Despite the allied victory in the Persian Gulf war, there are many in the Muslim world and in the West who are reluctant to support oil-rich oligarchies whose closely held wealth has made them very unpopular with the poor masses of the Arab world.
The regimes whose countries were defended and liberated must assist in rallying broad Arab support for a new economic order.Placing a substantial portion of their oil reserves in an irrevocable trust benefiting all Muslims would go a long way toward eliminating the antipathy that drew many Muslims to Saddam Hussein.
The model for such a trust is readily available.
In Islam there exists a form of financial trust - known as waqf or habus - set up for pious purposes.
Such trusts, which have legal and religious status, were used historically to stop the dissipation of wealth and channel it to beneficial ends, to consolidate the patrimony of a family, tribe or confederation and to immunize property from tyrants.
Under Islamic law an independent authority manages property held in a religious trust.
In this case a panel consisting of the keepers of the Islamic holy places, religious representatives from the region and scholars from Islamic countries with workers in the region could serve as trustees.
The board would not be part of OPEC nor would it make oil policy.
It would simply oversee the distribution of funds earned by participating countries.
The advantages of such a trust in the present circumstances are numerous.
It would demonstrate to Muslims worldwide that its contributors were serious about their welfare.
It would underscore the idea that a portion of the resources of the region belong to all Muslims and would help disperse power in the region, allaying fears of domination by any one individual or country.
By supporting the creation of such a trust, America would be squarely on the side of a more equitable distribution of Arab oil wealth through a distinctly Islamic institution.
It would provide an incentive to stabilize oil prices and reduce the use of oil as a weapon of narrow nationalistic aims while demonstrating that the West's presence in the region helped redistribute resources to all Muslims.
It would assist oil workers displaced by the crisis, ease tensions between European countries, their Arab guest workers and former colonies, and reassure Americans that they have not been fighting to reinstate wealthy autocrats.
Such a trust might even help prevent future war in the region.
The trust should have as its main corpus a part of the oil reserves of Kuwait, including the oil in the Rumaila oil field that Iraq has claimed.
Commitment of this reserve to the trust would undercut some of Iraq's appeal to those hostile to the oil sheiks.
The Saudis should also place a significant part of their oil fields in the trust as a sign of their good intentions.
The Arabic term for a pious trust comes from a root that means "to take one's stand or resist."
Joint military action is not the only way to take a stand.
If Americans and Muslims are to forge a new alliance and achieve economic justice in the postwar period, they should move expeditiously to form an Islamic oil trust.