Archive for October, 2014

The Deployment of Climate Change and Control over Natural Resources in Current Radical Islamic Theory and Practice – Dr. Moshe Terdiman

October 16, 2014


The Deployment of Climate Change and Control over Natural Resources in Current Radical Islamic Theory and Practice

by Moshe Terdiman

RIMA Climate Change and Conflict Papers, volume 1 (2014), Number 1 (October 2014) 



During the last decade or so, radical Islamic organizations — Hizb al-Tahrir, Hizbullah, al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb, Ansar Dine, Boko Haram, Ansar al-Shari’ah, etc. — have been deploying climate change, competition and control over natural resources, and attacks against energy infrastructures in their fight against the local Muslim regimes across the Middle East, North Africa, the Sahel and the Horn of Africa as well as against Israel and the West. In addition, control over natural resources has proved to be a major source of income for some radical Islamic organizations. Moreover, radical Islamic organizations have been recruiting people who have been suffering from the loss of their livelihoods as a result of climate change effects.[1]

This article will give a short survey of this new phenomenon. It will be followed by a series of articles looking at each of the main radical Islamic organizations active in Africa and at their use of the environment in order to promote their aims.

The Ideological Level

On the ideological level, Hizb ut-Tahrir Denmark published a booklet in 2009 titled “The Environmental Problem: Its Causes and Islam’s Solutions”. Hizb ut-Tahrir is a pan-Islamic organization which was established in 1953 in Jerusalem and its goal is to unify all Muslim countries under a caliphate which will be ruled by Shari’ah law. Therefore, it is not surprising that in the framework of this booklet, Hizb ut-Tahrir blames the Western culture and its capitalist economic system for the ongoing environmental crisis and says that Islam is the only solution for this crisis. According to this booklet, the environmental crisis can be checked only under Islamic shari’ah rule, which will take care of the environment.[2]

Also Osama bin Laden, the late al-Qaeda leader, blamed the US and other industrial economies for climate change on an audiotape released on January 29, 2010. He said that “speaking about climate change is not a matter of intellectual luxury – the phenomenon is an actual fact”. He added that “all the industrial states are to blame for climate change, yet the majority of those states have signed the Kyoto Protocol and agreed to curb the emission of harmful gases. However, George Bush junior, preceded by [the US] congress, dismissed the agreement to placate giant corporations. And they are themselves standing behind speculation, monopoly and soaring living costs. They are also behind ‘globalization and its tragic implications’. And whenever the perpetrators are found guilty, the heads of state rush to rescue them using public money”.[3]

The Practical Level

Moving from ideology to practice, radical Islamic organizations are making use of climate change impacts in order to recruit people to their ranks as well as to convert people to their cause. For example, on February 24, 2010, Africa Review reported that many Boko Haram foot soldiers happen to be people displaced by severe drought and food shortages in neighboring Niger and Chad. Some 200,000 farmers and herdsmen had lost their livelihoods and, facing starvation, crossed the border to Nigeria, where some of them have been lured by the Boko Haram, which supplied them with salaries and food.[4]

Boko Haram is not the only radical Islamic organization which succeeds in luring people affected by climate change to its cause. Other radical Islamic organizations active in the Sahel – such as: al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb, Ansar Dine, and others – are doing the same. In June 2014, the new UN Special Envoy for the Sahel, Hiroute Guebre Sellassie, used her first briefing to the Security Council to stress the connection between the “extremely fragile” humanitarian situation” and the worsening regional security. She said that “unemployed youth are particularly vulnerable to religious radicalization, while extremist groups are increasingly investing in the development of violent indoctrination. Extremist and radical ideologies continue to spread in the Sahel region and are driving many young men and women into violence”.[5]

From these two examples, one is able to see that the causes for the eruption of conflicts in Mali and Nigeria and for the rise of radical Islamic organizations in the Sahel are not only political, social, religious and ethnic, but also environmental, having to do with the decrease of agricultural yields, the expansion of the desert into pastoral and agricultural areas, and water shortages caused by climate change.

Radical Islamic organizations are also using the environment and its control over natural resources (such as: water, land, oil, etc.) as a means to make profit and finance its activities. Al-Shabaab has been financing its activities partly from elephant poaching and the trafficking of ivory, which funds “up to 40 per cent of the cost [of al-Shabaab’s] army of 5,000 people”, according to Andrea Crosta, a director of EAL and co-author of a 2011 report into the links between poaching and terror groups.[6] Al-Shabaab has another important source of funding, which is the charcoal industry. It is estimated that al-Shabaab exports charcoal worth $500,000 per month to the Gulf states. Yet, the booming trade in charcoal with the Gulf states has been affecting the environment since nowadays there is vast deforestation in the areas under al-Shabaab’s control in south Somalia.[7] Another example in point is the Islamic State, which took control over oil fields in Syria and Iraq. These oil fields serve as a very important source of income for its activities and make it the richest radical Islamic organization in the world. Thus, its oil income can be between $1 million to $3 million a day.[8]

In addition, radical Islamic organizations are also using the environment and natural resources as a weapon in their fight against local opposition groups. For example, the Islamic State has been increasingly using its control of water facilities, including four dams along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, as a weapon to displace communities or cut them off supplies. At the same time, they have been pressing to expand their control over Iraq’s water infrastructure, and especially, Iraq’s largest dams – Mosul and Haditha.[9]

Finally, radical Islamic organizations have launched attacks against energy infrastructures as part of their war against the local regimes and the West. The first radical Islamic organization to launch such an attack was al-Qaeda. As part of its war against local Arab regimes and the West, al-Qaeda launched a suicide attack against the MV Limburg, a French 157,000-ton crude oil tanker, in the Arabian Sea on October 6, 2002. On February 24, 2006, it launched an attack against Saudi Arabia’s giant oil processing facility at Abqaiq, which failed. This was the first direct attack by al-Qaeda on a Saudi oil installation.[10]

Other radical Islamic organizations which launched attacks against energy infrastructures include  the Abdullah Azzam Brigade, which in July 2010 launched a suicide attack against the Japanese oil tanker MV M. Star in the Strait of Hormuz, injuring a crew member.[11] Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has been launching attacks against oil fields and pipelines in Yemen since oil is one of the main sources of income for the Yemenite government.[12] As of 2011, as part of its fight against Israel and the Egyptian regime, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, which is active in the Sinai Peninsula, launched repeated attacks on the gas pipeline supplying gas to Israel.[13]On January 16, 2013, Katibat al-Mulathamin (the Masked Brigade), which is a splinter group of the al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb under the command of Mokhtar Belmokhtar, launched an attack against the Tigantourine gas facility, which supplies 10 per cent of Algeria’s natural gas production.[14]


All these above mentioned instances show that in the last decade or so, the radical Islamic organizations have “discovered” the environmental factor and have been using it to promote its aims both in the ideological level and in the practical level. Not only they have joined the global environmental discourse concerning climate change and regarded it as yet another opportunity to blame the West for global injustices while stressing the role that an Islamic state ruled by the Shari’ah may play in checking the crisis, but they have also taken advantage of the impacts of climate change and its control over natural resources as both a source of income and recruitment of people for its cause as well as a weapon vis-à-vis the local population, the local Muslims regimes and the West.

Thus, it is very important to understand that the rise of radical Islamic organizations and the eruption of the conflicts in the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere during the last decade or so have been driven and caused not only by political, economic, social, religious and ethnic tensions but also by the environmental factor.

The role played by the environmental factor in exacerbating existing problems to a boiling point is not new, especially within pastoralist societies in the Middle East and Africa who throughout history used to compete with agricultural societies and with rival groups over the control of and access to natural resources, such as water and land. Yet, nowadays, the importance of the environmental factor in the process of eruption of current conflicts and the rise of radical Islamic organizations has increased tremendously, especially since it is coupled with huge population growth and, as a result, with rising population stress over dwindling basic natural resources in levels unsurpassed ever before.  Furthermore, the inability of the states in Africa and the Middle East to address the impacts of climate change in particular and environmental issues in general has also turned the populations against their governments and helped radical Islamic organizations to convert some of them to their cause.

To sum up, although military intervention and the very difficult task of addressing the core political, ethnic, religious, economic and social issues may restore stability in Africa and the Middle East and may curb radical Islamic organizations in the short term, climate change will continue to play a major role and increase instability among these countries’ poor, especially the agricultural and pastoralist societies. As a result, there is also a need to focus on environment and resource dimensions of actual and potential conflict situations as a resource in helping stabilize these countries and curb radical Islamic organizations in the long term.






[1] This is an introductory article to the subject of radical Islam and its use of the environment in order to promote its aims. I have also started to work on a book on this subject, which will cover all the radical Islamic groups throughout the world which have been using the environment in order to promote their aims.

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