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Rouhani wins over Qom, for now - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East - 0 views

  • In the president's second trip to Qom, he sought the clergy’s support for the nuclear negotiations and his economic policies. The trip was noteworthy because Rouhani had to change his plans to visit Khorasan Shomali province. The people of Qom — the majority of whom voted for Rouhani in the presidential election — took to the streets and welcomed Rouhani upon his arrival. Rouhani appeared on stage and succeeded in drawing people’s support. During a public speech, he described himself and his administration as the “children of seminary” and ensured residents and senior clerics that he wouldn’t do anything in opposition to Islam and the interests of Iran. Rouhani then met with grand ayatollahs and senior clerics during meetings scheduled by his Chief of Staff Mohammad Nahavandian and his cultural adviser Hessameddin Ashena. Rouhani’s opponents and hard-liners didn’t stand idly by during his visit. They tried to tarnish the president’s image by spreading rumors that he had given money to workers to attend his welcoming ceremony. They also distributed night letters — or covert leaflets — against him.
  • Rouhani had successful meetings with grand ayatollahs, all of whom supported his policies and approved of his performance in the nuclear talks. Seemingly, they were also pleased with the Rouhani administration's cultural policies, given that we have not heard any condemnations of the Ministry of Culture from senior clerics since Rouhani's return to Tehran. Grand Ayatollah Vahid Khorasani’s compliments of Rouhani were the highlight of the trip. Khorasani, who rarely talks politics and is highly influential in Qom, told Rouhani, “You're one of the best presidents and are faced with overwhelming problems.”
  • Nouri Hamedani said, “The Iranian nuclear negotiators are pious, revolutionary and hardworking.” Likewise, Makarem Shirazi expressed his hope for reaching a conclusion in the nuclear talks
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Here's what happens when diplomats get involved in religious rhetoric - The Washington ... - 0 views

  • in new research, we show how classifying who constitute “real” Muslims – even when it is used to assert progressive values – can be unpredictable and contingent on the authority of the speaker and perceptions of the audience.
  • While distinguishing a radical few from a peaceful majority seems like it would bolster relationships with Muslim-majority countries and reduce religious tensions at home, statements like these often leave politicians in a minefield as they appear to define the boundaries of legitimate belief for Muslims
  • Such statements constitute a kind of discourse that is hard to neatly distinguish from the practice it rejects
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  • Many leaders in the region, including King Abdullah of Jordan, have worked to reduce accusations of apostasy in public discourse and the violence that often follows. Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, a center of Islamic learning for more than 1,000 years, refused to declare ISIS and other violent actors apostates, arguing that doing so reinforced the cycle of mutual “excommunication.” By contrast, others, including King Mohammed VI of Morocco have actively called terrorists such as ISIS “non-Muslim.”
  • charges of apostasy are a powerful tool for delineating group membership and assigning rights. These accusations become particularly potent — if unpredictable — during moments of institutional change, when uncertainty is high and rivals are jockeying for position in a new constitutional order. Recently, these charges have assumed sectarian overtones, with Sunni groups questioning the legitimacy of Shiite Muslims and Iranian press using the term “takfiri” (apostate or unbeliever) to attack Sunni groups in the region
  • in his denunciation of ISIS as apostate, Kerry joined the group in declaring who is and who is not a Muslim, drawing derision and mockery from Muslims.
  • State-led efforts to articulate an explicitly “moderate Islam,” can spur precisely the kind of extremist competition it seeks to avoid
  • Constant and cyclical accusations and counter-accusations of who is or is not a “real” believer rarely meet their intended goal, especially for those far removed from religious communities themselves. The United States and its allies have primarily focused on how this rhetoric can bolster their legitimacy and win new allies. But evidence from the region suggests that even when mobilized by those deeply versed in Islam, the strategy can backfire. The line between criticizing takfir and engaging in takfir is difficult to spot until one has crossed it.
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What It's Like to Live in a Surveillance State - The New York Times - 0 views

  • when it comes to indigenous Uighurs in the vast western region of Xinjiang, the Chinese Communist Party (C.C.P.) has updated its old totalitarian methods with cutting-edge technology
  • The Qing Empire conquered Xinjiang in the 18th century. The territory then slipped from Beijing’s control, until the Communists reoccupied it with Soviet help in 1949. Today, several Central Asian peoples, including Uighurs, Kazakhs and Kyrghyz, make up about half of the region’s population; the remainder are Han and Hui, who arrived from eastern China starting in the mid-20th century
  • the C.C.P. has since subjected the entire Uighur population of some 11 million to arbitrary arrest, draconian surveillance or systemic discrimination. Uighurs are culturally Muslim, and the government often cites the threat of foreign Islamist ideology to justify its security policies
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  • A law now bans face coverings — but also “abnormal” beards. A Uighur village party chief was demoted for not smoking, on grounds that this failing displayed an insufficient “commitment to secularization.” Officials in the city of Kashgar, in southwest Xinjiang, recently jailed several prominent Uighur businessmen for not praying enough at a funeral — a sign of “extremism,” they claimed.
  • Uighurs’ DNA is collected during state-run medical checkups. Local authorities now install a GPS tracking system in all vehicles. Government spy apps must be loaded on mobile phones. All communication software is banned except WeChat, which grants the police access to users’ calls, texts and other shared content. When Uighurs buy a kitchen knife, their ID data is etched on the blade as a QR code
  • The C.C.P., once quite liberal in its approach to diversity, seems to be redefining Chinese identity in the image of the majority Han — its version, perhaps, of the nativism that appears to be sweeping other parts of the world. With ethnic difference itself now defined as a threat to the Chinese state, local leaders like Mr. Chen feel empowered to target Uighurs and their culture wholesale
  • There’s an old Chinese joke about Uighurs being the Silk Road’s consummate entrepreneurs: When the first Chinese astronaut steps off his spaceship onto the moon, he will find a Uighur already there selling lamb kebabs. And so even as Mr. Chen cracks down in Xinjiang, the Chinese government touts the region as the gateway for its much-vaunted “one belt, one road” initiative, Mr. Xi’s signature foreign policy project. The grand idea combines a plan to spend billions of dollars in development loans and transport investment across Eurasia with a strategic bid to establish China’s diplomatic primacy in Asia.
  • How does the party think that directives banning fasting during Ramadan in Xinjiang, requiring Uighur shops to sell alcohol and prohibiting Muslim parents from giving their children Islamic names will go over with governments and peoples from Pakistan to Turkey? The Chinese government may be calculating that money can buy these states’ quiet acceptance. But the thousands of Uighur refugees in Turkey and Syriaalready complicate China’s diplomacy.
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Saudi Arabia makes friends with an old enemy - Iraq - Middle East - Stripes - 0 views

  • With the extremist militants driven out of Iraq, Saudi Arabia is preparing to reopen the land crossing to trade this year because of the latest conflict that's dominating the region: its proxy war with Iran. In a stark reversal of policy, the kingdom has identified Iraq as a timely ally in curbing the influence of its Shiite enemy
  • Saudi Arabia has also employed other soft power tactics such as offering to build a sports stadium and government-backed broadcaster MBC recently announced a dedicated channel for Iraq. Clerics in the kingdom have been toning down their anti-Shiite rhetoric
  • Saudi Arabia's aim is to prop up a government in Baghdad whose authority has been challenged by Iran-sponsored militias and bring the nation back firmly into the Arab fold
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  • Iraq has been dominated by non-Arab Iran after the majority Shiites took over power following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Saudi Arabia now considers Iraq as a potential bulwark against Iran rather than a puppet state controlled by Tehran
  • On a state visit to Riyadh last month, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi oversaw the signing of 13 agreements whereby Saudi Arabia pledged to pump a billion dollars into its neighbor's economy
  • The Saudis "have been relatively successful" in Iraq, said James M. Dorsey, senior fellow at Singapore's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies and its Middle East Institute. "They need, however, to follow up on promises and capitalize on the fact that, unlike the Iranians, they have the cash to do so."
  • The Islamic Republic exported more than $1.66 billion worth of tomatoes alone to Iraq in 2017 and is the country's top source of everything from pig lard to human hair. Iran jumped from the Arab nation's fifth biggest non-oil exporter in 2016 to its biggest in 2017, bypassing China. Iraqi supermarket shelves are often stocked with cheap Turkish and Iranian products
  • "I don't think there's any illusion in Riyadh that Iraq will sever relations with Iran,"
  • After Iran cut off power to Iraq because of payment disputes last year, Saudi Arabia offered to sell it to Baghdad at a fraction of Iranian prices
  • As part of its outreach to Iraq, Saudi Arabia has also softened its position on Shiite Islam, long seen as antithetical to the official Wahhabi creed of the kingdom. In a nod to its often restive Shiite minority mainly in the east, Riyadh plans to open a consulate in the Iraqi holy city of Najaf, to which many Saudi Shiites travel for pilgrimage
  • Still, Saudi Arabia continues to detain and even execute Shiites in large numbers on suspicion of spying for Iran, among other charges
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Turkey: An Ambivalent Religious Soft Power - 0 views

  • Albania is not the first country to realize that the mosques built with Turkey’s money and other services were also used for political purposes to promote Erdoğan's sociopolitical and religious desires. For instance, in June 2018, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz ordered the closing of seven mosques run by the Diyanet and deported more than 40 Turkish imams and their families in consequence of their political activities under the cover of religion
  • Germany launched an investigation into the Diyanet to explore the possibility that some Turkish imams have spied on members of the Gülen Movement among the diaspora
  • surveillance activities conducted by imams within the territory of foreign states cannot be defined within the concept of religious soft power, which fundamentally means the promotion of religion for a country’s foreign policy purposes. However, these investigations underline that the Diyanet imams are not alone; on the contrary, they have been working with Turkey’s other transnational apparatuses, which have been seen as soft power tools of Turkey in host countries
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  • Since coining the term in the late 1980s, Joseph S. Nye Jr. has modified the concept of soft power multiple times, but he has not explicitly theorized religion as a form of soft power
  • Jeffrey Haynes, as one of the first scholars to talk about the relation between religion and soft power, noted that religious soft power involves encouraging actors to change their political behaviors
  • Starting from the late 1940s, within the multi-party system, political parties have realized that religious rhetoric could be transformed into votes; therefore, both right-wing and centrist political parties tried to enlarge the real authority of the Diyanet to reach religiously sensitive masses of people. After the re-establishment of the democratic order annihilated by the 1960 coup d’état, the Diyanet gained prominence because the state employed it in its struggle against communism. 
  • After the 1980 coup d’état, the Diyanet’s mission included the promotion of Turkish Islam abroad, and it began to play a sociopolitical role in the international arena with the aim of promoting Turkey. Thus, Turkey’s Diyanet and Turkish moderate Islam have been actively instrumentalized in Turkish foreign policy as a soft power tool, providing an advantage over other potential actors since they have been seen as a preventive force against some of the radical Islamist movements and ideologies.
  • With its ascendant economy, domestic reforms aimed at the EU accession process, and a global climate proposing the compatibility of Islam and democracy, Turkey rose as a soft power with religious tools at its disposal. In this, Turkey has become publicly almost more visible than the other Islamic soft power actors in continental Europe, in the Balkans, and in some particular countries like Somalia.
  • opened branches in more than 40 countries, publishing and distributing Qur'ans and religious books in more than 25 languages. It also provides financial support to official Muslim representative institutions in the Balkans, continental Europe, and Africa. Furthermore, the state-run construction companies TOKİ and TİKA have been constructing mosques around the world
  • process of democratic backsliding has manifested through both domestic politics and significant changes in foreign policy, and the increasingly acrimonious rivalry between the Gülen Movement and the AKP has negatively affected Turkey’s capacity to wield effective soft power. In this transformation the AKP has started to instrumentalize Islam quite differently compared to the previous periods of Turkish attempts to exert influence in the Middle East and North Africa, the Balkans, and beyond. Notably, the Diyanet’s policies have been synchronized with the policies of the AKP, and its budget, administrative capacity, and activities have been gradually expanding throughout these years despite the shrinking economic environment within which the AKP operates. Over time, the Diyanet of the now increasingly repressive and less moderate AKP has started to be perceived differently by various countries and groups around the world
  • these religious soft power apparatuses have started to involve themselves in the host countries’ domestic politics, as in the case of Bulgaria, due to Erdoğan’s new foreign policy mentality
  • Turkey’s religious soft power is best characterized in terms of ambivalence—particularly given the increasingly competitive market of Islamic soft power
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