In recent days, National Public Radio and the BBC have been among the countless media outlets to give prominent publicity to an organization calling itself “Terror Free Oil,” (TFO) which claims to have established gasoline filling stations in several US cities, that do not sell oil from the Middle East.
Much of the coverage has read like a press release for the organization, or has treated it as a cute feature story, accepting at face value the claims made by its spokesman. The fundamentally racist nature of the claims TFO makes, and the long history of anti-Muslim statements and activities of its founder have been totally ignored.
The Terror-Free Oil Initiative claims on its website that it is “dedicated to encouraging Americans to buy gasoline that originated from countries that do not export or finance terrorism.” It states, “We educate the public by promoting those companies that acquire their crude oil supply from nations outside the Middle East and by exposing those companies that do not.”
Yet it does not specify anywhere which countries these are more precisely than the “Middle East,” nor how buying oil from them supports terrorism.
The initiative’s founders view all the people of the Middle East and their governments as supporters of terrorism. Emphasizing this, the website includes slogans that gas station owners are encouraged to display, such as “Our oil does not come from the Middle East, Your dollars do NOT finance terrorism.”
Another, demonstrating the indiscriminate and racially-based nature of the campaign, states “This Gas Station is part of Terror Free Oil Initiative - We do not purchase our oil from countries whose regimes or populations are hostile to the United States.”
Non Middle East countries whose “regimes or populations” American nationalists view as hostile to the United States, such as Venezuela are not targeted by the initiative. The TFO logo features the Twin Towers and an outline of the Pentagon with the flight numbers of the aircraft that were crashed into them by hijackers on September 11, 2001.
Other TFO propaganda features the image of Osama Bin Laden with his face crossed out, reinforcing the message that the entire population of the Middle East should be viewed as indistinguishable from Bin Laden. In short, the Terror Free Oil Initiative is as blatantly racist as somebody opening a “Usury Free Bank” and proclaiming “We don’t lend Jewish money.”
Terror Free Oil’s claims are also economic nonsense. It has been forced to admit that its suppliers do in fact buy oil originating in Middle East countries. As oil is a fungible commodity, TFO cannot do anything to reduce income to Middle East oil exporters, unless it reduces the total amount of oil consumed globally.
It takes only moments to discover that TFO spokesman Joe Kaufman is founder of a group called “Americans Against Hate,” whose main agenda appears to be support for the Israeli extremist right. Its main product appears to be a relentless stream of statements claiming that mainstream American Muslim organizations are terrorist fronts, and labeling anyone who dares to criticise Israel a “radical Islamist” or supporter of terrorism. The whole “Terror Free Oil Initiative” and website appear to be little more than a ploy to steer people towards Americans Against Hate, whose Coral Springs, Florida mailbox serves as the corporate address for both organizations.
In a January 4 article on the extreme right-wing website Frontpagemag.com, Kaufman claimed that newly elected Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison “carried much radical Islamist baggage,” and he refers to American Muslim groups as “America’s live-in enemies.” Last December, Kaufman called California Senator Barbara Boxer a “senator for terror” because she bestowed a public service award on a Muslim American community activist who had previously criticized Israeli human rights abuses. Under pressure from Kaufman’s organization, Boxer, a staunch supporter of Israel, withdrew the award. (“Sen. Boxer rescinds award to Islamic activist,” Los Angeles Times, 6 January 2007).
The “Terror Free Oil” initiative was a successful, headline-grabbing stunt by a group of unabashed racists and demogogues. Would it have succeeded in getting so much benign and uncritical attention if its hateful message had been targeted at any other population?
Ali Abunimah is the co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse