.
    Rather than believing in miracles, I prefer to think the images are wrong.

  5. Hej Eyolf.

    Jeg har besluttet at poste et par bemærkninger til vores demokratidiskussion her på din blog, selvom de ikke kun gælder Mellemøsten, men også Nordvest. Jeg er rimelig træt af, at folk betragter begreber som demokrati og ytringsfrihed som privilegier, der ikke kræver noget ansvar af dem selv. Jeg har aldrig hørt om, at der findes en frihed, hvor der ikke følger et ansvar med. Når mange af de delegerede i min andelsforening således ikke er i stand til at overskue en simpel demokratisk proces, hvor de skal forholde sig til små ændringer i vores forenings vedtægter, så synes jeg, det udgør et demokratisk problem. I virkeligheden burde det være en politisk prioritet at sikre sig, at befolkningen var bevidste om demokratiet ikke blot som noget man har, men som noget de forstår at bruge. En række valg, f.eks. på det afrikanske kontinent har de seneste år med alt tydelighed vist, at demokrati er andet og mere end at befolkningen får mulighed for at gå om bag et gardin og sætte et kryds hvert fjerde år. Jeg håber på, at nyheden også på et tidspunkt når frem her til DK. Vi trænger til en ny diskurs, frem for den nuværende, som mest handler om nationale og etniske tilhørsforhold, samt om man har mest tillid til dem til højre eller dem til venstre.

    Det var min analyse. Jeg håber den er bedre end Gadaffis.

    Bedste hilsner


  6. Well you might have been concerned about islamism if you were a citizen of Iran or Afghanistan. Do you really think it’s all that strange that people fear the rise of islamist power in the Middle East? Do you really think that will improve matters vs. Israel? Do you think such an development would lead to peace in the region or is it more likely that it would lead to new wars? Sadly I think those fears have a basis in reality.

  7. Hey Olf,

    Just wanted to give my tuppence worth,

    1) On your first point, it is a no surprise that this might be the case as resources have been the focus of conflict since forever, but even so as my Prof. always says, Correlation does not imply causation.
    2) Your second point is not a revelation to anyone that lives in a democracy, or as Churchill said: “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”
    3) Your point is very good. just wanted to add that these ideas of liberal values and human rights did come from the west and are maybe its biggest cultural achievement (and should be celebrated insted of thing like capitalism and fast food) but are universal. to imply that they are themselfs colonial values imposed by the west is denying the very essence of humanity. no matter how badly the west abuses them, these values are still a universal human concept and the birthrate of all people(s).
    4) Your comparison between Israel and Al-Qaida is funny. but I’m sure you see how its because they stand at the opposite sides of the possible outcome. Al-Qaida have a chance to turn a westen friendly state into a Muslem radical one, or lose it to democracy. Israel have a chance of losing a western freindly state to a muslam radical state or gainig a democracy. the two are hoping for opposites.

    1. Thanks for your input. Just a couple of remarks in return, concerning the universality of liberal values and human rights: I agree that those ideas are a major cultural achievement, and that it is ridiculous to see them as means of colonial oppression. That would be equivalent to a statement like: “I order you to be free”, which is a nonsensical statement, not a sign that freedom can be unfree.
      However, calling them universal? I’m not opposed to talking about universals per se, but I think any notion of universals has to be based on very basic elements. What is it that we all have in common? A body. The senses, i.e. the ability to sense the body and the world around it. A mind and a memory to process and store experiences. That’s about it, at the very fundamental level. From there on, one can build an understanding of basic needs, and from there basic rights, but a concept like “freedom” or even “humanity” are far too abstract and culturally contingent to be called universal.
      Re. #4, that was exactly what I had in mind; thanks for spelling it out so eloquently.

  8. Hi Eyolf,

    #1 Major Conflicts

    I’m not sure what you mean by “major” conflicts, but do you seriously believe “most or all major conflicts” are over oil? Korea? Vietnam? Algeria?

    #2 Democracy

    -Agreed. I’m with H.L. Mencken on democracy: “Running a circus from the monkey cage.”

    #3 The Evil West

    -I don’t understand your point.

    #4 Oppressive governments

    -Of course other countries have an interest!

    Your evident concern for the Arabs of North Africa is touching if oddly timed in, say, the case of Libya, and I’m glad to learn your standard of living is magically unaffected by oil prices.

    Finally, I’m honestly unsure if you’re being sarcastic or not about the cry of “Allah’u akbar” being the equivalent to saying, “Christ!” when someone stubs his toe. Let’s see, I grab a machine gun and start shooting Norwegian tall ship cadets visiting my town and I shout, “Jesus!” or “Darn!” Yes, it’s all perfectly clear. It’s the same as if I were a Muslim and started shouting “Allah’u akbar” as I mowed them down. I’ve got it.

    PS: Thanks for not blocking my country’s IP addresses yet.

  9. What about the pictures that are all over the net, that originated
    from Reuters. They supposedly depict grieving relatives
    standing before a memorial wall covered, we are told in pictures of
    freedom fighters who have perished In this ongoing conflict.
    But the date above the pictures on this wall is 1996 and is actually
    an old photo of an unrelated massacre commited by Gadafis regime.
    So it seems the media/propaganda machine can be very inept at times

  10. im sorry for being off topic but ive begun to tire of using the computer to view your you have any suggestion for the quickest way to go about printing it? without having to do each song by song etc.. you know like some way icould click okay print then leave the house for a few hours come back and it’d be all on the floor in huge piles…oh my dylan archive! yay! sort of thing? thanks!!!

  11. Oh, dear. Since I last looked in here, Eyolf, it seems as though you have undergone some kind of moral breakdown. It was inevitable from the moment that you began your bad faith boycott of Israeli citizens, and apparent from your unstated, but implicit support for Hamas and your echoing of its slogans that this would occur, but it doesn’t make it any less regrettable. Now you are able to write ‘Israel’ and ‘Al Qaida’ side by side in the same sentence as though they were morally equivalent ,without a twinge of conscience; one shudders to think where this relativism will lead you next.

    Your comments are as intellectually bankrupt as morally unsound. Have you stopped to read about the Iraqi oil industry today — the most transparent in the world, its profits shared equally between all the country’s regions, rather than pocketed by the regime, as in the days of Saddam’s terror-rule? Almost everything about the way that campaign was waged was botched, but the claim that it was ‘all about oil’ was always a lie.

    It is no accident that the Arab League, which backs the operation against Gaddafi, is now led by Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, who hails from the Kurdish part of Iraq, which was liberated 10 years earlier than the rest of the country thanks to a no-fly zone of the type now imposed on Libya. Bush Sr called on the Kurds and Marsh Arabs to rise up against Saddam and then abandoned them to the dictator’s revenge; but at least the no-fly zone saved the Kurds from massacre.

    You seem to have lost faith in democracy, just when large parts of the Arab world, perhaps inspired by what they see in Iraq, however imperfect that may be, are crying out for it. Could you please tell me what other system will hold together a country like Egypt, with its significant Turkish, Greek, and Jewish minorities and sizeable Christian community? Only secular democracy can guarantee equal treatment for all Egypt’s peoples. It’s either autocracy, a la Mubarak, theocracy, as in Iran, or democracy. Which do you prefer? How can we show solidarity with Egyptian democrats and secularists if we ourselves have lost faith in democracy and secular values?

    Maybe it’s we who need to learn from them — from Hoshyar Zebari and Iraq’s democrats, from Egyptian democrats, from democrats in the new republics of the former Soviet Empire — in order to rediscover the values that we claim to cherish.

    You say that you are more afraid of the US and the “oil lobby” (surely you forgot ‘the Zionist bankers and their allies’) than the Islamists, but I’m afraid this appeasement will not save you. You may act as their useful idiot, but the Islamists still see you as a kafir and therefore a legitimate target (after all, they don’t spare their own fellow Muslims).

    Finally, I note the irony of your diatribe against colonialism. You do realize that the message of the Muslim Brotherhood and all its offshoots (all of which were *directly* and explicitly inspired by the Third Reich), Hamas, Al Qaida, etc., is *explicitly* imperialist? Their aims are to establish a caliphate throughout the Muslim world.

    I hope it’s not too late for you to come to your senses before this moral breakdown leads you to its inevitable destination — open support for any and all dictatorships and theocracies, as long as they are anti-Western (anti-US, anti-Israel).

  12. Freedom and humanity are too abstract and culturally contingent to be called universal? Then Democracy itself is suspect, since within any modern western democracy these are universally held by citizens (in principle, not necessarily practice). But, then, you’d agree that democracy is suspect, and you labor here to suggest… what? You seem to enthusiastically observe the flaws and errors of western democracy… why? To suggest that we stay out of Libya?

    First, if the principles of western democracy are not obvious or natural how can I believe that a people outside that tradition would necessarily want to rule themselves? I couldn’t. Democracy is among those complicated things where practice and principle are very separate, since the principles of Democracy only guarantee a process by which its practice is executed. Failures in the conduct of western leaders with regards to governance should NOT render the entire notion of democracy suspect. Their missteps reveal only the cultural character of a society at a given time, which is influenced by many more things than its particular form of government. Democracy is built on the notion that freedom and humanity will sometimes fail us, and its principles (suspect though any individual might find them) help safeguard against total evil when that happens. (I.e. Bush was bad, but he wasn’t a dictator for life, and he still had to answer to two other branches.)

    On the other hand, I could have faith that ANY “universal” aspect of man’s intellectual persona would indeed be complex (abstract) and communal (culturally dependent). It is that very complexity and communal character that necessitates democracy, and has made it so successful in the west. Most other forms of government fail to acknowledge the complexity of the human condition and so exclude that cultural variety which has made democracy succeed. Now I can proceed as a democrat, and thereby recommend my democracy to others. Not because it makes my government do good always, but because it makes my government fail in the way I fail, and succeed in the way I succeed. When America was ready (and not before or after), civil rights movements integrated schools and guaranteed voting rights. SHOULD that have happened sooner? Yes. But I’ll not trade my democracy for an “enlightened despot” of William Lloyd Garrison. Lots of damage has been done in the name of a world that “should be.”

    Those two perspectives end in the same conclusion. No faith in the human spirit? Democracy helps guarantee our flaws don’t overwhelm us. Faith in the human spirit? Well, democracy embodies all the sophistication and ambiguity of that spirit. You keep implying that democracy functions as a religion for the west. Well, no. Muslims cannot be Christians. Muslims can be democrats.

    OR I could simply sit in my cybercosmos and look down upon the world and how foolish it is and condemn everyone and everything as not knowing what we enlightened folks know. How many angels dance on the head of a pin? As many as opinions dance in an internet forum. Only the privilege of ideas without action can embolden us to have our logical cake and eat it too, and then hide behind relativism. Just because an issue is complex doesn’t mean that principles fall apart and everyone is condemned. Just because Israel and Al Qaida have opposite stakes in this conflict, and you don’t like them, doesn’t mean you can’t have a stake in it too.

  13. Hey Eyolf Østrem, I’ve been trying to get into contact with you for a while and stumbled across this. Couldn’t find an E-Mail or anything. I just wanted to say that your DylanChords website has pretty much changed my life. I don’t know how else to say it. Your dedication to everything Bob Dylan has helped me learn countless songs by the Old Fart and gotten me through some very tough time, and your poignant commentary (especially on the “In Search of Little Sadie” tab, had me laughing for a good while).
    I just wanted to thank you for all your hard work, and hoping that with the new albums coming out every few months you aren’t pressed with any difficulties. Hopefully, you’ll never be shut down (again…), or else I might go insane! I use your site daily!

    -T.J. Arnold

  14. You that fasten all the triggers
    For the others to fire
    Then you set back and watch
    When the death count gets higher
    You hide in your mansion
    As young people’s blood
    Flows out of their bodies
    And is buried in the mud

  15. @mikemo: That’s a far too limited definition of ‘fact’. It may work within the sciences (although not even there is it obvious what ‘provable’ means), but hardly in the real world.

  16. Well you certainly sparked a discussion here. All I can say is thank you for the explanation of allah’u akbar. That was definitely the “something new” I learned today. Thanks.

  17. Thank you so much for contributing to the effort to support Palestinian rights and Middle East peace. I have shared your site and encouraging other people to do similar Israeli IP blocks.

    In solidarity,


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