Why it is not true to say that Saudi Arabia ‘exported’ radical Islam

Nathan Field writes: As attention focuses on what to do about certain things over the coming months — you will hear people talking about the role of the Wahhabi version of Islam of Saudi Arabia, and what connection it has to the spread of this new threat everyone is talking about.

For decades, there has been a school of thought that blames the Saudis for Al-Qaeda, or Salafism, and now, certain new groups, as a result of some conscious strategy to “export” their version of Islam.

Here are eight links (one two three four five six seven eight) from reasonable mainstream media outlets that state some variation of the thesis of this headline:

How Saudi Arabia Exported the Main Source of Global Terrorism

Central to this idea is that, if the Saudis did not take these actions to export their version of Islam, different things would be happening. Such as:

  • Islam as practiced in many Arab countries would be more moderate
  • Certain radical mosques in say France, wouldn’t exist
  • Fewer Belgians would have traveled to fight in Syria.
  • Radical clerics would have less followers on Twitter.

I have always argued — and will argue in this post — that the spread of more conservative Islamic views across the Middle East, and amongst Muslims in the West, both now, and over the course of the last several decades, cannot be blamed on any conscious strategy by people or organizations inside Saudi Arabia. It is merely a natural reflection of the “demand” for more conservative religious views. People chose more conservative Islam because it is logical to them based on their personal surrounding environment.

This is not an academic argument — it has implications for how you respond to this new challenge.

It comes down to this:

Do you believe that people adopt ideas and beliefs because they seek them out and agree with them because they best explain their predicament? They offer the most meaning? Or do you believe that people adopt ideas because they are told to believe them? Do people choose ideas? Or do ideas choose them? Do you trust people to choose what they think?

I try to read any biography of a “group” member that is published in the media. I am not aware of one instance where a normal, happy, employed person, truly satisfied with their life, who joined a radical movement because they by chance stumbled upon a book by a Wahhabi scholar. Just happened to walk into a radical mosque where a Wahhabi preacher was speaking.

The person that joined an extremist movement has something going on his life that leads him to choose to seek out a radical preacher. Leads him or her to choose to go to the Wahhabi mosque, or to feel that a radical political movement deserves his support. [Continue reading…]

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