Youths ride bicycles next to a burning oil well in Qayara, about 50km south of Mosul, Iraq. The Islamic State group has pioneered brutally innovative tactics and launched diversionary attacks that have shocked its opponents, and now many fear it has more surprises in store as Iraqi forces close in on Mosul. Picture: Marko Drobnjakovic, AP
NEXT time you fill up your car with petrol, take a moment to calculate the money you’re sending to terrorist regimes overseas.
Many people wouldn’t realise it but the world has a dangerous obsession with oil and Australian consumers are helping to fund groups like ISIS simply by turning the other way.
Oil has become an integral part of modern life, it’s in our clothes, furniture, perfumes, vitamins, televisions, shampoo and basically anything plastic. Without it, 90 per cent of the world’s transportation including cars, planes, ships and trucks, would grind to a halt.
Our reliance on oil is so widespread, we use the equivalent of four Olympic sized swimming pools of it every minute.
But Professor Leif Wenar believes the value of resources like oil, does not always improve the lives of ordinary citizens, instead it’s empowering some of the most violent and dangerous men in the world.
“Resources bring conflict, oppression, corruption and death,” the chair of philosophy and law at King’s College London, told news.com.au.
“Think of ISIS selling oil for $2 million a day to become the world’s richest terrorist group, or the Saudi’s giving a poor blogger 20 lashes for writing about free speech … or the terrible militias in the Congo plundering metals that go into our smartphones,” he said.
Prof Wenar believes the “resource curse” has been repeated throughout history and can be attributed to an old law that suggests “might makes right.”
“Under Australia’s law, and every other country’s law, whoever can control (the resources) by force, they (are entitled to) sell it to us,” he said.
“When Saddam Hussein took over Iraq in a coup, Australian law made it legal to buy oil from him,” he said. The same happened when Islamic State took over.
“That’s why our money ends up empowering some of the most violent and dangerous men in the world. Violence overseas is turned into legal property here.”
But it’s not just the people who live under violent and authoritarian regimes who are hurt.
“The resource curse is not only bad for the country where the oil and minerals are located but it’s bad for us too,” Prof Wenar said.
People watch a burning oil well in Qayyarah, about 50km south of Mosul, Iraq. In the week since Iraq launched an operation to retake Mosul from the Islamic State group, its forces have battled the militants in a belt of mostly uninhabited towns and villages. In the heavily mined approaches to the city they met with fierce resistance, as IS unleashed suicide truck bombs, rockets and mortars. Picture: Marko Drobnjakovic/APSource:AP
“When you look at the biggest threats and crises over the last 40 years you see one thing in common — they all come from countries with a lot of oil.”
In his book Blood oil: Tyrants, Violence and the Rules that Run the World, Prof Wenar highlights the tyranny that oil funds.
It includes the Islamic State beheadings, Bashar al-Assad’s barrel bombing of his own people in Syria, Russian president Vladimir Putin bombing Syria and moving nuclear capable weapons into Europe, Muammar Gaddafi’s possible support for the Lockerbie bombing and IRA, al-Qaeda’s involvement in 9/11, the genocide in Darfur and Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
“That’s the oil curse that drives authoritarian regimes and conflict,” he said.
“It’s bad for the people in those countries and it’s bad for use because we send our dollars to violent men abroad, and the violence comes and bites us back.”
Australia currently imports most of its crude oil from the Middle East, an area which Prof Wenar said had exported fundamental Islam for decades. This has now mutated into the extremist violence spreading around the world, leading to attacks in Belgium, Britain, America and Australia.
Ihsas Khan, 22 brandishes a large knife during an alleged terror attack in the Sydney suburb of Minto in September. Picture: A Current Affair/9NEWSSource:Channel 9
“Young people are attracted to this extreme ideology but it would not have spread around the world if it hadn’t been for our money being sent to the Middle East for oil, which they have used to spread their medieval version of Islam around the world,” Prof Wenar said.
“The Saudi regime in particular has for several decades spent tens of billions of oil dollars converting tolerant Muslim communities around the world to intolerant fundamentalism.
“In some sense when you go to the pump to fill up your car you are funding both sides of the war on terror … including those hostile to our way of life.”
WHAT CAN WE DO?
But Prof Wenar, who will deliver the Jack Beale Lecture at the University of NSW on Wednesday night, believes we can turn the situation around.
The “might makes right” law used to be applied to other resources, even humans.
“It’s what made the slave trade legal — whoever could control humans by force could sell them to us — but we’ve abolished that now,” he said.
Colonial rule, apartheid and even genocide used to be permitted. “The encouraging thing is we’ve abolished all these, they are all now violations of international law,” he said.
The world has even managed to break the link for diamonds, many of which used to come from Sierra Leone where the militia would amputate people to keep them away from mines.
“Now it’s illegal in almost every country to buy blood diamonds. So we’ve broken this rule and we can do it for all natural resources,” he said.
Prof Wenar said Australia could get its oil from countries chosen using a key principle.
“If we believe that every country belongs to its people … and natural resources belong to the people … we should change our laws so we only buy oil from places where people can benefit and hold their leaders accountable.
“If an armed group or authoritarian regime is selling the resource, it is literally stealing the resource. We should not buy resources that have been stolen.”
It could be as simple as passing a law in Australia to bring this principle into practice.
Players of the Sierra Leone civil war amputees football team on a beach in Freetown. Former Liberian president Charles Taylor was sentenced for war crimes by a UN court 30 May 2012 after being convicted for arming Sierra Leone rebels in return for ‘blood diamonds’’. Picture: Issouf Sanogo/AFP.Source:AFP
“The good news is it shouldn’t cost us much at all,” Prof Wenar said. “There are more than enough barrels to supply Australian demand.”
The main cost he said, would be a political one, of not buying from places like the Persian Gulf countries, which would likely be excluded along with Russia and many African countries like Gabon and Algeria.
Instead Australia could get resources from Canada, US and even countries like Venezuela and Indonesia would probably qualify.
To help promote change, Prof Wenar said citizens needed to encourage governments to change laws. He has created a declaration of principles that people can sign up to at cleantrade.org to pressure governments to get out of doing business with blood oil countries.
An index ranking major oil companies including BP and Shell, will soon be released to expose which companies are doing business with autocrats.
Consumers are also being encouraged to boycott toys made in China that may be made using blood oil.
While the past seemed pretty grim, Prof Wenar said he thought the world could free itself from reliance on tainted resources.
“We’ve overcome the slave trade and apartheid, which seemed impossible but we did it,” he said.
“Again and again we see citizens winning against Goliath forces and taking history the next step forward … to a more peaceful and just world.
“I really believe we can do something about this.”