Western Diplomats Have Ignored Religion at Their Own Peril

Over the past century, neither the bureaucrats at the U.S. State Department nor scholars of foreign relations have ascribed much importance to religion, preferring to look to other motivations in explaining and predicting the behavior of peoples and governments. By ignoring faith, and assuming that the progress of modernity leads inexorably to greater secularization, they have consistently failed to understand the world as it is, argues Charles Hill:

This blinkered view of the world meant that diplomatic analysts could not accurately interpret the emergence, rise, and growth—in fervor and extent—of a radical Islamist movement determined to restore Muslim political-ideological-theological power that had collapsed in 1924 with the end of the Ottoman empire and the caliphate. The sudden violent shift by many supporters of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s goal of a “democratic socialist secular state” toward an extreme Islamist outcome was misinterpreted as no more than further evidence of actions carried out for strictly political purposes by people who had no other avenues of expression.

When Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1979 revolution overthrew the shah to establish the first Islamist rule over a recognized state in the [modern] international system, Foreign Service specialists on Iran hurried with assurances that nothing of serious religious significance had occurred and that the U.S. could “do business” with what would be just another pragmatic Middle Eastern regime. And when Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat was assassinated in 1981, the “political cone” of the U.S. Foreign Service (including this writer) considered it a purely political act carried out in support of the Palestinians.

Not until after the 1993 first Islamist bombing of the World Trade Center did a review of the old videotapes of the Sadat assassination enable diplomats to “see” for the first time that the imprisoned perpetrators were openly declaring the religious inspiration behind their actions. . . . In retrospect, the assassins’ motives become clear—they believed Sadat a tyrant and his murder justified in the name of their religion.

A revised interpretation of the modern centuries reveals an age assumed to be secular, but actually suffused with religious politics and aggressions worldwide—with America as “the leader of the free world” newly comprehensible as acting on an unacknowledged spiritual basis.

Read more at Caravan

More about: Anwar Sadat, Ayatollah Khomeini, Islamism, PLO, Politics & Current Affairs, Religion and politics, State Department, U.S. Foreign policy

Iran’s Program of Subversion and Propaganda in the Caucasus

In the past week, Iranian proxies and clients have attacked Israel from the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, and Yemen. Iran also has substantial military assets in Iraq and Syria—countries over which it exercises a great deal of control—which could launch significant attacks on Israel as well. Tehran, in addition, has stretched its influence northward into both Azerbaijan and Armenia. While Israel has diplomatic relations with both of these rival nations, its relationship with Baku is closer and involves significant military and security collaboration, some of which is directed against Iran. Alexander Grinberg writes:

Iran exploits ethnic and religious factors in both Armenia and Azerbaijan to further its interests. . . . In Armenia, Iran attempts to tarnish the legitimacy of the elected government and exploit the church’s nationalist position and tensions between it and the Armenian government; in Azerbaijan, the Iranian regime employs outright terrorist methods similar to its support for terrorist proxies in the Middle East [in order to] undermine the regime.

Huseyniyyun (Islamic Resistance Movement of Azerbaijan) is a terrorist militia made up of ethnic Azeris and designed to fight against Azerbaijan. It was established by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps . . . in the image of other pro-Iranian militias. . . . Currently, Huseyniyyun is not actively engaged in terrorist activities as Iran prefers more subtle methods of subversion. The organization serves as a mouthpiece of the Iranian regime on various Telegram channels in the Azeri language. The main impact of Huseyniyyun is that it helps spread Iranian propaganda in Azerbaijan.

The Iranian regime fears the end of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan because this would limit its options for disruption. Iranian outlets are replete with anti-Semitic paranoia against Azerbaijan, accusing the country of awarding its territory to Zionists and NATO. . . . Likewise, it is noteworthy that Armenian nationalists reiterate hideous anti-Semitic tropes that are identical to those spouted by the Iranians and Palestinians. Moreover, leading Iranian analysts have no qualms about openly praising [sympathetic] Armenian clergy together with terrorist Iran-funded Azeri movements for working toward Iranian goals.

Read more at Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

More about: Azerbaijan, Iran, Israeli Security