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Ideologies and Instruments of Nation-State Building

Session V-12, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Friday, December 2 at 1:30 pm

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  • The Libyan borderlands, much like the broader Sahel region, are characterized by limited access to public services, weak political institutions, porous borders, multiple direct military interventions, the presence of armed groups, the proliferation of small arms and lights weapons, and meddling by regional and global powers—all of which contribute to an increased risk of violent extremism. This paper therefore seeks to better understand the dynamics of these risk factors in the southern Libya border region. It relies on quantitative surveys of people’s perceptions of factors (or drivers), actors, and values associated with violent extremism. A total of 6,852 interviews were undertaken in selected border regions of northern Chad, southern Libya, north-eastern Niger, north-western Nigeria, and western Sudan between December 2020 and July 2021. The paper tackles the issue through the lens of affected—or potentially affected—local societies, by analysing the exposure of communities in the surveyed border regions to seven drivers of violent extremism: hardship and deprivation; lack of adequate security and justice; limited access to basic services; the growing importance of ethnic or religious identities; chronic instability and insecurity; blocked political participation and the influence of non-state armed groups; and the illicit proliferation of small arms and light weapons. Furthermore, the paper examines the interviewees’ knowledge of recruitment strategies employed by a variety of armed groups in their communities, as well as their attitude towards specific violent extremist groups and associated values. By shedding light on populations’ perceptions, the paper highlights some common trends across the borderlands, and provides some granular understanding on specific challenges. Although violent extremist groups did not necessarily control territory in the areas surveyed, the analysis suggests that the situation has the potential to deteriorate quickly if decisive action is not taken to prevent large numbers of people from reaching a potential ‘tipping point’.
  • The latest developments in Tunisia has ended the hope for democratic governance in the region and revived the debate about the robustness of authoritarianism in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The uprisings in Syria and Bahrain have been crashed while no political transition in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Tunisia, and Sudan has managed to consolidate democracy and instead relapsed to authoritarianism. Such outcomes and the role played by regional powers, namely Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, and Iran have highlighted the importance of the regional dimension of authoritarianism in the region. This paper argues that regional involvements during and after the Arab Spring of 2011 have been characterized by geopolitical competition. Rregional competitive involvements have contributed to authoritarian resilience in the face of popular uprisings and precluded political transitions in the MENA region by increasing the regime repressive capacity, demonizing the opposition, and hardening the political positions of the local parties involved in the negotiations.
  • Drawing on close readings of an understudied Hebrew-language archive – the journal Ma’arakhot – this article examines the emergence of a new political and technical vernacular for the ‘doing’ of national security. That vernacular was both practical and poetic/rhetorical. That is, it aimed to produce intuitive Hebrew-language equivalents for strategic, operational, and tactical concepts used in foreign – especially British, Soviet, and American – sources; and to foster a vibrant, expressive, Hebrew-language political vernacular in which they could appear. The paper then consider tensions that arose between these two aims, and the ways in which the journal’s editors and translators attempted – ultimately unsuccessfully – to deal with them. ‘Realist’ theory, I argue, could only work if rooted in a mythic framework for which it could not itself give an account. Unable to resolve these tensions, the journal reverted to a fulsome, faux-biblical prose style, producing what I call an ‘absent sublime.’ The paper describes the ‘absent sublime’ in some detail, along with the specific stylistic choices upon which it relied. It then considers the backlash against such usages, in light of the tensions they conceal.
  • This paper looks at something unexpected – how ‘quietist’ Salafi actors in Morocco and Algeria, who claim they “don’t do politics”, actually do do politics. Politically ‘quietist’ expressions of Salafism were long thought to be a defining feature of Salafi trends. These Salafi groups are typically known for their focus on studying and teaching Islam, and cleansing it of ‘impurities’, and their lack of interest in formal politics, if not their traditional full-blown rejection of all formal political participation and activism. Much contemporary scholarship on global Salafism typically describes the politics of Salafi actors in terms of involvement in formal institutional politics, and how they contest state authority and legitimacy – practices that ‘quietist’ Salafi groups explicitly disavow. This paper, however, attempts to advance understanding of Salafi political practices and, in doing so, broaden and nuance notions of ‘political’ Salafis within the scholarship on Islamic politics. It does so by critically reworking interventions on boundary-politics (Schmitt, 1996) political friendship (Friedman 1992; Schwarzenbach 2009). Drawing on in-depth interviews, ethnographic data, and analysis of Salafi literature, this paper radically rethinks the nature of Salafi politics in terms of practices of drawing friend/antagonist borders and of intra-group solidarity-as-friendship at the level of key concepts of (a) “crisis” (al-Azma), (b) “change” (al-Taghyīr), and (c) “politics” (al-Siyāsa).
  • According to the supply-side model of religion (Finke and Stark 1988), governmental policies to promote religiosity policies would backfire as politicization of religion brings disenchantment especially among people who oppose the ruling government (Taylor 2007). From an alternative view, ostentatious governmental patronage of religious entities and espousal of religious symbols contribute to greater levels of societal conformism and incentivize people to appear more religious to stay in good graces of political elites (Rubin 2017; Platteau 2017). Finally, both of these hypotheses could be simultaneously true via the mechanism of partisan sorting; religiosity gains an intrinsically partisan meaning and becomes part and parcel of identity politics. (Fiorina and Abrams 2008). Contemporary Turkey provides an ideal case study to test these three competing hypotheses. The rule of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has become increasingly authoritarian and polarizing (Çınar 2022; Somer 2022). Espousing a top-down approach of religious-moral configuration of the society, the AKP leadership has made more frequent references to Islamic arguments to justify its policy choices, identified certain types of lifestyles as unIslamic, boosted its financial support to both state and non-state initiatives to embolden the role of Sunni Islam in education system and societal life (Akşit et al. 2012; Tokdoğan 2018; Gençkal Eroler 2019). Relatedly, it instrumentalized Sunni Islam as a way to limit discontent among the Kurds (Türkmen 2020). At the same time, these top-down Islamization attempts tend to backfire leading to greater disbelief and agnosticism in the society (KONDA 2019; Livny 2020). Marshaling a wide variety of empirical sources, we test our hypotheses about the effects of the increasing fusion of religion and politics on popular religiosity. Our sources include a series of nationally representative cross-sectional public opinion surveys from early 2000s to 2020 that enable us conduct cohort analyses, electoral results at the district level, and official statistics about attendance in Quran courses from the last two decades. Our analyses reveal a complicated and dynamic picture. First, religiosity has declined in the post-2013 era, especially among the young who spent their formative years under the AKP regime. Next, consistent with the partisan sorting hypothesis, partisanship and ethnic identity shapes the level of religiosity among older citizens. Finally, similar to long-term trends in other countries such as the U.S., we observe an increasing convergence of nationalism and religiosity in the second decade of the AKP rule.
  • Tourism under Muhammad Reza Shah (r. 1941-1979) remains a surprisingly understudied field with hotels like the Royal Hilton often simply serving as glitzy symbols of purported westoxification (gharbzadegi) or off-handed references to opulence and conspicuous consumption in existing narratives. Rarely is tourism studied in its own right in this period. Using Iranian newspapers, magazines, advertisements, tourism booklets, government reports, and bank statistics, I show how Iran went from a limited, haphazard national monument approach to tourism in the 1920s and 1930s to constructing a modern, national tourist system in the 1960s and onwards meant to generate mass tourism in line with the state’s other goal of building a mass consumerist society. While the previous ruler, Reza Khan Shah, initiated national heritage projects to bolster its nationalist credentials, to exude a sense of Orientalist-tinged high culture, and to attract foreign visitors, these projects remained limited in scope and appeal. They also suffered from outside factors like slow economic growth and the disruptions of World War II. Signs of a more active interest in tourism policy came in 1961 when Iran joined the World Organization for Tourism, and the shah became its patron. Two years later, the government created the Iran National Tourist Organization (INTO). INTO, other government agencies, and domestic and foreign businesses would spearhead a reinvigorated tourism policy that pitched Iran as a modern, attractive, self-Orientalized nation for the citizens of developed countries beyond the Middle East and Muslim world. The fruits of this transformation were not only in the expansion of hotels, museums, attractions, restaurants, roads, airlines, advertising, and tourist agencies catering to potential tourists, but also in the actual numbers as annual visitors rocketed from about 6,000 in 1958 to 650,000 by 1977. Building on the work of Talinn Grigor, then, this paper shows that the 1960s were the formative decade for modern Iranian tourism, creating much of the initial infrastructure, cultures, and technical knowledge that has undergirded Iranian tourism to this day.