The Rise of Islamic Soft Power: Religion and Foreign Policy in the Muslim World

Authors: Peter Mandaville Shadi Hamid

December 7, 2018

In nearly every Muslim-majority country, Islam is an important—and sometimes the only—ideological currency that mixes effectively with more standard realpolitik. With the decline of both socialism and pan-Arabism in the Middle East, the only real ideological competition to Islam comes from nationalism. But nationalism, by definition, is difficult to promote outside one’s own nation. This means that governments—even relatively secular and progressive ones—have a powerful incentive to insert Islam into their foreign policy, using religious ideas to increase their prestige and promote their interests abroad—to deploy, in other words, what Peter Mandaville and Shadi Hamid call “Islamic soft power.” However, internal disagreements over Islam's role and relevance in everyday politics shape how states use Islam abroad. In this article Mandaville and Hamid summarize key points from their November 2018 report, "Islam as Statecraft: How Governments Use Religion in Foreign Policy." It was published as part of Snapshots, an online series from Foreign Affairs.

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