Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Research Report

Religion and Islam in Contemporary International Relations

Maurits Berger
Copyright Date: Apr. 1, 2010
Published by: Clingendael Institute
Pages: 38
  • Cite this Item

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. (pp. 1-2)

    In terms of Islam and international relations, the year 1979 was a turning point. A post-colonial period where socialism and secularism had reigned dominantly in the Muslim world was abruptly ended, and a new period started where the forces of Islam—religiously, politically and ideologically—gained momentum. The year 1979 was the year, of course, of the Iranian Revolution, but also of the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan (leading to, among other things, the American and Saudi funding of Osama Bin Laden’s training camps), the introduction of shariah criminal law in US ally Pakistan (hence the uneasy trinity of ‘Allah, Army...

  2. (pp. 3-4)

    For the purpose of this research, I have deliberately chosen not to use specific academic angles or theories of diplomacy, political science or international relations, for it is my contention that by doing so, overlapping issues may be missed3. This is particularly the case with the topic under discussion here. This position, however, demands clarification of what is meant by both international relations and Islam.

    With ‘international relations’, I refer to the arena where states, and the themes on which states, interact. Moreover, this paper restricts the discussion to ‘Islamic’ themes in the international arena, whereby the setting is that...

  3. (pp. 5-8)

    In order to discuss the role of Islam in international relations, its importance to contemporary Muslim societies and Muslim states must first be assessed. It can be observed that, ever since the 1970s, Islam has become the undisputed source of authority for Muslims worldwide and, although reluctantly at first, for Muslim states’ governments as well.

    Islam, as such, has permeated the national discourse in Muslim countries in all domains. By now, almost all social, economic, political and personal issues are discussed in terms of Islam: what does Islam say about democracy or human rights, what about personal conduct and morality,...

  4. (pp. 9-16)

    Of all the aspects and topics of foreign policies that are being pursued by Muslim states, it will be argued that Islam, as such, only plays a concrete and substantive—that is, activist—role in four fields: human rights; economics; war and peace; and the protection of Islam.

    Human rights have evolved from an exclusively legal field to a key international political and diplomatic issue. For most Muslim countries, it has become the Western battering ram on their front doors. Western insistence on adopting human rights’ standards has had the unfortunate counter effect of rendering human rights ‘Western’ constructs rather...

  5. (pp. 17-24)

    After discussing Islamic activism, we now turn to issues of Islamic discourse. While Islamic discourse is all pervasive in the domestic arena of Muslim countries, in international relations it can be dissected into two main areas: self-identity and global (in)justice. Muslim countries position themselves with increasing assertiveness in the international arena as ‘Muslim’ or ‘Islamic’ nations. This is not because they are officially called ‘Islamic’ states—many are not34—but because it denotes a comprehensive identity and newly assumed discourse. In addition, their discontentment with the international order is expressed as the claim for international justice as a typical Islamic...

  6. (pp. 25-28)

    Based on this paper’s findings regarding Islamic discourse and activism in international relations, the following conclusions may be drawn:

    Islam has gained dominance as the primary source of authoritative discourse and activism in the Muslim world. However, this mainly takes place within the confines of the domestic domain, and little of it is seen in the international arena. This concurs with what Robert Cooper stated in his maxim ‘in the end, what matters is domestic politics’, which he explains as: ‘Today the primacy of the domestic sphere is evident in almost all countries. What keeps governments in power is politics...

  7. (pp. 29-33)

    The Western world, and in particular Western Europe, is coming to terms with the fact that a religious resurgence is not limited to the Muslim world, but is taking place on a worldwide scale. Examples abound and are well recorded: the immense popularity of Pentecostalism in Africa, South America and Asia; the popularity of being ‘born again’ among Christians (in particular Americans), but also among Muslims, Jews and Hindus; and the return of religion in an officially atheist country like China.53 But most importantly, religion is returning to public life ‘almost everywhere you look’.54

    To some observers, this is not...