Islam as Statecraft: How Governments Use Religion in Foreign Policy

Authors: Peter Mandaville Shadi Hamid

November 14, 2018

In the inaugural publication in a Berkley Center-Brookings Institution collaboration, Peter Mandaville and Shadi Hamid explore the religious dimensions of the Saudi-Iranian rivalry, looking at how the Islamic outreach strategies of the two governments have evolved in response to changing regional and global environments. The authors assess the much-discussed phenomenon of Saudi Arabia’s export of Wahhabism, arguing that the nature and effects of Saudi religious influence around the world are more complicated than we ordinarily think. Meanwhile, the governments of prominent Muslim-majority countries (including Jordan, Morocco, and Egypt) have positioned themselves as the purveyors of a “moderate Islam” capable of blunting the narrative of extremist groups. They also look at Turkey and Indonesia as examples of emerging powers that have integrated elements of religious outreach into their broader soft power strategies across Asia and Africa. Mandaville and Hamid ultimately argue that while states are not always able to control the religious narrative or its effects, it is nonetheless important—and growing more important—to pay attention to the increased salience of culture, religion, and ideas in the context of an emerging “post-liberal” world order.

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