An Islamic Behavioral Perspective

  • David Cowan


David Hume (Hume, An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2006) stated that only religious fanatics believe they have the knowledge to make judgments as to how the world best works, and in this they provide a threat to political stability. This statement gets to the heart of the disconnect between the understanding and relationship of western secular liberal economic order and the Islamic religiously conservative rentier order in Saudi and elsewhere in what is commonly termed “the Islamic world.” I have used the term fideist to capture the overarching Saudi Islamic worldview, rather than fanatic, fundamentalist and the host of other names used to frame the debate and various religious players involved. Part of this Saudi fideism is a desire to maintain an Islamic worldview, and to take from the west what is beneficial and reject what is not. The economic strain in Saudi will make this process much more difficult, and Saudi will become more vulnerable to secular forces, which makes maintaining the Islamic identity harder and opening ways to those who would terrorize the kingdom into rejecting all that is western and secular. The house of Saud has managed the kingdom through gradualism and occasional spurts of reform, and by repelling those forces that threaten it. It allowed radicals to exist in the kingdom while the Saudis themselves proselytized, but once threatened the action taken by the authorities was swift and brutal. The house of Saud could do all these things because they have power in the sense of ‘asabiyya and because they have oil wealth. The former is under threat by sectarian political movements and the latter by global economic dynamics, with the thread of religion linking these threats together. The problem is whether these religious and political dynamics are in conflict with the economic policies and thinking needed to change the economic dynamics of Saudi. If the outcome of any conflict between culture and economics is the triumph of capitalism then in all likelihood Saudi will change as an Islamic state. If culture wins then the economy will implode. The contrast is stark.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Cowan
    • 1
  1. 1.Boston CollegeBostonUSA

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