There is a French phrase — “Il marche à voile et à vapeur” — literally, “it moves by sail or by steam,” which refers, however, not to a sailboat or a steamboat or a boat that can move using either means of propulsion but, rather, in the witty French manner, to a person who is sexually a switch-hitter.
There is yet another way one might apply that phrase. Can it not be said of Islam itself that “il marche à voile et à vapeur”? The “voile” now refers not to a sailboat’s sail but, rather, to the “veil” — that is, the hijab — required of Muslim women. That hijab can stand metonymically for the practices, the ideology, the teachings and tenets of Islam. And the word “vapeur” no longer refers to the steam of a steamboat, but rather, and also metonymically, to what produces that steam, that is, such means of energy production as oil and gas. Doesn’t that describe Islam itself? It is propelled forward both by the strength and fanaticism of its ideology, and by the gigantic wealth generated from oil and gas deposits in Muslim lands. Truly, Islam marche à voile et à vapeur.
What about that vapeur, or oil wealth? It’s not what it once was. We know that the price of oil has sunk from a high of $147 a barrel in 2009 to less than $30 a barrel today. We know that the Saudis are not going to lessen their production; that the United States, thanks to shale oil, now produces 9.6 barrels, and shows no signs of lowering its production; that the Russians are producing, at 11 million barrels, more than they ever have; that no one inside or outside of OPEC can afford to cut production; and that demand for oil is slipping everywhere, but especially in China; and that as a consequence of all of this, oil economists even foresee a price as low as $20 a barrel.
What does this mean for the economies of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Libya, Algeria, and the other Muslim states that are overwhelmingly dependent on oil or gas sales to keep themselves afloat? It means that they will have a lot less money with which to spread Muslim influence and power, or to otherwise make mischief. It means that the vast Saudi-financed program of building mosques all over the world, and providing subventions to pay for their upkeep, and to pay for Wahhabi-approved imams, will be cut back. It means that all the Muslim oil states will have less money to play with for the buying of influence among Western businessmen, and for bribes for diplomats and third-world heads of state, and for spending hundreds of billions for armaments. The “vapeur” aspect of Islam becomes less impressive every day.
There is still, however, the “voile” side of Islam — that is, the ideology. That has not shown any diminishment in its hold on the minds of Islam’s adherents. In fact, the fanaticism of Islam’s truest followers, those who take their faith straight up, and not on the rocks of self-interest, has been on display just these past weeks in Jakarta and Istanbul and Burkina Faso and San Bernardino. Jihad — the struggle to spread Islam until it everywhere dominates, and Muslims rule, everywhere — remains a duty for all Muslims. Not all Muslims participate in qitaal (combat) or terrorism as their instrument of Jihad. They do not need to. Merely by moving to, and having children in, the lands of the Dar al-Harb, the House of War in which infidels reside and rule, Muslims are steadily increasing their power and influence. A million here, a half-million there, have arrived this year, adding to the tens of millions of Muslims who were already in Europe. They are everywhere — in France, the Netherlands, Germany, the U.K., Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Spain, Finland. Terrorism gets the headlines, but it is the demographic conquest of much of the Dar al-Harb that is the long-term threat.
The free market in energy has broken OPEC’s power, and with it has gone much of Islam’s “vapeur.” But the free market in ideas, such as it is, has not, as yet, taken the wind out of the sails of Islam’s “voile.” At this point, one can only hope.