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Volume :2 Issue : 7 1976      Add To Cart                                                                    Download

THE CULTURAL BACKGROUND of the PETROLEUM CONFRONTATION

Auther : By Dr. Fouad Zakaria

 
 
This paper presents the writer’s comments on a Seminar, to which he was invited to participate in his personal capacity, whose theme was: “The Petroleum Confrontation: The Hidden Infrastructure of National Identities, Perceptions and Cultural Attitudes”.  The Seminar was arranged by the Centre for Mediterranean Studies, affiliated to the American Universities Field Staff (AUFS).  Its meetings were held between 23rd and 29th November 1975.

The purpose of the Seminar was to explore the possibility of taking the cultural factor, in addition to the economic and political ones, into consideration in dealing with the confrontation between oil-producing and oil-consuming countries.  To justify this procedure, one has only to remember that oil producers are Moslems, while oil big consumers are mainly Christians.  Therefore the question naturally arises whether the long history of mistrust, prejudice and suspicion between the two cultures might not be a factor in the present-day petroleum conflict.

Be’r and Masjid so as to make the Bedouins settle build their houses and plant their land.

After a historical presentation of the different images in the Moslem world about the Christian West, the writer comes to the conclusion that this image has varied through the ages, depending mainly on political, military and economic factors.  The present situation in the relation between the Moslem and Christian worlds has its specific features which single it out from all previous situations throughout history.  Therefore, there seems to be no justification for the thesis according to which the hidden images, particularly in the religious field, are still exerting an influence on the negotiators belonging to both parties of the petroleum confrontation.  The religious factor recedes in importance as a factor affecting the oil conflict.  If it exists at all in this connection, it rather helps to lessen the acuity of the conflict, since those countries in which religious orthodoxy prevails are normally less demanding, in oil negotiations, than those in which nationalist or liberal tendencies are dominating.

If the cultural factor is to be taken into account in this domain, it should not be identified with the religious images formed by each party about the other, but rather with element of national dignity, the desire to make up for the long periods of backwardness and humiliation caused, mainly, by foreign domination.  These, too, are cultural factors, in the broad sense.  The producing countries find in their petroleum a means of asserting their national identities.
 
Petroleum, for them, is a symbol of their aspiration, not only to “have” more income, but also essentially to “be” themselves.

If this aspiration is rightly understood by the big consumers, they should abstain from any threat of military occupation of oil wells, a threat which, moreover, is impractical in the present world balance of power.  Such an understanding would do justice to the hidden cultural infrastructure, much more than the assertion of a mythical feud, supposedly still exerting its influence between Moslem and Christian consumers of oil.
 
 

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