Fareed Zakaria (2013) suggested that the US should not care, or fret, if the Saudi Arabian leaders are unhappy with US foreign policy. Zakaria based his opinion on two basic points. First, Zakaria noted that Saudi Arabia is a major sponsor of global terror. Second and related to the first is Zakaria’s assertion that religion is the basis for most of Saudi Arabia’s positions regarding its neighbors and US foreign policy. Almost lost in Zakaria’s argument is the influence of the perceived illegitimacy of the Saudi regime in governing the country.
Nevo (1998) asserted that religion is both the source of the Saudi regime’s legitimacy and its national identity. If Nevo is correct, then Zakaria’s (2013) three points are, perhaps one. Many scholars recognize the role of religion in shaping culture. Culture is certainly associated with national identity.
If Zakaria (2013) was correct in ascribing illegitimacy to the Saudi regime, and if, as Nevo (1998) asserted, the legitimacy of the Saudi regime derives from either Islam generally or Wahhabi Islam specifically, and from the derivative culture, it would seem that Zakaria may be making a statement about the Saudi culture or religion. Zakaria effectively argued that religion is at the heart of growing differences or divergences between Saudi and US foreign policies.
Although many in the US embrace a belief in God, few would probably suggest that religion in the US influences US foreign policy. Scholars within and outside the US noted the influence of religion on US foreign policy (Bacevich & Prodromou, 2005; Baumgartner, Francia, & Morris, 2008; Judis, 2009; Long, 2005). Religion influences culture in the US as well (de Waal Malefijt, 1968; Hulsether, 2005; Onwubiko, 1991; Williams, 1996). Perhaps a difference worth exploring is the role of the numerous religious expressions found in the US on shaping a heterogeneous US culture and how that diversity of culture or cultures influences our national identity, foreign policy, and governance legitimacy.
Bacevich, A.J., & Prodromou, E.H. (2005). God is not neutral: Religion and US foreign policy after 9/11. Orbis, 48(1), 43-54.
Baumgartner, J.C., Francia, P.L., & Morris, J.S. (2008). A clash of civilizations? The influence of religion of Public opinion of US foreign policy in the Middle East. Political Research Quarterly, 61(2), 172-179.
De Waal Malefijt, A. (1989). Religion and culture: An introduction to anthropology of religion. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveband Press.
Hulsether, M. (2005). Religion and culture. In J.R. Hinnells, The Routledge companion to the study of religion. New York, NY: Routledge.
Judis, J. (2005). The chosen nation: The influence of religion on US foreign policy. The Carnegie Endowment.
Long, J. (2005). Religion and US foreign policy. IDSS Commentaries, 31.
Nevo, J. (1998). Religion and national identity in Saudi Arabia. Middle Eastern Studies, 34(3), 34-53.
Onwubiko, O.A. (1991). African thought, religion and culture (Vol. 1). Enugu, Nigeria: Snaap Press.
Williams, R.H. (1996). Religion as political resource: Culture or ideology? Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 35(4), 368-378.
Zakaria, F. (2013, November 11). The Saudis are upset? Tough! Why we shouldn’t care that the world’s most irresponsible country is displeased with the U.S. Time, 182(20), 24.