The international system will face new and evolving challenges over the coming decades, concerning not only issues such as terrorism and violent conflict, but more pertinently, the intersecting convergence of global ecological, energy and economic crises. It so happens that these phenomena will intensify in direct relation to Muslim-majority regions in the Middle East, Central and South Asia, and North Africa.
Existing trends, and their probable trajectories, look grim without urgent preventive and mitigating action. Climate change is already happening, and has generated droughts this year in some of the most prominent food-producing regions. This trend is set to accelerate over the coming decades.
The areas hit hardest by global warming will be the tropics and subtropics, encompassing about half the world’s population, including Africa, the southern United States, and much of India, China and South America. In these areas, higher temperatures will at first cause crops like corn, wheat and rice to grow faster, but over the longer-term reduce plant fertility and grain production. Scientists project that world crop yields will fall 20 to 40 percent. Climate change will also lead to water shortages potentially affecting up to 3.2 billion people.
Britain will be drastically affected. As noted by Lord Cameron of Dillington, a farmer and former head of the Countryside Agency, Britain faces a real danger of civil unrest if food supplies are endangered for as short as three days.
The danger will be exacerbated by the impact of hydrocarbon energy depletion and the global financial crisis. In 2006, according to the Energy Watch Group – an international network of parliamentarians and scientists based in Berlin – world oil production had already peaked, and will decline by half by 2030. The Group also argues that coal and natural gas are unlikely to be able to fill the supply gap in time. This will have a drastic impact on the ability of our societies to function, potentially leading to serious constraints on agricultural and industrial production, national electric grids, and transport infrastructure – unless viable alternative energy sources are brought on line at break-neck speed.
Peak oil was also a cause (but not the only one) of the financial crisis. Escalating mortgage defaults triggering the crash occurred in the context of rising inflationary pressures on food prices, transport costs, costs of production, and costs of living, which arose from rising oil prices linked to the underlying energy problem. Fatih Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency, warns that permanent oil supply constraints could “strangle” any potential economic recovery over the long-term. And a lack of cash could undermine the kind of infrastructure capacity-building needed for Britain to become resilient against these crises.
In this context, both US and UK defence planners are increasingly concerned about the impact of these crises for Western security, particularly in the way they relate to Muslim-majority regions. Recent official strategic defence documents point to the centrality of violent inter-communal conflicts over food, water and energy resources around the world. In particular, they highlight projections of exponential population growth generating a “youth bulge” in Muslim-majority regions in the Middle East, Central Asia and North Africa – where the world’s most significant reserves of hydrocarbon energy and raw materials can be found. In the context of global systemic crises, this will create massive internal pressure on these societies, leading to massive shifts in migration patterns, intensifying the potential for insurgency and violent conflict, and increasing the propensity for geopolitical rivalry between the West, Russia and China (among others) over these regions.
Intelligence experts are also worried about domestic population politics, projecting significant Muslim population growth in the US, Britain and Western Europe. Tim Savage, division chief at the State Department’s Office of European Analysis, argues that Europe’s Muslim population is expected to double over the coming decades, while its non-Muslim population is projected to fall by at least 3.5 per cent. At worse, he suspects that by mid-century Muslims might outnumber non-Muslims not only in France, but throughout Western Europe. Given the danger of intensifying violent conflict for control of scarce resources in Muslim-majority regions, planners believe the population growth will increase the threat of “home-grown” Islamist terrorism.
These trends, and the plans they are provoking, are indeed grim. But they illustrate two key points – 1) the ongoing dismal failure of conventional policy approaches to transform the root structural causes of global systemic crises; and 2) the necessity and opportunity for British Muslims, along with their American and European counterparts, to address this failure with innovative new thinking, vision, strategy, and policy over the coming decades in addressing global crises and geopolitical challenges that will affect us all.
It is therefore essential for British Muslims to draw on the economic, ecological and socio-political insights of their spiritual and intellectual traditions to formulate a coherent indigenous discourse of progressive Islamic thought and values with which to critically engage UK policymaking institutions to elicit more just, harmonious and sustainable practices; as well as to empower Muslim communities with a sense of inclusion and constructive action that delegitimizes extremism while inspiring new strategies to generate positive social change for peoples of all faiths and non-faiths.
Dr Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed is a bestselling author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is The Crisis of Civilization: How Climate, Oil, Food, Finance, Terror, and Warfare will Change the World (Pluto, 2010). He is the Executive Director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development, and has authored four other books on terrorism and foreign policy, including most recently The London Bombings: An Independent Inquiry (Duckworth, 2006). He has a PhD in International Relations from the University of Sussex, where he has taught contemporary history and political theory.
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