The concept of soft power was developed at the end of the Cold War to examine international influence through non-coercive means. In recent years, a growing field of research has drawn on this concept to examine the role of religion and culture in the foreign policies of Middle Eastern states. The existing research tends to view soft power from the perspectives of states that project such influence, not the impact of these policies on target societies, and tends to overlook the relationship between hard and soft power strategies. To address this gap, we draw on an original survey data and face-to-face interviews to evaluate Iran’s influence in Afghanistan. This study examines the response in Afghanistan to key pillars of Iranian soft power projection: the role of shared language and culture, religion and Tehran’s Third Worldist ideology of resistance against Western powers. This research finds that Iran’s soft power projection strategy is undermined by structural hard power imbalances between the two countries and Tehran’s contradictory policies towards Afghanistan.
Registered women’s non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the Islamic Republic of Iran occupy a critical space in the socio-political landscape. They are neither government insiders nor anti-regime activists, instead advocating for incremental change within the constraints of the system. Drawing on interviews with NGO leaders, this article sheds light on the objectives and activities of five registered women’s organisations as they work in the so-called ‘moderate’ political climate of the Rouhani government. The findings show that although the NGOs provide education and training, essential services, and recreational activities for women, they steer clear of seeking fundamental changes to laws on women’s rights. This approach is predicated on security considerations. NGO activists are keenly cognisant of state sensitivities and the risk to their work, registration and liberty. The NGOs’ reluctance to seek fundamental changes to laws concerning women’s status reflects palpable anxiety amongst activists over the possibility of political backlash. Rouhani’s ‘moderate’ politics do not appear to have relaxed tensions between the government and civil society, which were at their peak under his predecessor. The focus of contemporary NGOs on achieving behavioural, attitudinal and procedural change is significant, and has the potential to make a real difference in women’s lives.
States use elements of their culture to promote their influence in countries of strategic importance to them. Despite a growing body of literature on soft power, there is a shortage of literature on Iran’s influence in its neighbourhood. How is Iran viewed in Pakistan? This article is based on in-depth interviews and an online survey with informed participants in Pakistan. Our findings demonstrate that while many participants view Tehran’s policies negatively, the majority see Iran in a favourable light. This article found that Iran’s multi-pronged strategy connects with pre-existing trends and pressure points in Pakistan at different levels. As a majority-Shi’a country, Iran has become a point of reference for the Shi’a community in Pakistan. Its anti-American rhetoric corresponds with an anti-US current in Pakistan, and Tehran’s invocation of Persian culture and poetry resonates with a nostalgic view of Persian culture amongst Pakistan’s educated elite.
The ICC and R2P share the goal of ending atrocity crimes. Nonetheless, they operate quite differently. Recently, there has been increasing support for bringing the ICC within the R2P toolkits, hoping they will complement each other to achieve their shared goal. The Security Council put this idea into practice to deal with the 2011 crisis in Libya. However, the invocation of ICC against the backdrop of an evolving military intervention under the R2P mandate highlighted significant risks to its integrity and legitimacy. This paper argues that the invocation of ICC to constrain violence and to hold accountable the Libyan regime for atrocity crimes eventually resulted in legitimizing military intervention and regime change under the R2P mandate. The Libya case suggests that neither the push for complementarity nor a full separation between the ICC and R2P benefits the ICC. There needs to be a balance between full engagement and separation. Such an alternative rests on the ICC avoiding entanglement with R2P’s military mandate, while maintaining close interaction with its non-military components through the Security Council. Lastly, the paper also points to areas in which the Council could play a more constructive role in cementing greater cooperation between R2P and the ICC.
Four decades after the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran, a wealth of scholarship exists detailing the failures and achievements of the ruling clergy. Such lines of inquiry explore not only the economic, political and foreign policies of the clerical establishment, but also the performance of the ruling clergy in the religious sphere. However, an important matter that has attracted scant interest is the ruling clergy’s policies regarding the Shi’i traditional orthodoxy, that is, their fons et origo. Reminding readers that governmental-Shi’ism emerged as a marginal discourse within the Shi’i seminary in the 1970s, this paper explains how the ruling clergy waged a calculated campaign aimed at transforming the flexible, pluralistic and independent nature of the traditional orthodoxy into a system dependent upon the state and submissive to its government-centric reading of Shi’ism. We argue that the ruling clergy have succeeded in establishing and making state-sponsored institutions important players in the seminary and Shi’i establishment. However, they have failed to abolish the traditional orthodoxy in which distance and independence from the state have remained foundational features.
Hybrid regimes have consolidated on the back of techniques that balance strong regime structures with tokenistic pluralism. This democratic veneer is performed through pseudo markers of democracy such as weak political parties and semi-competitive elections, which aim to ratify regime legitimacy. How public opinion polling fits into authoritarian landscapes, however, is an aspect of hybrid regimes that remains less understood. Scholars of public opinion research in democracies believe that polling can contribute to constructing the world around it, prompting this paper to examine whether public opinion research – and pre-election polling in particular – contributes to the democratic veneer in hybrid regimes by constructing a perception of participatory democracy. It examines the nature and quality of pre-election polling undertaken in authoritarian Iran in the lead-up to the 2017 presidential election in order to make preliminary observations about the potential impact of polling on a regime’s pluralist credentials. It finds that while most polls were poor quality, no polling in an authoritarian environment is benign because the very process of asking citizens their opinions and publicizing responses creates an impression that individual opinions count, in an environment where the opposite is often true.
Pakistan claims to maintain neutrality in the Iran–Saudi rift. Sustaining this approach, however, has been problematic against a backdrop of intensifying Iran–Saudi rivalry. Pakistan’s choices suggest a tilt towards Saudi Arabia. Based on extensive fieldwork in Islamabad, this paper focuses on the meanings and uses of neutrality in Pakistan’s foreign policy. The paper argues that Pakistan cannot be neutral due to its stronger cultural, economic and defence ties with Saudi Arabia but it promotes this rhetoric due to a combination of demographic, geographic and geopolitical factors. Islamabad’s claim of neutrality serves the dual purpose of the national interests in relation to domestic and foreign affairs. Based on its economic, sectarian and geopolitical realities, Pakistan desires a neutrality in the Iranian-Saudi rivalry but it is very difficult because it has strong and multifaceted relations with Saudi Arabia. Based on the assessment of Pakistan’s foreign policy choices, we argue that Pakistan continues to lean away from Iran towards Saudi Arabia.
Scholarship on Pakistan’s relations with its neighbors predominantly focuses on India, Afghanistan and, most recently, China. Little research is conducted on relations between Pakistan and Iran. This is an obvious gap, given the cultural and religious links between these two neighbors that share a 909-kilometer border.1 Their relationship is often viewed as peripheral to Pakistan’s relations with the United States, Saudi Arabia, India, and Afghanistan.2 A prominent source on Pakistan’s foreign policy, Abdul Sattar’s Pakistan’s Foreign Policy 1947-2016: A Concise History, does not even dedicate a subsection to Iran.3 Furthermore, little attention has been given to the impact of domestic factors on Pakistan’s foreign-policy choices. Although some scholars have explored the role of identity,4 the interplay between domestic considerations and external behavior remains understudied. As will be argued below, this dynamic has a significant bearing on Pakistan’s policy on Iran and sheds light on behind-the-scene dynamics that are often overlooked.
Iran has pursued a highly contradictory policy towards Afghanistan. On the one hand, it became a significant beneficiary of the overthrow of the Taliban regime by the US-led military intervention in 2001 in Afghanistan. The new Afghan government established cordial ties with Iran, allowing it to expand its political, economic and cultural influence in the country. Yet Iran has also provided significant support to the Taliban in its campaign to violently upend the political, social and economic processes in the country. This article examines the underlying domestic and regional security dynamics that contribute to this contradictory behaviour. It offers an assessment of how tensions between the United States and the Islamic Republic, as well as Tehran’s growing threat perception following the rise of the Islamic State – Khorasan in 2014, impact on Iran’s policy towards the Taliban. The paper argues that Tehran views the Taliban as an instrument to disrupt the influence of other actors in Afghanistan. The instrumentalisation of the Taliban, however, is likely to be counterproductive for Iranian security in the long run as it contributes to Afghanistan’s instability and insecurity and undermines Iran’s own long-term interests.
The Kurdish population in Iran feels disenfranchised and excluded from the political system. Based on an original survey of Iranian Kurds, it is revealed that Kurds lack trust and confidence in the central government and do not exhibit any emotional connection with Iranian identity or the Islamic Republic of Iran. Overwhelmingly, survey respondents put their Kurdish identity and affiliations as the primary point of reference. This emotional and political disconnect with Iran poses a serious challenge to the incumbent regime. It is an affront to the official rhetoric of ethnic unity and Iranian solidarity that is reinforced by Islamic principles under the Islamic Republic of Iran. This has led the incumbent regime to opt for a security response to a clearly political challenge. However, as the survey data in this research reveals, the securitisation of Iran’s response to its Kurdish population is only widening the gap, and aggravating the situation. The securitised approach to Kurdish aspirations for inclusion and acceptance is a counterproductive strategy with significant risks for the Islamic Republic of Iran.
This paper examines the impact that cross-border contacts and ideals of transnational Kurdish community have on Kurds in Iran. Incorporating survey and interview data from Iranian Kurdish academics, journalists and activists, it analyses how events in the broader Kurdistan region, and the notion of Kurdayetî – pan-Kurdish identity – are perceived by Kurds and how these phenomena affect the Kurdish issue. Within the context of long-standing political grievances, the findings highlight an atmosphere of distrust pervading the relationship between the Islamic Republic of Iran and its Kurds, and reveals that as Kurds find it difficult to identify with the Iranian state they turn towards their cross-border ethnic kin. Yet, despite increasing cross-border interaction and recent advances for Syrian and Iraqi Kurds, internal and external dynamics curtail Iranian Kurds’ political ambitions and preclude secessionist impulses.
The effectiveness of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) was challenged after the suspension of Syria’s membership in 2012. There were already indications of Iranian–Saudi rivalry on the issue of Syria’s membership, but the 2016 summit held in Turkey became the stage for a very public dispute between the two states. This was not the first time that the OIC had been undermined by interstate rivalry. Formed in 1969 to project an image of political unity among Muslim states, it has often been challenged by the identity politics and geopolitical competition of its member states. This paper studies the factors that contribute to interstate tensions within the OIC and its approaches to addressing it. By examining a series of OIC events during the period 2012–18 through the lens of critical discourse analysis, it argues that identity politics in the form of sectarianism have been employed, more overtly since the Arab Spring, by both Iran and Saudi Arabia to promote their geopolitical agendas with direct implications for the coherence of OIC. The rivalry not only threatens to fracture the OIC but also makes the notion of Muslim unity nothing more than a mirage.
The Syrian conflict, now in its eighth year, is a bitter example where a sovereign state and the international community have manifestly failed in their responsibilities to protect civilians from mass atrocity crimes. What factors have prevented the international community from fulfilling its obligation under the principle of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) to save Syrian civilians? This paper argues that the contradiction between the protection of civilians and regime change has undermined international confidence in the principle of R2P and tarnished it as a tool for US foreign policy agendas. This argument is developed by a review of R2P’s conceptualisation followed by examining its implementation in Libya. This study concludes that the conceptual confusion and the Libyan experience have broken the international consensus on R2P and paralysed the United Nations in dealing with the humanitarian crisis in Syria. More specifically, the UN Security Council’s disagreement over the means to protect Syrians has made R2P itself an impediment to its operationalisation.
There is a widespread assumption that, given the imminent threat of mass atrocities against the Libyan civilians – especially in Benghazi – and in the absence of non-military alternatives, military action against the regime of Muammar Gaddafi was a justified and necessary response. This paper challenges this widespread assumption. It argues that on the eve of NATO-led military intervention, there was no ‘clear evidence’ to suggest that the Libyan regime was on the verge of committing mass atrocities against civilians. This research also documents the range of political and diplomatic options open to the international community to engage with Gaddafi, all of which were sidetracked in favour of military action. Despite the brutality of Gaddafi’s rule, military intervention in Libya did not meet the Responsibility to Protect’s (R2P) ‘just cause’ and ‘last resort’ criteria. Far from being a successful application of R2P’s most coercive pillar, the Libyan case was a manifest misapplication of R2P’s military component. An objective analysis of the Libyan crisis during February and March 2011 should have prevented the use of military force.
Iran is expected to be one of the main beneficiaries of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). China and Iran had a track record of cooperation long before the announcement of BRI, developing a highly asymmetric Great Power-Middle Power partnership over the course of three decades. This article asks whether BRI will enable China and Iran to transcend the limitations faced by most Great Power-Middle Power relationships on the basis of Iran’s enhanced strategic economic and geographic value. It is argued that while BRI could benefit from stronger China–Iran ties, Iran’s international posturing has proven a significant hindrance to China, highlighting that entrenched patterns of engagement in Great Power-Middle Power relations are not easily shifted, even in the face of immense economic incentives.
The events of the 2016 summit of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Turkey demonstrate how Saudi Arabia’s role within the organization has been transformed from leadership into a hegemonic one, a process that has been unfolding over five decades. As a strong voice in the Muslim world, Saudi Arabia has employed a range of diplomatic strategies, in accordance with its national interests, to influence the OIC and its member states. Based on the analysis, this paper argues that Saudi Arabia has been able to exert hegemonic control over the OIC due to the organization’s structural make-up, its reliance on Saudi funding, as well as dominance in bilateral affairs with majority of the OIC members.
Islamophobia has become a significant problem across the Western world. Australia is no exception. The emergence of far right groups and a political environment that allows anti-Islamic discourse has created an increasingly unwelcome environment for Muslims, even though multiculturalism has long been a fundamental marker of Australian daily life. The rise of Islamophobia has been damaging to Australia. This paper explores the rise of anti-Islamic sentiments in Australia and the increasing marginalization of Muslim youth, showing that Islamophobia not only breaks the bond between Muslim youth and Australian society, it also polarizes relations within Australian Muslim communities.
This article examines the role of corporate identity in Iran’s foreign policy making. Drawing on interviews with Iranian stakeholders and an analysis of Iran’s political developments, this article surveys the three key elements of Iranian nationalism that shape Iranian foreign policy: Iranism, Islam and Shi’ism. This article finds that each of these is crucial in explaining the apparent contradictions in the approaches of several significant Iranian leaders, especially in cases where Iranism collides with religious values. By highlighting how each component is at once unique but still intrinsically linked to the others, this article demonstrates how Iran’s foreign policy choices can be understood in relation to its corporate identity.
The rise and subsequent erosion of friendly relations between Iran and Turkey was a result of their regional ambitions. While Turkey had long seen its secular system as presenting an alternative to Iran’s Islamic ideology, the alignment of their regional interests facilitated a rapport between the two states in the first decade of the twenty-first century. However, the Arab Spring proved divisive for this relationship as each state sought to advocate its model of government and secure a leadership role in the Arab world. The war in Syria widened the divide, as Iran’s long-standing support for the Bashar al-Assad regime could not be reconciled with Turkey’s desire to see President Assad out of office. Using a close reading of Persian and Turkish sources, the authors will analyse the Iran–Turkey divide, focusing specifically on how the Iranians have portrayed it as a clash of civilisations, citing Turkey’s so-called ‘neo-Ottoman’ ambitions as the primary cause.
The current sectarian conflicts in the Middle East did not arise solely from renewed geopolitical rivalries between regional powers. They are also rooted in a solid, theological articulation proposed by classic Islamic political theology. The exclusivist approach, which is a decisive part of the political, social and religious reality of today’s Middle-East, benefits from a formidable theological legacy. Coining the notion of ‘othering theology’, this paper not only explores the ideas of leading classical theologians who have articulated a puritanical understanding of faith, but also explicates the politico-historical context in which these theologians rationalised their quarrels. Given the pervasive presence of these theologies in the contemporary sectarian polemics, the study of classical othering theology is highly relevant and, indeed, crucial to any attempt to overcome sectarianism in the region.
The Islamic Republic of Iran has pursued full membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). In doing so, Iran has appeared to be unfazed by the prospect of allying with Russia and China, two countries which have systematically suppressed their Muslim minorities for decades. Similarly, the SCO’s Central Asian member states are led by individual leaders who are generally believed to rule in spite of their populations. As a result, Iran’s eagerness to join the SCO may appear to contradict its self-promoted image as the champion of Muslim interests, but in reality it sits nicely within its overarching enmity for the USA. Indeed, the SCO is seen as a geopolitical counterweight to the USA. For Iran, this geopolitical opportunity overrides ideological imperatives, with the gap between ideology and geopolitics most evident under the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The most recent national Census demonstrated that Australian Muslims continue to occupy a socioeconomically disadvantaged position. On key indicators of unemployment rate, income, type of occupation and home ownership, Muslims consistently under-perform the national average. This pattern is evident in the last three Census data (2001, 2006 and 2011). Limited access to resources and a sense of marginalisation challenge full engagement with society and the natural growth of emotional affiliation with Australia. Muslim active citizenship is hampered by socioeconomic barriers. At the same time, an increasingly proactive class of educated Muslim elite has emerged to claim a voice for Muslims in Australia and promote citizenship rights and responsibilities.
The fall of the Taliban in 2001 presented Iran with a complex strategic situation. On the one hand, the removal of the Taliban promised to open up new opportunities for Iran to expand its influence, based on historical and cultural ties between Iran and Afghanistan. On the other hand, the 2001 operation brought the United States (US) to the region. The large scale entrenchment of US troops on the eastern borders of Iran presented tangible security risks, dominating Iran’s strategic outlook. The closure of the US base in Uzbekistan and the planned withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan have offered an opportunity to policy makers in Iran to recalibrate bilateral relations with Afghanistan. But the Iranian leadership appears too slow in readjusting its strategic outlook, keeping Iran’s policy towards Afghanistan hostage to its hostility towards the US.
In the past decade multiculturalism across Western nations has come under sustained critique and attack from its political opponents. It has been asserted that multiculturalism leads to the creation of ghettos and segregated communities, which undermine liberal democratic values and heighten the risk of attraction to extremist violence, particularly in regard to Muslim communities. The ferocity of these attacks has led many scholars to claim that multiculturalism is ‘in retreat’. But such claims have rarely been tested as they relate to publicly funded government agencies and institutions. These are key sites governing the daily practice and representation of multiculturalism that impact on populations in everyday life. In the Australian context, the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) is a pivotal example of a multicultural institution, with its programming and community engagement widely considered among the world’s best practice in promoting pluralism and respect between cultures. In more recent times, however, a series of controversial episodes on the network’s flagship ‘ideas forum’, the Insight television program, have led to anger in Australian Muslim communities, and a boycott by a variety of community leaders, academics and activists. This study reveals a notable shift away from the core values of multiculturalism in the SBS and Australian society.
The Australian Government has tried to counter the threat of Islamic extremism by investing in mentoring and educational initiatives. Fearful of the potential for “home-grown” extremism, especially after the July 2005 London attacks, the Australian authorities seek to counter the narrow-minded narrative of extremism by sponsoring “moderate Islam”. This approach is aimed at presenting a counter-ideology to Islamism, and has had some success. But it neglects the broader context of Muslim experience which is marked by socio-economic under-privilege and political alienation. These experiences marginalise Australian Muslims and make them vulnerable to extremist ideas. This pattern is most evident among the youth, whose sense of self is still in flux. Furthermore, the state’s sponsorship of “moderate Islam” puts Australia on a questionable path as it chips away at the principle of the separation of state and religion and makes moderate Muslims vulnerable to accusation of “betraying” Islam by the more radical elements in the Muslim community. This paper argues that efforts by the Australian Government to counter radicalisation are hindered by a range of political, cultural and socio-economic factors and analyses these factors in the light of historical, ethnic, cultural and social conditions relevant to the Muslim community in Australia.
A complex set of political and economic challenges have placed the Islamic Republic on the shakiest ground since its inception in 1979. Growing rifts amongst Iran’s top clerics and political elite have revealed the regime’s inability to pursue a coherent policy and project an image of unity on both the domestic and international stage. To make matters worse, the regime has been unable to provide social and economic security for its citizens in the face of harsh international sanctions and internal corruption. The Iranian Rial is severely inflated, unemployment is on the rise, and living standards are falling. At the same time, the state has shown worrying signs of militarisation, with the government increasingly relying on the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, and its paramilitary wing, the Basij militia, to ensure political compliance and silence voices of dissent. Yet many opposition voices within Iran, including the Green Movement, continue to call for fundamental political reforms.
Cultural diversity is the norm in Australia and the United Kingdom. Both states celebrate multiculturalism. But some populist politicians, commentators, and quasi-academics have recently portrayed Western Muslims as a “fifth column”, organized and intent on destroying the fabric of Western culture from within. Interestingly, extremist Muslim groups in the West make similar claims about the relationship between Islam and the West. In recent years, however, Western-born “moderate” Muslim intellectuals and moderates have emerged into the public sphere to challenge essentialist depictions of Islam and the Islamist textual interpretations. They claim an important social space for the Western practice of Islam. Whilst a burgeoning level of academic scrutiny is being focused upon moderate Muslims, this article notes the absence of academic literature about a large part of the Muslim population whose public life is not necessarily guided by their religion but more by their culture and ethnicity, i.e. the “cultural Muslims”. This group is unrepresented in the public debate on Islam and often ignored yet could constitute the majority of Western Muslims. This article concludes by posing significant questions about this group and the implications of political discourse upon their future trajectory.