Southern California

International Review
Volume 5, Number 1 • Spring 2015

Southern California International Review
SCIR.org

Staff
Editor-in-Chief:
Aaron Rifkind
Editors:
Brad McAuliffe
Natalie Tecimer
Reid Thom

Anna Merzi
Justine Breuch
Patrick Vossler

Layout: Aaron Rifkind
Cover: Samir Kumar
The Southern California International Review (SCIR) is a bi-annual interdisciplinary print and online journal of scholarship in the field of international
studies generously funded by the School of International Relations at the
University of Southern California (USC). In particular, SCIR would like
to thank the Robert L. Friedheim Fund and the USC SIR Alumni Fund.
Founded in 2011, the journal seeks to foster and enhance discussion between
theoretical and policy-oriented research regarding significant global issues.
SCIR is managed completely by students and also provides undergraduates
valuable experience in the fields of editing and graphic design.

Copyright © 2015 Southern California International Review.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any
form without the express written consent of the Southern California International
Review.
Views expressed in this journal are solely those of the authors themselves and do not necessarily
represent those of the editorial board, faculty advisors, or the University of Southern California.

ISSN: 1545-2611

We dedicate this journal to the kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls
and to those who advocate for justice.

Contents

1.

Conflict or Cooperation?
Proven Energy Reserves in Contested Seabeds
John Deacon

11

2.

Japan’s Pop Culture Diplomacy:
The Power of Anime and Manga
Leila Y. Wang

22

3.

National Identity and the Crisis of Democracy
In the Arab Middle East
Hagop Toghramadjian

50

4.

Unclaimed Air Miles
The Origins of the Muslim Foreign Fighter Phenomenon
Nick Kaderbhai

68

Editor’s Note:
Dear Reader,
It is with great pleasure that I introduce you to the ninth edition of the Southern California
International Review (SCIR). This semester’s issue continues our mission of providing a
platform for undergraduate scholars of international affairs to provide their work to a larger
audience.
We are incredibly fortunate to have had a vast pool of articles to select from. Our editors
spent tedious hours pouring over fifty submissions from all across the country and several
from throughout the world. Of the many impressive submissions, the following four stood
out to be outstanding. In reading this journal you will understand why.
In the creation of this issue, the SCIR is extremely appreciative of the supportive role that
the University of Southern California’s School of International Relations has played. The
school’s director, Robert English, the Associate Director, Linda Cole, and the rest of the
faculty and staff gave us the guidance we needed to grow. I also extend our thanks to Ms.
Robin Friedheim for her generous scholarship that provides the foundation upon which
our endeavor thrives.
A central theme for this edition revolves around discovery. From uncovering more about
popular culture’s role in Japanese diplomacy to finding out how the Muslim foreign fighter
movement began, each piece offers its own adventure. I would like to thank you, the reader.
Without you, we are nothing. Remember, this journal is just one part of a much larger
dialogue. I invite you to read on, and I hope it augments your own discoveries.
Please read, ponder, explore, and enjoy.
Sincerely,
Aaron Rifkind
Editor-in-Chief

Conflict or Cooperation?

Proven Energy Reserves in Contested Seabeds
John Deacon

Introduction: The Importance of State Boundaries when Fossil Fuels are Involved
Many of the world’s territorial and maritime boundaries have yet to be precisely established. Whether it is because the benefits of the diplomacy involved would not outweigh the
costs or because states simply do not see the need to establish them, these undefined boundaries have been largely ignored. However, when new reserves of fossil fuels are discovered,
these boundaries suddenly become an issue of international significance. States are quick
to jump on the opportunity to claim the territory as their own and, with it, the fossil fuel
reserves. But when two or more states claim ownership of the same territory with proven
energy reserves, they come to a critical juncture. In an attempt to answer the question of
whether the presence of proven or potential energy reserves under territorially disputed
seabeds proves to be a source of conflict or cooperation, this paper will analyze the cases of
both the Caspian Sea and the East China Sea Island disputes. These cases are chosen because
both disputes have received international attention, have not been completely resolved, and,
most importantly, contain proven or potential fossil fuels within internationally disputed
boundaries. After the comparison of these two cases, the level of cooperation and conflict
will be evaluated and the variables that led to this outcome will be identified.
In this case, cooperation is defined as the ability of states to peacefully make boundary
agreements and the subsequent production of the energy reserves. Conflict denotes the lack
of international agreement and the existence of military interstate disputes (MIDs). This
paper ultimately argues that proven or potential energy reserves under contested seabeds do
not lead to conflict but facilitate the cooperation necessary to extract the available resources.
This paper begins with an examination of the Caspian Sea offshore fossil fuel dispute,
which will then be compared to the current state of the Senkaku/Diaoyu East China Sea
Island dispute. Using research from recent academic journals, scholarly articles, and relevant political theory, this paper seeks to provide a comprehensive evaluation of each case
and insight into their outcomes – whether defined by cooperation or conflict. This essay will
conclude by acknowledging potential constraints on the research conducted and proposing
future areas of study that would contribute to the resolution of future conflicts and promote
cooperation.

John Deacon is a senior in Boston College’s Arts & Sciences program studying
International Relations, with minors in History and Political Science.

12

John Deacon

The Caspian Sea Maritime Boundary Dispute
Located between Central Asia and the Middle East, the Caspian Sea is the largest enclosed body of water at 168,000 square miles. For hundreds of years, it has been known
to host oil, but interest in exploiting Caspian Sea energy reserves did not arise until the
fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 when Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan gained
independence.1 Five countries border the Caspian Sea: Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan,
Kazakhstan, and Iran, and all of these states have developed an interest in the 48 billion barrels of proven oil reserves and 292 trillion cubic feet of proven natural gas reserves, which,
combined, comprise four percent of the world’s proven total.2 Yet most of these reserves are
located close to Azerbaijan or Kazakhstan, where their conflicting interests have encouraged
a dispute about the best way to divide, or delimit, the maritime boundaries.
Despite these disagreements, the five countries involved have acted bilaterally and unilaterally, resulting in major oil exports beginning in 2000.3 Currently, there are a series of
production projects set to build pipelines in the Caspian Sea. In Kazakhstan, there are five
major operational oil production projects and two oil-export pipelines. In Azerbaijan, the
Azeri Chirag Guneshli and Shah-Deniz offshore oil and natural gas productions projects
are operational.4 The greatest Caspian pipeline construction came in 2005 when the BakuTbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline began operating, spanning from Baku, Azerbajan to Turkey
and circumnavigating Russia as a transit state.5
The only MID involved in the Caspian Sea occurred in July 2001 when Iran used a
military vessel to chase Azerbaijani surveyors from disputed waters between the two states
in an attempt to stop delimitations.6 MIDs are conflicts between states that do not involve
a full-scale war, employing the use of some military force but causing fewer than one thousand deaths.7 Other than the presence of fossil fuels in a disputed territory, there is a range
of influential variables that ultimately complicate negotiations among the five states. These
variables include the legal issues and discrepancies regarding the Caspian Sea, the landlocked geography of Caspian exporters, and the number of actors involved and presence of
third-party interests in guiding the outcome of the dispute.
1  “Caspian Sea Region,” United States Energy Information Administration, Aug. 2013.
2  Brenda Shaffer, “Caspian Energy Phase II: Beyond 2005,” Energy Policy, Nov. 2010, 7209-15.
3  Ibid.
4  Shaffer, “Caspian Energy.”
5  “Caspian Sea Region.”
6  Brenda Shaffer, Energy Politics (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009).
7  Jeff D. Colgan, “Oil and Revolutionary Governments: Fuel for International Conflict,” International Organization Foundation, 2010, 661-94.

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Conflict or Cooperation?

13

Littoral States Use Legal Definitions to Support Their Claims

The most significant legal issue contributing to the longevity of the Caspian Sea
dispute concerns the legal definitions of the Caspian Sea. Because it is such a unique body
of water, it has been difficult to categorize. The Caspian Sea is landlocked, displaying characteristics of a lake, but it has the high salinity content of a sea. This problem is magnified
by the amount of resources at stake.
There is a serious debate concerning the division of the Caspian Sea, which is contingent upon its definition as either a lake or a sea. If defined as a lake, it would adhere to the
International Law Governing Border Lakes, which asserts that a “condominium” regime
would be installed, where all littoral (coastal) states would divide the Caspian Sea waters
and seabed equally.8 Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan both oppose equal division of its resources
because they both share a larger coastal boundary than the other three and therefore believe
they deserve a larger share of the resources. Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan support defining the
Caspian as a sea, which would call for the adherence to the United Nations Convention on
the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). This would signify that ownership of the Caspian resources
extends from the geographical coastlines, so Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan would have access
to more resources than Russia, Iran, and Turkmenistan.
Ultimately, the manner in which the Caspian Sea is divided is determined by the unanimous agreement among all coastal states.9 Whether it is defined as a sea or a lake, though,
would make no real difference in an anarchical international system. The littoral states are
responsible for dividing the resources, which calls for cooperation. However, it is important
to understand that this cooperation does not need to be encompassing; states have previously agreed to establish bilateral boundaries with their neighbors. This is exemplified by
the concessions Kazakhstan made to Russia in July 1998 when the two states agreed to the
delimitation of the Caspian Sea between their borders.10 Therefore, the legal issues should
be seen as more of a thin veil for underlying economic motivations of the littoral states than
a determining factor in how the Caspian Sea is divided.

Landlocked Geography of Caspian Exporters Presents Difficulties
The geographical nature of the exporting states requires further cooperation. Because
the Caspian Sea has no outlet to other major bodies of water and the littoral states are landlocked, the states cannot use commercial tankers to ship oil. Instead, Caspian states such
as Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan have relied on oil pipelines. Unlike commercial tankers, oil
pipelines are permanent and span across multiple countries, presenting a unique political
8  Timothy Oleson, “Gaming the System in the Caspian Sea: Can Game Theory Solve a Decades-Old Dispute?” Earth Magazine, Oct. 2013.
9  “Caspian Sea Region.”
10  Shaffer, 2009.

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John Deacon

14

risk. These pipelines are subject to manipulation and disruption along the supply line, so
every country that the pipeline passes through presents a risk based on its political interests
and stability.11 Furthermore, oil pipelines present enormous upfront costs: the BTC pipeline is the second largest oil pipeline in operation and cost nearly four billion U.S. dollars
to construct.12
But despite these political and economic obstacles, many oil pipelines have been constructed and started operation. There are currently six operating pipelines that transport
oil from the Caspian Sea to European markets, two of which transport oil to East Asian
markets.13 Littoral states, with the notable exception of Iran, have reached agreements with
each other. To mitigate risks associated with heavy reliance on one state’s stability, therefore,
they have taken a “multiple pipeline” approach.14 Although this is very expensive, it avoids
dependence on a single transit state and thereby enhances the source state’s national security,
and this ultimately results in multilateral cooperation.

Number of Actors Including Foreign Interest Alleviates the Game Theory Problem
The number of actors involved in the dispute suggests that negotiations will be more
complex, but in reality it has provided a variety of options for states hoping to reach an agreement. Game theory posits that the greater the number of actors involved in a negotiation,
the more difficult it becomes to reach an agreement. Indeed, with five different players at
the table, there comes a breadth of interests and bargaining ranges. For instance, Russia and
Iran have more political and economic power than the other three littoral states, but they
also stand to gain the least from negotiating the reserves. This is demonstrated by Russia’s
attempt to block the establishment of a natural gas pipeline across the Caspian Sea (TCP)
so it could maintain dominance over the European market.15 On the other hand, Azerbaijan
and Kazakhstan could profit significantly from creating export markets, illustrating the various influences of national interests in completing negotiations.
These negotiations should become more complicated as third party interests like those of
Europe, Turkey, and the United States become involved. It is widely known that the United
States has been committed to facilitating the independence and security of post-Soviet states
in an attempt to gain political leverage.16 But what has occurred in the past decade-and-ahalf in the Caspian Sea has proved contrary to the principles of game theory. Instead of the
large N-value (number of players) complicating negotiations, the increase in the number
11 
12 
13 
14 
15 
16 

Shaffer, 2010.
“Caspian Sea Region.”
Ibid.
Shaffer, 2010.
Shaffer, 2009.
Shaffer, 2010.

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Conflict or Cooperation?

15

of players has led to a rise in export and investment options for players like Azerbaijan
or Kazakhstan that want to exploit the resources. Through multiple smaller agreements
between two or three states that share similar interests, Caspian countries have avoided
the game theory dilemma by not operating under a single encompassing agreement. These
agreements have been established between states that could greatly benefit from foreign
direct investment and third-party oil companies, as well as states like Russia that could
benefit from transit fees.17 In the end, a unanimous agreement may never be reached in
the Caspian Sea region, but that has not yet stopped the states that want to cooperate from
atempting to do so.18

East China Sea Island Dispute
The East China Sea Island dispute began in 1971 when the sovereignty of the Senkaku/
Diaoyu Islands reverted from American to Japanese control. Following World War II, from
Article III of the Treaty of San Francisco, the U.S. had handed its “administrative rights”
over the islands back to Japan.19 However, both China and Taiwan claimed sovereignty over
the islands.20 In June of 1971, President Nixon, in a concession to Taiwan, determined that
the United States would be neutral in any underlying sovereignty claims, which set the
U.S. policy over the islands for the next forty years. Since then, the United States, with this
doctrine of neutrality, hoped that China and Japan would resolve the dispute on their own.
In June 2008, the two states were close to an agreement to develop jointly the Shirakaba/
Chunziao and Asurao/Lonjing gas fields, but negotiations broke down after China asserted
sovereignty over the islands in 2009. In November 2013, the dispute became a militarized
conflict when China announced an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), restricting air
traffic over the East China Sea.21 Both players further militarized the conflict by deploying
naval vessels in the territorially disputed waters.
Sovereignty over the islands is desired because a geological survey in the late 1960s determined that the waters surrounding the islands likely have large deposits of oil and natural
gas.22 This energy potential has yet to be realized. China and Japan place special importance
17  Ibid.
18  A unanimous agreement is unlikely to occur because of the current trade sanctions on Iran imposed by the U.S. and European governments. Oil companies from each region are prohibited from conducting business with Iran. Caspian Sea countries
other than Iran that wish to profit from exports therefore choose to avoid dealing with Iran for stability reasons as well as to gain
Western favor and business. This has led Iran to lash out in defense of its own interests, which is shown by the only MID that has
occurred during these negotiations.
19  “How a Tiny Island Chain Explains the China-Japan Dispute,” The Atlantic, Dec. 4, 2013.
20  Paul J. Smith, “The Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands Controversy: Much More Than a Territorial Dispute,” China U.S. Focus, Oct.
2012.
21  “How a Tiny Island Chain Explains the China-Japan Dispute.”
22  “Today in Energy,” U.S. Energy Information Administration, Nov. 2013.

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16

John Deacon

upon these islands because they import more fossil fuels than any other country in the
world.23 With China’s rapidly growing economy and middle class and Japan’s nuclear power
plant shutdowns, both countries would benefit enormously from access to the potential oil
and natural gas deposits along the chain of islands. These national interests fuel the tensions
that are currently rising in the East Asian Sea. Aside from the presence of fossil fuels in a
disputed territory, the current energy policies of each state, the nationalism and history of
tension between the two states, and the role of the United States in resolving the dispute
also intensify the conflict.

Current Energy Policies of Both Players Rely Heavily on Fossil Fuels
China and Japan both rely heavily on fossil fuels, and increases in domestic resources decrease energy dependence and consequently enhance national security. China relies
mainly on Middle Eastern countries for its supply of oil, along with some countries in Africa.
Together, Saudi Arabia and Angola account for one-third of China’s crude oil imports.24
Dependence on few states for energy increases a state’s vulnerability to energy markets
and political instability. Combined with the Chinese Communist Party’s reliance on fast
economic growth to garner support, the opportunity to increase domestic production of
fossil fuels becomes very appealing.25 Japan separated itself from fossil fuel energy until the
Fukushima disaster led to the shutdown of all Japanese nuclear power plants. Nuclear power
made up thirty percent of Japan’s energy, and fossil fuel imports now largely cover this loss.26
Both the benefits of domestic production and Japan and China’s large economies set
them apart from the Caspian littoral states. Although both Russia and Iran have large GDPs,
their relative benefits from domestic production of Caspian resources is relatively small.
And while Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan benefit substantially from the production of oil and
natural gas reserves in the Caspian seabed—all of Azerbaijan’s exports come from Caspian
Sea resources—the countries’ GDPs are miniscule compared to those of China and Japan. It
is this combination of large GDPs and potential marginal benefits that makes the East China
Sea case different from the Caspian Sea case. The situation of two world powers competing
for the same resources has proven to be a recipe for conflict, as shown by naval operations
and China’s imposition of the ADIZ.

State Nationalism and History of Conflict Make the Dispute Personal
China and Japan have a history of tension and nationalism that makes the Senkaku/
Diaoyu Islands a political battle as well as an economic one. China has plenty of political
23 
24 
25 
26 

Ibid.
“China,” U.S. Energy Information Administration, Feb. 2014.
“How a Tiny Island Chain Explains the China-Japan Dispute.”
Kyung Lah, “Japan Shuts Down Last Nuclear Reactor,” CNN, May 2012.

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Conflict or Cooperation?

17

motivations for establishing sovereignty over these islands. Some see China’s claim of sovereignty as an attempt of the new president, Xi Jinping, to establish legitimacy. China’s nationalism is exemplified by Jinping’s “Chinese Dream” slogan.27 Another argument can be
made for China using this dispute as an opportunity to flex the new muscles it grew after
three decades of sustained economic growth and modernization.28 China has increasingly
been seen as a bully in East Asia, exemplified in the “nine-dotted line” it drew when claiming sovereignty over the South China Sea Islands.
Japan also has a poor reputation in East Asia. China, South Korea, and many other
Asian countries believe that Japan has not sufficiently made amends for its pre-World War
II regional dominance, with its “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” in which it envisioned a world divided among major blocs, with Japan leading East Asia.29 Today, this
dispute can be seen as an attempt to recapture the political power it once enjoyed before the
Second World War.
These historical tensions add a dimension of complexity unseen in the Caspian Sea
disputes because Japan and China are far from allies. Since the breakdown of agreements in
2009, the dispute has no longer been about fossil fuel resources. China has focused on slow
accumulations of power in its political and economic rise, which Japan has worried about
keeping China from becoming a larger threat to its national security and maintaining its
own political prowess. This dispute is between the second and third largest economies in
the world and has become personal and much more difficult to resolve diplomatically, as
evidenced by Jinping’s refusal to meet with Japanese officials.30 This type of behavior contributes to the potential for military brinkmanship and future MIDs.

United States’ Role Has Increased Conflict
U.S. involvement is the last variable affecting the conflict in the East China Sea. The U.S.
is inevitably tied to the dispute for three reasons. First, the Treaty of San Francisco acknowledges “administrative rights” over the islands to Japan. This seemingly ambiguous language
has a profound effect on China’s perception of the U.S. position and has perhaps incited the
problem. Although the official U.S. foreign policy is to abstain from taking a position on
sovereignty, it is clear that China views the superpower as decidedly pro-Japan on the issue.31
Second, as an ally, the U.S. is bound by treaty to aid Japan, making the United States’
neutrality claim much less credible. The U.S. has an interest in maintaining stable relations
27 
28 
29 
30 
31 

“How a Tiny Island Chain Explains the China-Japan Dispute.”
Ibid.
William T. De Bary, “Sources of East Asian Tradition: The Modern Period” (Columbia University Press, 2008).
“How a Tiny Island Chain Explains the China-Japan Dispute.”
“CFR Media Call on East China Sea with Sheila Smith and Scott Snyder,” Council on Foreign Relations, Dec. 2013.

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John Deacon

18

between the two states. However, China has rejected third-party mediation in the dispute,
as it lacks an alliance with the U.S.32
Third, it is in the United States’ national security interest to keep China from becoming
a regional hegemon. China’s conflict in the East China Sea may preclude a larger conflict
that signals its desire to remove U.S. influence from Eastern Asia. This larger conflict has
fueled tensions and conflict in the East China Sea, which has prevented any measure of cooperation. Unlike U.S. oil companies working around Russian opposition to the BTC and
TCP pipelines, Japan and the U.S. cannot circumvent China without risking militarized
consequences.

Conclusion: Conflict Results from Multi-Causal Political Variables
It is important to briefly note the limitations of studying states’ behaviors. Because
there is a vast number of factors that can influence a state’s behavior, it is rare to establish
causal linkage between a variable and an action. Furthermore, this paper views states from
the realist perspective as unitary and rational actors in an anarchical system. Due to the
length limits of this essay, it does not include the additional research that would account
for variables that other schools of thought would consider more influential. These variables
include the influence of culture, individual behavior of political leaders, the types of political
regimes of the states involved, and non-state actors like NGOs and IEAs. Future research
of these variables would help clarify state decision-making in territorial disputes involving
proven energy resources, which would ultimately contribute to the development of solutions
to promote future cooperation.
After examining maritime border disputes in the Caspian Sea and East China Sea, it has
been determined that the Caspian Sea dispute among the five littoral states can be largely
classified as one of cooperation, with few elements of conflict, while the East China Sea dispute should be classified as one of conflict, with very little to no elements of cooperation.
The Caspian Sea maritime boundary dispute is markedly cooperative because there have
been a series of bilateral agreements that have led to the development of oil and gas infrastructure as well as resource exploitation. The Caspian Sea dispute can improve through
multilateral agreements, particularly ones that involves Iran, which as a state has yet to make
any agreements and has shown militarized defiance to resource exploitation. The East China
Sea maritime boundary dispute is conflictive because there has been increased militarization, proven by the establishment of the Chinese ADIZ and the deployment of naval vessels
on behalf of both players involved, as well as a complete lack of resource development and
exploration.

32 

Ibid.

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Conflict or Cooperation?

19

After analyzing the main variables of each case, there is a noticeable difference in the
involved states’ motivations, which provides insight into determining an answer to the overarching research question. The Caspian Sea dispute is economically oriented, where the
states involved seek to capitalize on the oil and natural gas deposits for their own monetary
benefit. The only exception to this was Russia’s attempt to prohibit U.S. and European oil
companies from establishing political influence, but this was thwarted due to the presence
of states that were interested in Western investors, namely Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. On
the other hand, the East China Sea dispute is economically and politically oriented, with a
deep-seeded history of political tensions that contribute to MIDs, demonstrated by the U.S.Japanese alliance and the threat of China as a rising global power. These factors show that
the presence of proven and potential energy reserves under territorially disputed seabeds
provides an incentive for cooperation, as seen in the Caspian Sea case, but most often have
multi-causal variables that go beyond the presence of resources in a territorially disputed
region, which could potentially facilitate a conflict.

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John Deacon

20

Works Cited

“Caspian Sea Region.” United States Energy Information Administration. Aug. 2013.
“CFR Media Call on East China Sea with Sheila Smith and Scott Snyder,” Council on Foreign
Relations. Dec. 2013.
“China.” U.S. Energy Information Administration. Feb. 2014.
Colgan, Jeff D., “Oil and Revolutionary Governments: Fuel for International Conflict.”
International Organization Foundation (2010): 661-94.
De Bary, William T. “Sources of East Asian Tradition: The Modern Period.” Columbia
University Press, July 2008.
“How a Tiny Island Chain Explains the China-Japan Dispute.” The Atlantic, Dec. 2013.
Lah, Kyung. “Japan Shuts Down Last Nuclear Reactor.” CNN. May 2012.
Oleson, Timothy. “Gaming the System in the Caspian Sea: Can Game Theory Solve a
Decades-Old Dispute?” Earth Magazine, Oct. 2013.
Shaffer, Brenda. “Caspian Energy Phase II: Beyond 2005.” Energy Policy (2010): 7209-15.
Shaffer, Brenda. Energy Politics. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009.
Smith, Paul J. “The Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands Controversy: Much More Than a Territorial
Dispute.” China U.S. Focus, Oct. 2012.
“Today in Energy.” U.S. Energy Information Administration. Nov. 2013.

Southern California International Review - Vol. 5 No. 1

Conflict or Cooperation?

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21

Japan’s Pop Culture Diplomacy:
The Power of Anime and Manga
Leila Y. Wang

Popular culture has never been a conventional topic in the realm of International Relations.
However, in 2007, the Japanese government decided to officially include pop culture as part
of its foreign policy agenda under culture diplomacy. The aim was to use the popularity of
Japanese pop culture to spread positive images and messages about Japan to the international
community. The question of whether pop culture can really be useful as a soft power tool has not
been addressed. Even as Japan pushes its pop culture diplomacy, relations with its neighbors,
particularly China, have deteriorated over the years despite China’s large Japanese pop culture
consumption. This study seeks to determine whether Japanese pop culture has any tangible
effect in spreading positive images of Japan in China. Statistical analysis of original survey data
proves that, with all else constant, there is a strong positive association between consumption
of Japanese pop culture and a positive perception of Japan as a state. The association provides
useful empirical results for the soft power effect of pop culture and could lay the groundwork
for an extended longitudinal study that would lead to a better analysis of Japanese pop culture’s
potential as a soft power over time.

Introduction
Post-World War II, Japan was widely known for its popular culture including comic
books (manga), animated shows (anime), movies, music, and more. In the 1980s and 1990s,
Japanese pop culture saw a surge in popularity as icons like Hello Kitty emerged on the
world stage. In an unprecedented article in the May 2002 issue of Foreign Policy, Douglas
McGray coined the term “Japan’s National Cool” to describe the appeal of Japan’s rich culture
and its contribution to Japan’s national and cultural influence.1 For the first time, Japanese
pop culture was portrayed as a resource for promoting its national image. McGray’s article
came at a perfect time when Japan was searching for ways to expand its influence amidst
worsening country relations. Pop culture, which was traditionally seen from an economic
perspective (as an export), suddenly became a resource for improving national image and
brand. In 2007, the National Diet (Japan’s Parliament) adopted Japanese pop culture into its
foreign policy agenda.
1 

Douglas McGray, “Japan’s Gross National Cool,” Foreign Policy, No. 130 (May/June 2002): 44-54.

Leila Y. Wang is a senior at the University of Southern California double majoring in International Relations and Business Administration.

Japan’s Pop Culture Diplomacy

23

The use of pop culture as part of a political agenda is unconventional and fairly rare. Pop
culture diplomacy is still a new concept, and there is little research on its effect in terms of
influence. This project seeks to contribute to the discourse by examining whether there is a
relationship between the consumption of Japanese pop culture and perceptions of Japan as
a state. As highlighted in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Diplomatic Bluebook 2013, there is
a focus on building a positive image of Japan at the consumer level, forming one of the most
important goals of promoting pop culture diplomacy. The significant exchange of Japanese
pop culture with China can be attributed to their geographical proximity and shared histories. Many young- to middle-aged Chinese grew up with Japanese anime and manga.
However, there are also strong anti-Japanese sentiments in China, especially in recent years
with the surfacing of historical and territorial issues. It is therefore worthwhile to study the
effectiveness of Japanese pop culture in overcoming these sentiments.

Rise of Japanese Pop Culture
With the collapse of the bubble economy and the resulting economic stagnation in the
early 1990s, Japan went through a bleak period of political and economic challenges known
to many as the “lost decade.” Ironically, Japanese pop culture began gaining popularity and
prominence during this period in several Asian countries. The economy and profit-driven
image of Japan, with its lifetime employment and industrial policies, was gradually being
replaced by the image of “Cool Japan.”2 As a result, there was a general craze in Asia for
Japanese popular culture products, such as TV dramas, popular music, fashion, manga, and
anime.3
The largest Japanese pop culture industries are anime and manga, which control a large
consumer market in Asia. As David Leheny points out, this is the “undoubted champion in
Japan’s pop culture team around the world.”4 He points to the fact that some estimates put
Japan as the source of about sixty percent of the world’s animated TV programming, and,
in 2003, Focus Japan estimated annual sales of anime-related licensed goods at $17 billion.
This does not take into account the large black market trade of counterfeit merchandise occurring around Asia, which has been crucial to disseminating Japanese pop culture, since it
allows for much cheaper access to the products.
The modern manga evolved out of post-war Japan and first began gaining international recognition with the influence of the famous manga artist, Tezuka Osamu. Otherwise
2  Michal Daliot-Bul, “Japan Brand Strategy: The Taming of ‘Cool Japan’ and the Challenges of Cultural Planning in a Postmodern Age.” Social Science Japan Journal. 12, No. 2 (Oct 30, 2009): 247-266.
3  Manga is the Japanese name for Japanese comics. Anime is a generic name for Japanese animation production.
4  Peter J. Katzenstein, Takashi Shiraishi, and David Leheny, “A Narrow Place to Cross Swords: Soft Power and the Politics of
Japanese Popular Culture in East Asia,” in Beyond Japan: The Dynamics of East Asian Regionalism (Ithaca: Cornell University
Press, 2006), 214.

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Leila Y. Wang

known as the Kami-sama5 of Manga, his works have included the world-renowned Astro
Boy, Black Jack, and Buddha. He revolutionized the manga and anime industry by establishing practices that reduced production costs and by laying the foundation for future aspiring artists. This allowed for the rise of many future favorites like Doraemon and Sailor
Moon. Doraemon was such a hit with the Asian countries that by 1996, the 46 volume series
sold over 100 million copies.6 With the advance of technology and the Internet, there is
greater accessibility. People can read or watch manga and anime online without spending
money. Fan groups have sprung up over the years, providing their own translation, subtitles,
and dubbing for manga or anime series to distribute to other fans via online platforms.7
Although unauthorized, this phenomenon has grown rapidly, providing youth around the
world with access to free popular manga series.

Move Towards Pop Culture Diplomacy
The growing popularity of Japanese pop culture attracted much attention. Douglas
McGray argued that the continued power and influence of Japan as a world leader is due
to its huge reserve of soft power originating from the country’s growing cultural presence.8
His article took the academic world by storm, and Japanese pop culture was propelled to a
status of national importance when the Japanese government started taking notice of this
untapped area of influence.
When former Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso spoke in April 2006 to a group at
the Digital Hollywood University, he discussed the importance of popular culture in Japan’s
cultural diplomacy for the first time in the history of Japanese politics. Speaking in the heart
of Japan’s pop culture center, Aso explained the need to seriously consider pop culture as a
diplomatic tool. He said,

What is the image that pops into someone’s mind when they hear the name “Japan?” Is
it a bright and positive image? Warm? Cool? The more these kinds of positive images
pop up in a person’s mind, the easier it becomes for Japan to get its views across over
the long term. In other words, Japanese diplomacy is able to keep edging forward, bit
by bit, and bring about better and better outcomes as a result.9

5  Kami-sama means “God” in Japanese.
6  Timothy J Craig and Saya S. Shiraishi, “Doraemon Goes Abroad,” in Japan Pop! Inside the World of Japanese Popular Culture (Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 2000), 287-308.
7  See mangafox. http://mangafox.me/
8  McGray, “Japan’s Gross National Cool,” 44-54.
9  Taro Aso, “A New Look at Cultural Diplomacy: A Call to Japan’s Cultural Practitioners” (speech, Digital Hollywood University, Tokyo, April 28, 2006).

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Aso argued that Japanese pop culture has the effect of instilling positive “warm” and
“cool” feelings. He called it the “Japanese Dream,” evidently inspired by the “American
Dream,” which had long been the key contributor to the positive images of the U.S.10 In
January 2007, Aso proposed the adoption of Japanese pop culture as a diplomatic tool to the
National Diet. It is not surprising that Aso was a proponent of this, given that he had been
an avid manga reader.11 His ideals were not too far-fetched either. With the rapid spread
of Japanese pop culture, people around the world, especially in Asia, were exposed to and
enthralled by the vibrant nature of Japanese pop cultural products. Pop icons, such as Astro
Boy, Hello Kitty, and Doraemon hold a special place in the hearts of many. As Lam points
out, “Being ‘cool,’ ‘fun,’ and ‘hip’ have become serious business for the Japanese state.”12
True to his word, Aso led the move to harness the power of pop culture as cultural diplomacy. In 2007, he established the “International Manga Award” to award foreign manga
artists who contributed to the promotion of manga culture overseas. This was the first official policy that dealt with pop culture diplomacy, and it paved the way for the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs (MOFA) to become more involved in the spread of pop culture. In the same
year, MOFA sponsored a Cosplay competition in the “World Cosplay Summit,” the biggest
annual Cosplay event in Japan that attracted participants from around the world. In 2008,
MOFA began its “Anime Ambassador” project in hopes of promoting Japan through anime.
The first ambassador to be assigned was Doraemon.13

Japanese Pop Culture in China
Situated in the heart of East Asia, Japan is one of the key players in the region, along
with its close neighbor, China. It is not surprising that Japanese pop culture products were
widely disseminated and consumed in China. However, it was not until 1972 that China and
Japan officially normalized relations, and Japanese pop culture was legally imported into
China starting in 1979.14 The Chinese government’s restrictions on foreign imports made
it even harder for Japanese pop culture products to find their place in the Chinese market.
This did not deter the Chinese who craved the seemingly affluent and exciting lifestyles depicted in the Japanese pop culture products.15 Many young Chinese turned to pirated or illegal sources. Pirated sources were much cheaper than the licensed ones, and they
10  Ibid.
11  Jun Hongo, “The blunt, blue-blooded Aso is back.” Japantimes.co.jp, January 22, 2013.
12  Peng Er Lam, “Japan’s Quest for ‘Soft Power’: Attraction and Limitation” East Asia: An International Quarterly 24, no. 4
(2007): 349-363.
13  MOFA, “Pop-Culture Diplomacy.” mofa.go.jp.
14  Ibid, 88.
15  Yoshiko Nakano, “Shared Memories: Japanese Pop Culture in China.” Soft Power Superpowers: Cultural and National Assets
of Japan and the United States. New York: M.E. Sharpe, Inc., 2008, 116.

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were easily found in stores and on the streets. Scholar Yoshiko Nakano called it “digital fast
food” explaining that it was “pervasive, fast, cheap, often predictable, but filling.”16 Japan’s
Copyright Research and Information Center estimated around 3.18 billion pirated disks of
Japanese media products circulated in China during 2000 and 2001. Due to the large volumes of underground Japanese pop culture consumption, official trade figures may underestimate the true consumption levels in China. According to scholar Cooper-Chen, there
were roughly 500 million consumers of Japanese anime and manga in China, more than
one-third of the population, and the market was worth $14.6 billion USD.17

Sino-Japanese Relations
The strained Sino-Japanese relationship continued, and both counties engaged in several wars. This history fueled tensions and exacerbated disagreements. Japan’s atrocities in
World War II, especially, left a deep scar in China’s history. The book Rape of Nanking placed
the number of Chinese casualties at around 300,000 and the number of Chinese women
raped between 20,000 and 80,000.18 The memory of the war remains strong in the minds
of the Chinese people. The high profile visits of some Prime Ministers to the controversial
Yasukuni Shrine, which houses Class A war criminals, 19 also fueled the bad relations.20
Another pertinent issue in Sino-Japanese relations is the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands controversy. These islands were not clearly defined in the normalization agreement between
China and Japan in 1972, and it was not until the 2000s that China and Japan started staking
serious claims on the islands, resulting in skirmishes and near-violent outbreaks. In 2012,
Sino-Japanese tensions reached an all-time high when Japan purchased and nationalized the
islands from a private owner.21 Reinforced by historical animosity, anti-Japanese sentiment
rose to unprecedented levels in China, culminating in violent protests and demonstrations.22
China still consumes huge amounts of Japanese pop culture, even with profound and
deep-seated hostile relations with Japan and strong anti-Japanese sentiments among its
people. In fact, an annual study by the Genron-NPO, an independent think tank, found
that China and Japan’s impression of each other had rapidly moved towards being unfavorable over the last decade (Graph 1). Can pop culture exhibit soft power effects under such
16  Ibid, 117.
17  Anne Cooper-Chen, Cartoon Cultures: The Globalization of Japanese Popular Media (New York: Peter Lang, 2010), 87.
18  Gregory J. Moore, “History, Nationalism and Face in Sino-Japanese Relations,” Journal of Chinese Political Science, no. 15
(2010): 289.
19  Kyodo News Agency, “Yasukuni Shrine remains opposed to enshrining war criminals at separate site.” The Japan Times,
August 11, 2014.
20  Moore, “History, Nationalism and Face in Sino-Japanese Relations,” 290-293.
21  Julian Ryall, “Japan agrees to buy disputed Senkaku islands.” The Telegraph, September 5, 2012.
22  Didi Tang, “Anti-Japan protest in China turn violent.” The Independent, September 15, 2012.

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dire circumstances? China presents itself as a hard case to answer this question. The results
produced by research into the soft power effects of Japanese pop culture in China may go
further to illustrate the effects of soft power, making it worthwhile to study.

Graph 1. Chinese and Japanese impressions of each other.23

Literature Review
With the fall of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the bipolar system, more scholars
began to explore newer and less conventional ways of defining power. In 1990, Joseph Nye,
in his groundbreaking book Bound to Lead, coined the term “soft power” to name the concept of attractive power. Nye defined the concept of “soft power” in the context of the end
of the Cold War. The U.S. was seen as the victor of the war, with American ideals emerging
triumphant against the fall of communism. Nye argues that in the new world order, emphasis should no longer be placed on using coercive power as there was no clear “enemy” to
23  The Genron NPO; China Daily, “The 10th Japan-China Public Opinion Poll: Analysis Report on the Comparative Data.” The
Genron NPO, 2014.

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coerce. The U.S. lost its bargaining chip for countries to partner with,24 and it needed to find
ways that attracted other states as partners.25
Eventually, as the concept of soft power took form and became widely discussed, Nye
broadened his scope to make the book more applicable to countries other than the U.S. In
his 2004 book Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics, Nye tried to develop a more
universal conceptualization of soft power. He defined soft power as “getting people to want
the outcomes you want [by] co-opt[ing] people rather than coerc[ing] them” via “power of
attraction and seduction.”26 Nye saw soft power as relational to hard power as they are both
“aspects of the ability to achieve one’s purpose by affecting the behavior of others.”27 He
placed soft power and hard power resources and their corresponding behaviors on a spectrum. Hard power and soft power were not two different absolutes, in fact, the “distinction
between them is one of degree.”28
Nye identified three resources upon which soft power rests: a country’s culture, political ideals, and policies. Culture is “the set of values and practices that create meaning for a
society” and can be further broken down into “high culture,” (e.g. literature, traditional art)
which appeals to the elites and “popular culture,” which appeals to the masses.29 When those
values are shared and appreciated by others, it is easier for the country to obtain its desired
outcome due to the “relationships of attraction.”30 The political ideals or values a government
supports can influence others’ perception.31 Supporting a good cause can elevate the position of a country. And, in a country with a clear and streamlined foreign policy, its actions
should reflect their values.
Nye is careful to emphasize the distinction between resources and behavior. A country’s
soft power resources may not always, if at all, lead to favorable behavioral outcomes. Thus,
having the resources for soft power may not necessarily manifest as soft power. The context
is important in determining effectiveness of a power resource.32 To find out if a soft power
resource really leads to favorable behavior outcomes, each case would have to be investigated individually .
There has been wide acceptance of Nye’s definition and framework of soft power, and
most scholars do not dispute this working definition. Most discourse about soft power
24 
25 
26 
27 
28 
29 
30 
31 
32 

i.e. By forcing states to choose between siding with their “liberal democratic world order” or with the “communists.”
Joseph S. Nye, Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power (New York: Basic Books, 1990), 76.
Joseph S. Nye, Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics (New York: PublicAffairs, 2004), 5.
Ibid., 7.
Ibid.
Ibid., 11.
Ibid.
Ibid., 14.
Ibid., 12.

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focuses the application of theory. Scholars argue that the theory is frequently misunderstood and misused. Some also mentioned that due to the “fuzzy” nature of the concept, it
was difficult to operationalize soft power and test for solid evidence that it exists.
While staying true to the definition of Nye’s soft power, scholars like Jean-Marc
Blanchard and Fujia Lu have pointed out the serious limitation in understanding soft power:
the attraction of certain components of resources may be in the in the eyes of the beholder.33
Literature has tended to look at soft power from the producers’ point of view. Put simply,
power resources does not always translate to power; one country viewed as attractive may
not come across as such from the perspective of another country. Blanchard and Lu argue
that soft power needs to be conceptualized together with the target audience, hence context
must be taken into account. Only when there is actually a positive effect from the resources
can one safely say that soft power is present.
This introduces another problem often brought up in the soft power literature: the difficultly of operationalizing the concept of soft power. Soft power is notorious for being intangible and elusive, making it highly difficult to detect and wield properly. This also makes
it very hard to analyze accurately and obtain concrete results. Brantly Womack had called
this the “analytical fuzziness” of soft power and points out the confusion this concept causes.
The issue is that the vagueness of soft power makes it seem like anything that is attractive
can be considered soft power.34 Brooke Smiths-Windsor claims that soft power “risks being
convoluted to the point of practical uselessness.”35 Nye also referenced to Niall Ferguson,
who had dismissed soft power by alluding to the lack of concreteness of the concept.36 The
problem lies in the fact that there are no boundaries for what can be considered attractive.
Therefore, soft power can only be tested on a case-by-case scenario, and each test must be
tailored to suit the power and the context in which it is testing. While this may be tedious,
it does not undermine the usefulness or validity of the concept. The only way to avoid this
danger is to better develop scientific methods that test for soft power and control for possible intervening variables.
There are also scholars skeptical of the existence of soft power who prioritize hard
power. Womack questions whether or not soft power is separate from hard power at all,
and he suggests that soft power is merely an illusion, a “halo of hard power.”37 He argues
that soft power is merely a welcomed side effect, peripheral to hard power decisions that
affect foreign policy directly. Janice Bially Mattern also argues that soft power’s attraction
is constructed through “representative force” in that the audience is forced to submit to the
33 
34 
35 
36 
37 

Ibid.
Brantly Womack, “Dancing Alone: A Hard Look at Soft Power,” The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus (2005).
Brooke A. Smith-Windsor, “Hard Power, Soft Power Reconsidered,” Canadian Military Journal (Autumn 2000): 53.
Niall Ferguson, “Think Again: Power” Foreign Policy 134 (2003): 21.
Womack, “Dancing Alone” (2005).

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speaker’s viewpoint. She argues that soft power is merely an extension of hard power.38 It is
important to note, though, that Nye’s concept of soft power appeal does not involve coercion
or the perception of coercion. The receiving party should willingly submit to the “attractiveness” of the wielding party, and there should not be any perceived force. Furthermore, soft
power is meant to supplement hard power—they are not mutually exclusive. A state may
choose to expand its hard power, but that should not impede its ability to also strengthen
soft power.
Douglas McGray’s article explored the soft power potential of Japan’s pop culture.39 Soft
power scholars became interested in the popularity of Japanese pop culture. The few academic works on Japanese pop culture, however, offer a more negative view of Japanese pop
culture’s ability to act as a soft power, especially towards neighbors China and South Korea,
both of which have had tensions and conflict-ridden histories with Japan. The overwhelming argument is that the tense relations between Japan and its neighbors hindered the effectiveness of Japanese pop culture. Even though the Chinese and South Koreans consume
Japanese pop culture products readily, they do not seem to view Japan positively. For many,
Japanese pop culture is separated from Japan as a nation-state. Enjoying Japanese pop culture does not necessarily lead to a better image of Japan. The literature offers extensive accounts on the history of Japanese pop culture dissemination. Many sources went on to list
the potential limitations of pop culture diplomacy, but few tried to analyze and prove (or
disprove) the effectiveness of pop culture diplomacy from the perspective of the receiver.
Studies are also rarely empirical, and conclusions tend to focus too much on qualitative reasoning and the theoretical. While they offer many interesting insights into the topic, they
do not offer any concrete evidence to substantiate their claims.
A recent empirical study into the efficacy of Japanese pop culture as soft power was
conducted by Richard Harris, a graduate student at Georgetown University. He attempted to
find the correlation between the consumption of Japanese pop culture and how the Chinese
and South Koreans perceive Japan with data from a 2008 Chicago Council of Global Affairs
public opinion poll. Harris’ study provided insights in which he tested for effects of different
variables in affecting the perception of Japan to test for intervening variables. Through his
analysis, he found a statistically significant relationship between consumption of Japanese
pop culture and age and feelings towards Japan. Due to the possibility of endogeneity, he
concluded that three possible relationships may occur: consumption of Japanese pop culture increases feelings toward Japan, people who like Japan tend to consume more Japanese

38  Janice Bially Mattern, “Why ‘Soft Power’ Isn’t So Soft: Representational Force and the Sociolinguistic Construction of Attraction in World Politics,” Millennium – Journal of International Studies 33, No. 3 (2005): 586.
39  McGray, “Japan’s Gross National Cool.”

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pop culture, or both exist. Effects are predicted to be stronger for the younger generation.40
While his study is the most comprehensive empirical study of Japanese manga to date, it also
faces limitations. First, he uses data from a general public opinion poll that was not designed
specifically for such a study, and as a result, some questions and options given may not be
phrased well. Furthermore, the study is limited to the variables listed in the poll, preventing
him from testing for other possible intervening variables, such as the general media consumption. The research that follows will attempt to build on Harris’ and address many of
the limitations in order to improve validity of the results.

Methodology
The goal of this research is to find out how effective Japanese pop culture is in helping
Japan improve its image among the Chinese public. Japanese pop culture is attractive, as
evident from its strong presence and high levels of consumption in Asia. The question is
does Japanese pop culture contributes to Japan’s soft power? Given the existing limitations in
measurement methods, a survey is the best method for attempting to answer this question.
The wide variety of intervening factors involved with survey research makes it impossible to
test for and establish an exact relationship between Japanese pop culture and actual political
outcomes. As such, this study only goes so far as to test for causal effects of Japanese pop
culture on foreign perceptions. In particular, this paper focuses on Chinese consumption of
Japanese pop culture because the tumultuous political relations between the two countries
create an ideal model for illustrating the potential effects of soft power. Further research
needs to be done to explore whether actual causal mechanisms are in place and whether
public perception can affect elite decision making at the state level or not.
In constructing the model of this study, the author identified the independent variable
as the consumption of Japanese pop culture and the dependent variable as the image of
Japan as a nation state. Using a well-tailored survey, the author directly asked respondents
questions pertaining to the identified variables to obtain results useful to the research question. The data obtained in this paper is cross-sectional.
The hypothesis of this study is that higher consumption of Japanese pop culture will
likely lead to positive perceptions of Japan. High consumption of Japanese pop culture suggests that it is attractive to the consumers; therefore, it should have soft power capabilities
and lead to a better image of Japan.
In addition to the independent variable (consumption of Japanese pop culture), there
are likely to be many confounding variables that affect perception. However, to minimize
omitted variable bias, these variables have been included. The proposed confounding factors
40  Richard Harris, “Ambassador Doraemon: Japan’s Pop Culture Diplomacy in China and South Korea,” (master’s thesis,
Georgetown University, 2012).

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are listed below in Table 1 with explanations of why they may interfere with the results of
this study:
Confounding
Variable

Explanation

Age

The younger generation tends to have fewer personal experiences and memories of the tension between the two countries
and thus less likely to feel passionate about Sino-Japanese relations. The younger generation also tends to consume more pop
culture.

Education

People with higher education tend to have a better perception of Japan because they have better analytical skills and are
more likely to understand the history of Japan in a balanced and
nuanced way.

Urbanicity

People who grew up in more urban areas have better perception of Japan, as they are likely to have more international
exposure. This variable is measured on an ordinal scale, and
respondents were asked to pick the province they grew up in.
The provinces are then categorized into urban or rural based on
whether the city proportion of the urban population is larger
than the national proportion of the urban population (52.57% ).
If bigger, it is considered urban; if smaller, it is considered rural.

Traveled to Japan
before or not

People who have traveled to Japan are expected to have a
greater understanding of and familiarity to Japan since they
have seen the country and its people firsthand. Those who have
traveled to Japan may have done so because they enjoy consuming Japanese pop culture, hence they should have better perceptions according to the hypothesis.

Personal interaction with a Japanese
person

People who have interacted with a Japanese person tend to
hold more understanding of and familiarity to Japanese people
in general. They will have better perceptions of Japan.

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Impression of
Japanese pop culture

People who have better impression of Japanese pop culture,
whether they consume it or not, will tend to have better perception of Japan as a nation state. They will identify Japanese pop
culture with the country of origin (since the survey question
asks specifically about Japanese pop culture), and if they feel
positive towards Japanese pop culture, they will likely think the
same of the country that produces it.

Media
consumption

Media, including the Internet, TV and magazines, is one
of the most salient channels for the distribution of pop culture.
Therefore, it is expected that with more consumption of media,
the more consumption of Japanese pop culture products, and,
according to the hypothesis, a more favorable perception of
Japan.

Knowledge of
current affairs

It is expected that people with better knowledge of foreign
affairs will tend to have a more nuanced view of Sino-Japan relations. They will be more likely to view issues from both sides and
have a more balanced view of Japan as a nation state.

Table 1. List of confounding variables and explanation for their inclusion.
A random sample of about 350 respondents was taken and questions were used to measure consumption, and perceptions for each of the confounding factors. The model that the
hypothesis supports is as such:
Where:
Y = measure of perception of Japan as a nation state
X = measure of frequency of consumption of Japanese pop culture
V1…Vk = confounding variables
β1… β2 = effect that the corresponding variable has on perceptions
ε = estimated error
The survey was conducted online via the professional Chinese survey research platform, SOJUMP.41 The author first conducted a bivariate analysis to determine which variables were statistically significant and should have been included in the model. Then the
41 

See http://www.sojump.com.

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author ran a regression to predict the change in perceptions of Japan as a nation state with
the change in consumption of Japanese pop culture.

Results
In order to assess the perception of Japan as a nation state, the survey asked respondents
to describe their impression of Japan as a nation state on an ordinal scale (very negative,
negative, positive, very positive). Most respondents fell in the middle two options of positive
or negative, with negative impressions slightly more than positive impressions. The results
can be seen in Graph 2.

Graph 2. Perceptions of Japan.
The independent variable of consumption of Japanese pop culture was measured on
an interval scale. Respondents were asked to choose a range of average hours per week
they spent on the consumption of Japanese pop culture products. The results are plotted
on Graph 3.

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Graph 3. Consumption of Japanese pop culture products

Statistical Analysis
Bivariate Analysis
Before running the regression model, the author looked at the relationship between the
dependent variable of perceptions of Japan as a nation state, the independent variable, and
the confounding variables to see which variables were significant in explaining the perceptions of Japan as a nation state and should be included in the model for regression analysis.
The results can be seen in Table 2.

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Table 2. Bivariate Analysis for the perceptions of Japan.
Variables
N
Negative
Positive
(n=189)
(n=179)
Total responses
368
51.36
48.64

Consumption
of Japanese pop
culture

0.0002

No time at

51

90.2

9.8

0-2 hours

125

60.8

39.2

2-5 hours

105

40

60

5-10 hours

50

34

66

Above 10
hours

37

21.62

78.38

Age in years
(Mean, (SD))

368

31.22 (6.79)

29.99 (5.96)

all

Education

Postgraduate
degree
Urbanicity

0.0681

0.7992

High School
or below
Assoc./
Bachelor
degree

p-value*

12

58.34

41.67

323

51.39

48.61

33

48.48

51.51

0.0002

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Rural

131

65.65

34.35

Urban

237

43.46

56.54

Traveled to
Japan before or
not

0.0002

No

235

62.55

37.45

Yes

133

31.58

68.42

Know/Have
met a Japanese
person

0.0002

No

134

71.64

28.36

Yes

234

39.74

60.26

Impression of
Japanese pop
culture
Very
Negative
Negative
Positive
Very
Positive
Media
Consumption
No time
at all
0-2 hours

0.0002

13

100

0

53

94.34

5.66

266

45.86

54.14

36

11.11

88.89

0.5532
4

100

0

32

56.25

43.75

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2-5 hours

58

51.72

48.28

5-10 hours

62

53.23

46.77

10-15 hours

66

53.03

46.97

15-20 hours

50

48

52

Above 20
hours

96

46.88

53.12

Attention
to news/
Knowledge of
current affairs
Do not pay
attention
Once a
month
Once every
2 weeks
Once a
week
Once every
2-3 days
Once a day

0.5422

1

100

0

3

100

0

4

50

50

17

58.82

41.18

73

47.95

52.05

270

51.11

48.89

* p-values corresponding to the Chi-square test
1
p-value corresponding to the t-test
2
p-value corresponding to the Fisher’s exact test
As seen in the table, a significantly larger proportion of respondents who spent less
time consuming Japanese pop culture had negative perceptions of Japan as a nation state.
That proportion decreased with the increase in time spent on consumption of Japanese pop
culture. The more hours a respondent spent on consuming Japanese pop culture, the more
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likely he or she had positive perceptions of Japan as a nation state. There is also strong statistical significance with the p-value of .000.
Next the confounding variables were examined and it was determined which were statistically significant in explaining the perceptions of Japan as a nation state and should be
included in the model for further regression analysis. There was strong significance for
the confounding variables urbanicity, traveled to Japan before or not, knows or has met a
Japanese person, and impression of Japanese pop culture. There is also significance at the
10% level for age. These variables were included in the final model.

Logistic Regression Analysis
The logistic regression for perceptions of Japan on consumption of Japanese pop culture
and the significant confounding variables was ran. The results are summarized in Table 3.
Table 3. Logistic regression for perception of Japan on consumption of Japanese pop culture and
significant confounding variables.
Standard
Variable
Odds Ratio
Coefficient
z
P>|z|
Error
Consumption
1.611
0.477
0.127
3.74*
0
of Japanese
pop culture
Age
0.994
-0.006
0.022
-0.28
0.782
Urbanicity
1.87
0.626
0.272
2.30**
0.021
Traveled to
2.182
0.78
0.313
2.50**
0.013
Japan before
Know a
1.698
0.53
0.313
1.69*
0.091
Japanese
person
Impression of
11.278
2.423
0.415
5.83**
0
Japanese pop
culture
Constant
0
-8.821
1.502
-5.87**
0
* significant at p<0.10 level
**significant at p<0.05 level
(1) The model itself is significant with p-value = .000
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The predictor variable, consumption of Japanese pop culture, is shown to be very significant to the model as it has a p-value of .000.The odds ratio is also greater than one at
1.611, signaling that it has a positive association with the dependent variable of perceptions
of Japan as a nation state. People with higher consumptions of Japanese pop culture will
likely have positive perceptions of Japan.
Age is surprisingly found to be insignificant with a high p-value of .782. It also does
not have associations with the dependent variable since the odds ratio is greater than one
at .994, suggesting that it does not have any effect on the changes in perceptions of Japan as
a nation state.
For the other confounding variables, all are found to be significant to the model and
have positive associations with perceptions of Japan as a nation state. Urbanicity is found to
be significant at the 5% level with a p-value of .021. It has an odds ratio greater than one at
1.870, which means it has good association with the dependent variable. People from urban
provinces are more likely to have positive perceptions of Japan.
Whether the respondent has traveled to Japan before is also significant at the 5% level
with a p-value of .013. The odds ratio is 2.182; hence there is a strong association between
this and perceptions of Japan. People who have traveled to Japan are more likely to have
positive perceptions of Japan.
Whether the respondent knows a Japanese person or not is not significant at the 5%
level, but significant at the 10% level with a p-value of .091. Nevertheless, the odds ratio of
1.698 is greater than one, showing good association with perceptions of Japan. People who
know a Japanese person are more likely to have positive perceptions of Japan.
Finally, the impression of Japanese pop culture is not only significant with a p-value at
.000, but it also has the strongest association with perceptions of Japan of all the variables,
with an odds ratio at 11.278. People who have positive impressions of Japanese pop culture
are very likely to have positive perceptions of Japan.

Predicted Probability of Positive Perception
In order to see the effect of the predictor variable on the dependent variable (i.e. consumption of Japanese pop culture on perceptions of Japan as a nation state), one can look
at the different predicted values for the dependent variable and how it varies with change in
the predictor variable. All significant confounding variables were kept constant to minimize
interference and omitted variable bias, which might skew the results. It was recommended
that the confounding variable be set to its mean values for control. The results are presented
in Graph 4.

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Graph 4. Changes in probability of positive perceptions of Japan
As shown clearly on the graph, the probability of having positive perceptions of Japan
as a nation state increases steadily with the increase in consumption of Japanese pop culture.
For people who do not consume Japanese pop culture at all, there is only a 27% chance that
they will have positive perceptions of Japan. Meanwhile, those who consume Japanese pop
culture over 20 hours per week have an 85% chance of having positive perceptions of Japan.

Interpretation of Results
The results supported the hypothesis, with the model itself having strong significance.
With all variables held constant, people who consume more Japanese culture tend to be
more likely to have positive perceptions of Japan as a nation state. Some confounding variables will affect this. In general, people who are from urban provinces, have traveled to Japan
before, know a Japanese person or have a good impression of Japanese pop culture tend to
have positive perceptions about Japan.
It was surprising that some of the proposed confounding variables do not significantly
explain perceptions of Japan. In particular, the insignificance of the age variable contradicts
the perception that younger people generally consume more pop culture. It also differs from
Harris’ study, which showed strong significance in age in affecting perceptions.42 The difference in outcomes could be an inherent result of the online survey method. This method is
42 

Harris, “Ambassador Doraemon,” 2012.

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Leila Y. Wang

potentially biased towards younger respondents who are likely to be more computer literate. Of the 368 respondents to the survey, 41 were in the 18-24 age group, 255 were in the
25-34 age group, 56 were in the 35-44 age group, 15 were in the 45-54 age group and only
one person was above 54 years old. Hence, the results are heavily concentrated in the 25-34
age group, making it difficult to illustrate clear variations.
Another surprising result was media consumption, which was not only insignificant,
but there were no patterns that showed that higher media consumption would more likely
result in positive perceptions. This may be because the media is all-encompassing of not just
pop culture, but also things like news sources, traditional culture, and education. It became
difficult to establish any patterns unless it was known exactly what type of media content
each respondent consumed.
Knowledge of current affairs is not a significant explanatory variable for perceptions,
and there is no pattern supporting the predicted effect that more knowledge will more likely
lead to positive perceptions. This may be because media is tightly controlled and mostly
state-owned in China; hence the citizens may not be getting a balanced and fair breakdown
of current affairs. Furthermore, this question was subjective, as it required the respondents
to judge their own attention to news. There may be a social desirability bias, as respondents
may have wished to appear well-informed and in touch with current events. Therefore, the
results may be inflated. This can be circumvented in the future with additional questions or
tests to gauge the respondents’ real knowledge of current affairs.
The results may be surprising considering how Sino-Japanese relations have deteriorated over the last few years. A possible explanation is that consumption of pop culture increases probability of positive perceptions, but its positive effects cannot mitigate all of the
hostilities arising from other events. In addition, random events may occur that can cause
sudden short-term spikes in negative feelings. For example, since Japan’s nationalization of
the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in late 2012, the unfavorable ratings in China spiked in 2013
(Graph 1).43 The high unfavorable ratings had continued into 2014 after Prime Minister
Shinzo Abe visited the controversial Yasukuni Shrine in December 2013, the first high profile visit since 2005.44 In such cases, the soft power effects of Japanese pop culture may be
overshadowed by the high-running tensions between the two countries.

Limitations
There are some limitations to this study, which may hinder or bias the results. First, as
with most statistical analysis, this model only proves association; it does not prove causation.
43  Ryall, “Japan agrees to buy disputed Senkaku islands.”
44  Kyodo News Agency, “Abe Cabinet says deal with China preventing Yasukuni visit ‘does not exist.’” The Japan Times,
November 5, 2014.

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The model does not tell whether it is really the independent variable that drives the change
in the dependent variable and not another omitted variable. While several confounding
variables were included in the analysis to reduce the omitted variable bias, there is no way of
telling whether there are other significant confounding variables except by including them
in the analysis. Therefore, the results are bounded by the current progress of research in this
field and other knowledge that informs us of further confounding variables.
There is also the possibility that the independent variable and dependent variable suffer
from an endogeneity problem. People may start consuming more Japanese pop culture due
to already-present positive perceptions about Japan. More advanced research can compensate for this factor, although it does not reject the hypothesis that higher consumption of
Japanese pop culture results in a high probability of positive perceptions. There is still a
problem of determining whether the relationship between the two variables is cyclical.
The limitation with online surveys is that the sample collected may not entirely represent the population. The respondents needed access to the Internet, which decreased the
number of potential respondents. Furthermore, the populations of people who most frequently use the Internet tend to be young, and the sample may be skewed towards younger
populations.
The effects of this limitation are mitigated by the fact that pop culture diplomacy is targeted towards the younger audiences.45 Since the government is trying to instill a positive
image of Japan in the minds of the younger generations, it may not be worthwhile to look
at the effect of pop culture diplomacy on the older generations.
Another limitation is the cross-sectional nature of this study. The survey measured the
consumption and perceptions at one point in time. The survey may not take into account
how the two variables can change over time or consider the effect of significant events, such
as Japan’s nationalization of the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in 2012. Results taken during different times may be vastly different due to surrounding circumstances.
Longitudinal data from surveys performed over a period of time may be more desirable in this case. However, timing prevents the collection of substantive longitudinal data.
This may go away eventually if there is more time and resources for project expansion in the
future combined with long-term data collection.

Conclusion
This study described the relationship between increased consumption of Japanese pop
culture and increased probability of positive perception of Japan among the Chinese. This
conclusion was observed even with hostile relations between the two countries. The results
show that the soft power effects of pop culture have tangible effects on perceptions.
45 

MOFA, “Pop-culture Diplomacy.”

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Leila Y. Wang

This study only tests the casual effects of consumption of Japanese pop culture on foreign perceptions. Further research will test for the actual causal mechanisms in place which
link increased consumption of Japanese pop culture to the increased probability of positive
perceptions. This will be useful in explaining exactly how consumption of pop culture helps
increase the probability of positive perceptions.
More research will discover whether perceptions actually have an impact on political
decision-making. Soft power effects by themselves are not enough to justify the tool’s usefulness as a political or diplomatic tool. Future research can be done to prove a relationship
between perception and government-level outcomes.
Pop culture is difficult to directly manipulate because it is usually consumed and enjoyed by people. Even if the Japanese government poured resources into trying to spread
its pop culture, it may not always directly lead to increased consumption. In order to fully
examine the Japanese government’s pop culture diplomacy and its effectiveness, studies will
have to be conducted that explain the current use of pop culture diplomacy funds and the
resulting effects. This will provide an idea of which policy measures work best.
The unanswered questions should not deter the Japanese government from continuing
its pop culture diplomacy. Even without definitive evidence to justify pop culture’s usefulness as a soft power tool, the Chinese market remains lucrative for Japanese pop culture
exports. The presence of a large underground market for Japanese pop culture products in
China also affirms the high demand for Japanese products in China. The demand is already
in place, the Japanese government does not have to put in extra resources to create demand.
The Japanese can ride on high demand to continue “attracting” Chinese people and try to
instill good images of Japan in their minds.
It is also important for the Japanese government to evaluate their other policies towards
China. Some scholars have noted the ongoing issues of historic and territorial disputes as
sources of high tension, negating any positive relations achieved via other means (e.g. pop
culture diplomacy). Japan will have to pair pop culture diplomacy with other appropriate
foreign policy actions in order to build good relations with China and other neighboring
countries.
The Japanese government continues to strengthen its cultural diplomacy towards
China. Japan established the China Center in 2006 to facilitate exchanges among Chinese
and Japanese youth46 and invite pop culture enthusiasts to participate in events and annual
conventions in Japan.47 More recently, the newly launched Cool Japan Fund announced
that it will be investing 50 billion yen48 into a Chinese project that includes a department
46 
47 
48 

The Japan Foundation. “Arts and Culture Exchange.” Japan Foundation Worldwide. (2009/2010).
MOFA. “World Cosplay Summit.” mofa.go.jp.
Jiji, “Cool Japan Fund aids sales in China.” The Japan Times, April 25, 2014.

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store selling Japanese products.49 This will be one of the largest pop culture diplomacy investments Japan has ever made, and it takes up almost the entire Cool Japan Fund budget.
The younger generation is the target markets of most pop culture products. With technology advancing at a rapid rate and the world becoming more open, Chinese youth will
become more aware and more exposed to information and foreign imports that include
Japanese pop culture. The younger generation will be more affected compared with previous
generations, and it may grow as they take on positions of power and influence. With Japan’s
pop culture diplomacy just taking off and gaining traction, the full potential of pop culture
as a soft power tool will be realized.

49 

Junko Fujita, “Japan Is Cool Again, According To Japan’s New ‘Cool Japan Fund.’” Business Insider, November 24, 2013.

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Harris, Richard. “Ambassador Doraemon: Japan’s Pop Culture Diplomacy in China and
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Kyodo News Agency. “Abe Cabinet says deal with China preventing Yasukuni visit ‘does not
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National Identity and the Crisis of Democracy
In the Arab Middle East
Hagop Toghramadjian

Introduction
Since the “third wave” of democratization at the end of the 20th century, the Arab nations of the Middle East have become increasingly anomalous islands of autocratic regimes.
This aberration has drawn renewed attention to the failure of the Arab Spring to usher in
a democratic “fourth wave.” Critics now examine the Middle East’s religious, economic,
and political history for explanations of the region’s continued resistance to liberal forms of
governance.1 While some have hastened to blame Islam for this resistance, Alfred Stepan’s
2003 article, “An Arab More Than a Muslim Democracy Gap,” demonstrates that the failure
of democracy is a distinctly Arab malady. As of 2003, “Sixteen Arab countries form[ed] the
largest single readily identifiable group among all those states that ‘underachieve’…when it
comes to the holding of competitive elections.”2 In dramatic contrast to their dismal record
stood the “thirty-one Muslim-majority but non-Arab countries, which in fact form[ed] the
single largest bloc of all those countries that ‘greatly overachieve’” under the same metric.3
Nearly four years after the Arab Spring, Stepan’s analysis remains relevant: only Tunisia
has democratized, while violence and renewed autocracy plague Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and
Syria.
A variety of factors deserve blame for the Arab world’s inability to democratize; the
oil curse, for example, is a well-documented force for autocracy.4 While acknowledging the
relevance of oil, this paper argues that the Arabic-speaking states have failed to nurture their
authentic national identities and that this failure is a central reason for the “democracy gap.”
In this paper’s assessment, pan-Arabism and Islamist fundamentalism—two different but
surprisingly interrelated movements—have combined to undermine state-based nationalism. Without establishing their unique national identities, states lack legitimacy and must
use force to survive, entrapping themselves in vicious cycles of “zero sum” politics that
shut out democratic voices. This hypothesis is examined here in relation to non-monarchical
1  For example, see Eric Chaney’s “Democratic Change in the Arab World, Past and Present,” Brookings Papers on Economic
Activity, 2012; 42(1), 363-414.
2  Alfred Stepan, “An ‘Arab’ More Than a “Muslim” Democracy Gap.” Journal of Democracy 14, no. 3 (2003), 30.
3  Ibid.
4  See Fareed Zakaria, The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad, (New York, W.W. Norton, 2003);
Michael Ross, “Will Oil Drown The Arab Spring?” Foreign Affairs September/October 2011; and Seth Jacobs, “The Mirage of the
Arab Spring,” Foreign Affairs, January/February 2013.

Hagop Toghramadjian is sophomore at Boston College majoring in Political
Science and minoring in Arabic Studies.

National Identity and the Crisis of Democracy

51

Arab countries, particularly Syria, Iraq and Egypt. This paper will consider the cases of
Lebanon and Tunisia, the two Arab states that chose to resist pan-Arabism and assert their
own unique national identities. The Lebanese and Tunisians have managed to constrain
Islamism and move closer to democracy compared to any other country in the Arab world.

State-Based Nationalism: A Potent Force for Democracy

The argument that nationalism and democracy support one another strikes most
Westerners as counterintuitive. This is especially true in Europe, where nationalism, a
major instigator of two world wars, is widely regarded with wary skepticism. However,
as European nations increasingly cede their sovereignty to Brussels, some thinkers have
pushed back, including French political philosopher Pierre Manent. In his both passionate
and nuanced defense of national identity, Manent argues that Europe’s liberalism depends
on the maintenance of the nation-state. As he sees it, the nation’s unique ability to strike
“the middle ground between the puny and the immense, the petty and the limitless” makes
it the only political arrangement capable of giving “flesh to the democratic abstractions of
the sovereignty of the people.”5 While an empire has the ability to create order and force
stability, a principality has the ability to harness its citizen’s wishes for democracy. Only a
nation-state can do both.6
Though Manent considers himself a pupil of Ernest Renan, the liberal national theorist par excellence, he also suggests that Renan’s philosophy overemphasized the “state”
aspect of a “nation-state,” undervaluing the linguistic, cultural, and historical ties that bind
a nation together and prepare it for democracy.7 These pre-democratic ties are the central
subject of Georgian political theorist Ghia Nodia’s well-known 1992 essay, “Nationalism
and Democracy.” According to Nodia’s thesis, while “the idea of nationhood is political…
its substance is irreducibly ethnic. The relationship may be expressed as a political soul animating an ethnic body.”8 NYU legal scholar Steven Menashi agrees, arguing that a distinctive, self-conscious culture was a necessary prerequisite even for “civic” democracies like
Britain and France. “The national identities of the [Western] European states,” he writes,
“were not incidental to liberal democracy; the latter depended on the former. The nationstate’s legitimacy rested on its commitment to the national culture.”9 Nodia and Menashi
do not contend that nations must be ethnically homogenous—though homogeneity does
5  Pierre Manent, Democracy without Nations?: The Fate of Self-Government in Europe, (Wilmington, Del.: ISI Books, 2007), 74,
103.
6  It should be noted that Manent’s view is not universally accepted. For example, Elie Kedourie, the great Iraqi-born British
political scientist, offered a significantly less sympathetic perspective of the nation in his book Nationalism (1960).
7  Ibid., 88.
8  Ghia Nodia. “Nationalism and Democracy.” Journal of Democracy 3, no. 4, (1992), 14-15.
9  Steven Menashi, “Ethnonationalism and Liberal Democracy,” University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Law. 32, no.
1 (2010), 57.

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generally strengthen democratic institutions. Rather, the two thinkers emphasize that nations
and their ideologies cannot simply be invented; they must be based on a genuine cultural
substrate.
Of the causal links Manent, Nodia, and Menashi draw between nationalism and democracy, no one is more important than the concept of trust. Because democratic systems unleash
forceful disputes between rival political actors, it is vital that the actors are bound together by
a basic level of good faith. As British philosopher Roger Scruton puts it, “Democracies owe
their existence to…the loyalties that are supposedly shared by government and opposition, by
all political parties, and by the electorate as a whole.”10 If strong mutual reference points are
absent, then compromise is impossible, and democracy will rapidly disintegrate. According
to Scruton’s estimation, not only is national identity the source of these reference points, it is
also the sole form of human association strong enough to provide them. As a result, “wherever
the experience of nationality is weak or non-existent, democracy has failed to take root.”11

The Arab Experience: Pan-Arabism Separates the Nation from the State

For the first several decades after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Arab states appeared to
be well on their way to constructing distinctive national identities. From Cairo to Damascus
to Beirut, wataniya (local, state-centered nationalism) inspired vibrant movements that began
to flourish. By the 1930s, wataniya rapidly replaced tribal and sectarian identities as Middle
Easterners’ primary means of self-identification, providing the most organic and historicallyrooted outlet for their national aspirations. As political scientist Adeed Dawisha makes clear
in his authoritative history of Arab nationalism, this was especially true in Syria and Egypt. In
the case of the former, Dawisha describes “the rise of a specifically local Syrian nationalism,”
which gained a wide following among that state’s “educated urban population, particularly the
youth.”12 While a few smaller groups pushed for pan-Arab unity, Syrian nationalists explicitly
rejected these overtures and argued that “any identification with Arab nationalism…was a
surrender of Syria’s uniqueness and an acceptance by its gifted people of an inferior status.”13
Meanwhile in Egypt, the movement toward wataniya was even more decisive; as a group with
a history of self-rule and strong cultural identity, Egyptians overwhelmingly united behind
their own unique national identity.14 Indeed, to an even greater extent than the Syrian nationalists, Egypt’s “literary giants” made clear that their unique heritage was Western-oriented
10  Roger Scruton, The Need for Nations, (London: Civitas, 2004), 1.
11  Ibid.
12  Adeed Dawisha, Arab Nationalism in the Twentieth Century: From Triumph to Despair, (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University
Press, 2003), 97.
13  Ibid. It should be noted that “Syrian” nationalism was originally proposed by Christians in what would become Lebanon;
“Lebanese” and “Syrian” nationalisms were intertwined, and, in some cases, mirror images of one another.
14  Ibid., 99.

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and non-Arab.15 This staunch stance deeply frustrated the leaders of the Arabist camp, who
felt that Egypt, the largest and most modernized of the Arab countries, “should have taken
the helm of the Arab nationalist march.” However, from the 1920s to the 1940s, it was simply
“not willing to assume that role.”16
The experiences of Syria and Egypt reflected a broader pattern in the Middle East. Wouldbe leaders of an “Arab nation” were consistently frustrated and were met by groundswells
of localized nationalism in every state they sought to influence—even in internally divided,
newly cobbled-together polities such as Iraq.17 As American-Israeli political scientist Martin
Kramer writes, “Faced with masses of people who had not chosen to be Arabs, the Arab nationalists developed a doctrine that denied them any other choice.”18 Yemeni-born educator
and prominent pan-Arabism’s ideologue, Sati’ al-Husri, provided this simple doctrine: “Every
person who speaks Arabic is an Arab.”19 Husri understood this premise would not originally
draw much support; after all, writes Dawisha, he knew the “Arab dialects were so varied as
to make nonsense of the notion of linguistic unity.”20 However, immediate support did not
matter: if Arab nationalists could manage to “teach [objectors] the truth” or “work to limit
[their] selfishness,” opposition would rapidly dissipate.21 Husri’s vague prescriptions deliberately opened the door to a range of totalitarian tactics, including educational indoctrination
and denigration of Arabic’s demotic forms. In essence, the success of Arab nationalism would
depend on splitting people from their real roots, replacing their historical memories with a
manufactured Arabist narrative.
By the 1950s, educational indoctrination, widespread anti-Western sentiment, and increasing sympathy for Arabic-speaking Palestinians had combined to make the Middle East significantly more receptive to Husri’s ideas.22 The groundwork was laid for a decisive turning
point, which came in 1954 with Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser’s decision to reverse
his country’s traditional position toward Arab nationalism. Suddenly, the Middle East’s most
eloquent leader became a major proponent of Arab unity. Due to the influential Egyptian
media and his opportune historical timing, Nasser was able to rally a generation of supporters
to his cause. The ensuing acceptance of “Nasserism”—based as it was on Husri’s explicitly
15  Ibid.,100. See, for example, Tawfiq al-Hakim’s Return of the Spirit, in addition to the works of Lewis Awad, Salama Moussa, and
Ahmad Lutf al-Sayyid.
16  Ibid., 76.
17  Orit Bashkin, The Other Iraq: Pluralism and Culture in Hashemite Iraq, (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2009), 128.
18  Martin Kramer, “Arab Nationalism: Mistaken Identity,” Daedalus 122, no. 3 (1993), 180.
19  Translation by Dawisha, Arab Nationalism in the Twentieth Century: From Triumph to Despair, (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton
University Press, 2003), 72.
20  Ibid., 67.
21  Ibid.
22  An example of indoctrination’s success was Husri’s tenure as Iraq’s Education Minister, during which “doctored history…was
the prime agent in the socialization of Iraqi citizens to Arab nationalist culture” See Dawisha, Arab Nationalism in the Twentieth
Century, 78.

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authoritarian ideology—had immediate consequences for democracy across the region. In
Syria, supporters of wataniya and liberalism were cleared aside by the 1958 union with
Egypt, which “dealt a mortal blow to political pluralism, opening the way to decades of
Ba’athist dictatorship.”23 Syria was not alone: within a decade, Arabist military dictators
had also swept to power in Iraq, Yemen, Algeria, Libya, and Sudan. Reflecting on this sequence of events in his book The Second Arab Awakening, Adeed Dawisha writes,

Revolutionary nationalism…operated in a sea of authoritarianism throughout its glory
days not because of some unfortunate circumstance. Indeed, it was the way that Arab
nationalism was defined that was to blame, if not wholly then at least partially, for the
absence of democracy.24
While Husri’s violent rhetoric slowly gained popularity, it proved to be a decisive force
for the de-liberalization of politics whenever and wherever it was adopted.
The rise of Arabism had implications far beyond the popularization of authoritarian political tactics, however. By defining the nation as all Arabic speakers, Husri’s ideology delegitimized any notion of wataniya. States like Egypt, Syria, and Iraq could no longer refer
to themselves as nations; their borders, which had previously enclosed distinctive groups,
were now merely arbitrary lines in the sand. The devaluation of the nation-state was compounded by pan-Arabist linguistic polices, which placed a renewed emphasis on Modern
Standard Arabic (MSA) over locally spoken forms of the language.25 In his essay “Standard
Arabs,” political scientist Tristan Mabry explains that this emphasis “[retarded] the growth
of separate ethno linguistic identities and stymied the emergence of distinct ethno national
communities that claim sovereignty over a titular and unique nation-state.”26 In other words,
by insisting that all Arabs were ethnically and linguistically homogenous, Arab nationalist
states ceased to represent their own citizens who were ethnically and linguistically unique.
After all, it is difficult to define a “Standard Arab;” linguistic Arab nationalism represents
the aspirations of a nonexistent people. Consequentially, the Arabist movement’s suppression of wataniya and support for “Arab nationalism” removed true nationalism from the
political sphere.
In accordance with Manent, Nodia, Menashi, and Scruton’s theories, the sudden
banishment of real nationalism had a deleterious effect on the Arab world’s long-term
23  William Harris, “The Crisis of Democracy in Twentieth-Century Syria and Lebanon,” In Challenges to Democracy in the
Middle East. Princeton, N.J.: Department of Near Eastern Studies, Princeton University, 1997, 6.
24  Adeed Dawisha, The Second Arab Awakening: Revolution, Democracy, and the Islamist Challenge from Tunis to Damascus,
(New York: Norton, 2013), 68.
25  MSA is not natively spoken in any part of the world and can only be acquired through education.
26  Tristan Mabry, “Arab Di-Nationalism,” The Levantine Review 2, no. 1 (2013), 46.

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democratic development. The state’s attempt to live apart from any legitimate national body
meant that it could derive no strength from its citizens with the absence of wataniya. Arab
authoritarians were obliged to instead “rely on centralized and authoritarian [structures] to
stay in power.”27 This remained true even after the “setbacks” of 1967. While Arabist ideology had lost its messianic appeal, it nevertheless remained strong enough to prevent states
from searching for legitimacy in their national roots. Thus, while most of the post-1967
“Arab Republics” asserted a degree of individuality, none of them, according to political
scientist Joseph Kostiner, went “so far as to equate the importance of their distinct territorial qualities with that of pan-Arab unity…and they certainly did not dare sever their ties
with Arabism.”28 As a result, “the search for a distinct identity was left in a state of suspended animation,” and “the level of state specific nationalism [remained] a far cry from
the European model.”29 Absent the trust provided by wataniya, it is less surprising that the
Arabist states became steadily more oppressive from the 1970s to the 2000s.

The Islamist Wave: Putting Democracy Between a Rock And a Hard Place

From the beginning, Arab nationalist regimes—dependent on isolating people from
their national roots—could not tolerate political dissent. This became increasingly true
after the failures of 1967, prompting the delegitimized Arabist dictators to accelerate their
consolidation of what political scientist Daniel Brumberg calls “harmonic states.”30 Such
states “attempt to create unity or its appearance through repression, oppression, cooptation,
or distraction”—an enticing proposal that eventually became a trap, creating “a unipolar
field that can easily become a place for deadly games of ‘winner takes all’ between rulers
and their opponents.”31 Every Arab nationalist regime followed this pattern and attempted
to eliminate all forms of ideological diversity. There was, of course, one exception: statebased despots, who, knowing they couldn’t eradicate Islam, sought to co-opt its dynamism.
Describing Egypt’s archetypical example, political Islam expert Mohammed Ayoob notes,
“An unwritten compact with the regime [allowed] the religious establishment…free rein
as far as cultural and religious matters [were] concerned in return for its acquiescence into
the state’s near total control of the political and economic spheres.”32 While the regime succeeded in buying “political sterility,” it came “at the cost of cultural and social conservatism
27  Ibid., 51.
28  Joseph Kostiner, “Solidarity in the Arab State—an Historical Perspective,” In Challenges to the Cohesion of the Arab State,
(Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University, 2008), 33.
29  Ibid.
30  Daniel Brumberg, “Islamists and the Politics of Consensus,” Journal of Democracy 13, no. 3 (2002), 113.
31  Ibid.
32  Mohammed Ayoob, The Many Faces of Political Islam: Religion and Politics in the Muslim World, (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2008), 85.

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and de facto censorship of views that [ran] counter to those of the religious establishment.”33
This ultimately led to “the increasing Islamization of society,” which “created fertile ground
for the propagation of Islamist political views.”34
As the only opposition in the Arabist states, Islamism attracted a diverse range of supporters, including many groups that had not traditionally aligned themselves with religion.
According to political scientist Bassam Tibi, “since the Iranian revolution, many secularist Arab intellectuals have shifted away from Arab nationalism and in many cases even
from Marxism as they have rediscovered Islam as a political ideology of opposition.”35
This influx has dramatically increased the power of Islamist groups—most of which explicitly reject both the nation-state and democracy.36 The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood,
for example, brands these two ideas as Western innovations and dismisses them outright.37
Indeed, as Arabism lost force, the Muslim Brotherhood has entered into the wataniya-denying space it constructed, becoming the primary group to undermine Egypt’s state-based
national identity. Economist Hafez Ghanem is one of many who have come to identify the
Brotherhood as such, succinctly asserting, “Political Islam could be considered the antithesis of Egyptian nationalism.”38 In 2006, the Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual leader said
“Tuz fi Misr”—“to hell with Egypt,”39 only to underscore Ghanem’s assertions. This leads
to greater implications: Islamism’s rise has allowed one powerful anti-nation-state’s ideology to take the place of another.
Islamism serves the political benefit of many regimes by helping silence the advocates of liberalism.40 As radicals accumulate power, however, their “absolute denial of the
legitimacy of the existing regimes” inevitably sets off violent conflict with Arabist and exArabist autocrats. 41 Though their enemies are fighting one another, liberals continue to be
undermined by the development of Islamism. Unable to fall back on shared wataniya, they
have little in common even with moderate Islamists and are forced into reluctant alliances
33  Ibid.
34  Ibid.
35  Bassam Tibi, Arab Nationalism: Between Islam and the Nation-State, Third Edition, (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997),
229.
36  “Islamism rejects the modern order of a nation-state. It views it as an imposition on the Islamicate and envisions its replacement by the shari’a state. In the footsteps of the late Qutb, the leading Egyptian Islamist of today, the Muslim Brother Yusuf
Qaradawi, regarded as Qutb’s heir, addresses the issue by rejecting nation-building altogether. In his three-volume Hatmiyyat alHall al-Islami/The Islamic Solution, Qaradawi dismisses wholesale any adaptation or adoption based on cultural borrowing from
Western civilization. At the top of the list of these rejections are democracy and the nation-state.” Bassam Tibi, The Shari’a State:
Arab Spring and Democratization. New York: Routledge, 2013, 104.
37  Ibid.
38  Hafez Ghanem, “Egypt’s Difficult Transition,” The Brookings Institution, Working Paper 66, January 2014.
39  Shibley Telhami, “Egypt’s Identity Crisis,” The Washington Post, 16 August 2013
40  Matti Steinberg, “Anarchical Order in the Arab World.” In Challenges to the Cohesion of the Arab State, (Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv
University, 2008), 50.
41  Ibid., 28, 36.

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with police states. Fear of Islamist victories has produced what Daniel Brumberg calls
“‘autocracy with democrats,’ as key groups that might choose democracy absent an Islamist
threat now actively support or at least tolerate autocrats.”42 This narrative has largely characterized the course of the Arab Spring and prevented the democratic flowering in states
where national identity fails to foster trust between Islamists and democrats.43

Democratic Exceptions

In the sea of autocracy that has characterized the Arab Middle East, the nations of
Tunisia and Lebanon provide provide rare insight into successful Middle Eastern democracies. At first glance, Tunisia and Lebanon do not appear to have much in common: the
former is almost uniformly Sunni Muslim and had been persistently autocratic since its
independence, whereas the latter is religiously diverse and holds the longest democratic tradition in the Middle East. However, beneath the surface, Tunisia and Lebanon have charted
similar post-independence paths, rejecting Arabism in exchange for more organic national
identities. Lebanon and Tunisia have cultivated multilingual, Mediterranean-oriented characters that have provided a tolerant and pluralistic foundation on which to build national
politics. The two states have experienced shared difficulties, but in the twenty-first century,
their regimes are the most liberal and democratic in the region, offering a salutary example
to the entire Middle East.
The success of the Lebanese and Tunisians is not a function of the fact that they have
distinct national identities—as was discussed earlier, nearly every state in the Middle East
was in the process of developing and institutionalizing an organic wataniya by the 1930s.
Rather, what has set Tunisia and Lebanon apart is their ability to nurture their national identities despite the challenges posed by Arabism. By emphasizing their authentic and unique
roots, the two nations have increased internal cohesion and cultivated the trust necessary
for a flourishing democracy.
In Tunisia, fidelity to authentic national identity was largely the product of the long
post-independence rule of Habib Bourguiba. During his energetic, charismatic and longtenured rule, Bourguiba worked to construct what Tunisian experts Larissa Chomiak and
John Entelis call “a nationalist project that would resonate among Tunisia’s early independent nation and instill each citizen with a new sense of ‘nation-ness.’”44 Bourguiba’s
path was audaciously unique; according to eminent journalist Georgie Anne Geyer, “His

42  Ibid., 30, 112.
43  Egypt and Syria are clear examples of this pattern. Algeria went through the same process in the 1990s.
44  Larissa Chomiak and John P. Entelis, “Contesting Order in Tunisa: Crafting Political Identity” In Civil Society and Activism
Under Authoritarian Rule, (New York: Routledge 2013), 82.

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policies were directly designed to root Tunisians in their own, real and distinguished
identity.”45 Bourguiba’s emphasis on Tunisia’s distinctiveness took care to avoid undermining the accuracy and authenticity of the nation’s self-image. Princeton Tunisia expert L.
Carl Brown emphasizes that the most essential characteristic of Bourguibism was to “avoid
self-deception.”46 Such a commitment to honesty signaled the importance they placed on
accurate historical memory within the burgeoning Tunisian nationalist movement.
Bourguiba frequently articulated his distinctive approach to the role of memory in
modern Tunisia. “In order to set national sentiment on firm foundations,” he argued, “we
must also give the people a full picture of their past.”47 This policy, which continued even
more enthusiastically under Bourguiba’s successor Ben-Ali, meant that great attention was
paid to both Tunisia’s Islamic and non-Islamic roots. As Geyer summarizes, Tunisia saw
“a conscious and deliberate process…of reaching back into the multiple and richly layered
cultural heritage of the country—Berber, Carthaginian, Roman, Arab-Muslim, Moorish,
Djerban-Jewish, French, Italian, and Spanish.”48 Bourguiba’s remarkably pluralistic vision
of the nation’s history was integrated into everyday life through a variety of cultural and
social initiatives, the most important of which were national educational policies. Geyer
writes that Tunisia “revived its education system by bringing back the country’s rich but
long forgotten pre-Islamic past;” in this effort, “the key identifying words were modernity,
identity and authenticity.”49 Tunisia’s determination to connect with its national roots set
it apart from its neighbors on multiple fronts. One of these, argues Arabic language expert
Yasir Suleiman, was that “a positive association [was] set up between the identity of Tunisia
as a modern nation state and its dialect, called tunsi locally.”50 Unlike the Arabist states
analyzed by Tristan Mabry in his essay “Standard Arabs,” Tunisia pursued a type of nationalism that incorporated the population’s natively spoken language, allowing them to avoid
the alienating pitfalls of MSA-focused state policy.
Ultimately, the Tunisian divergence from the Arabist path extended from historical and
linguistic questions to major political disagreements. Bourguiba angered many of his of
his Arabist neighbors, notably Egypt’s Nasser, who worked constantly to undermine both
Bourguiba and his vision for Tunisian identity. Nevertheless, Tunisia’s leaders steadfastly
45  Georgie Anne Geyer, Tunisia: A Journey through a Country That Works, (London: Stacey International, 2003), 145. This is a
richly detailed and convincingly argued work, though Geyer is perhaps too enthusiastic in her justification of the Ben-Ali regime,
which grew increasingly repressive and corrupt before being overthrown in 2011.
46  Carl L. Brown, “Bourguiba and Bourguibism Revisited: Reflections and Interpretation,” Middle East Journal, no. 1 (2001),
53.
47  Geyer, Tunisia: A Journey through a Country That Works, 130.
48  Ibid., 128.
49  Ibid., 131.
50  Yasir Suleiman, Language and Identity in the Middle East and North Africa, (Richmond, Surrey: Curzon, 1996), 4.

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stuck to their course, convinced that creating what Geyer called a “mosaic of all the early
Tunisians” would be both “legitimate and legitimizing.”51
The Tunisian leaders’ gamble proved correct. According to Tunisian expert Jacob
Abadi, “The Tunisian regime was far more successful than most of its counterparts in the
Middle East in legitimizing its rule.”52 While part of this success was due to Bourguiba’s
charisma and practical leadership style, political scientist Michael Hudson wrote that his
true legitimacy derived “from his historical embodiment of the most cherished symbols and
values of Tunisian national identity and independence.”53 In essence, Bourguiba’s popularity was based on the deep-rooted authenticity of his message. Perhaps even more important
than creating political legitimacy, Tunisia focused on its authentic national identity and created a society characterized by “harmony, balance, cohesion, tolerance, [and] contentment”
when compared to its Arabist neighbors.54 As Joesph Abadi explains, “Under Bourguiba’s
guidance Tunisia emerged as a pro-Western, moderate and tolerant country lacking major
ethnic or religious disputes.”55 As a result, the Tunisians became far less receptive to radicalism or violence than citizens in Arabist-controlled states such as Egypt, Libya, and Algeria.
The moderation of Tunisia’s population can be clearly seen in the trajectory charted
by the nation’s Islamists. When they first gathered strength in the 1970s, Tunisian Islamists
shared a great deal of their ideology with Egypt’s radical Muslim Brotherhood. However,
Tunisian journalist and human rights activist Salaheddine Jourchi wrote that the position
of radical Islamists grew increasingly untenable as “a contradiction between ideology and
the Tunisian cultural, social, and political reality became obvious.”56 Tunisian society, buttressed by a deeply rooted authentic national identity, was simply too stable for a revolutionary ideology to gain significant traction. As a result of these realities, Jourchi wrote that
the discourse of Tunisian Islamists changed in form and content between 1970 and 1990,
becoming increasingly liberal and moderate—especially on “questions concerning women,
the West, and society.”57 This was not enough, however, for Islam to carve out a sustainable
place in Tunisia’s politics. In 1992, an alleged takeover attempt caused them to lose the
sympathy of its people.58 Thoroughly rebuffed, the movement’s leaders went though great
lengths to appear moderate and accommodating when they returned from exile in 2011.
51  Geyer, Tunisia: A Journey through a Country That Works, 77.
52  Jacob Abadi, Tunisia since the Arab Conquest: The Saga of a Westernized Muslim State, 1st ed, (Reading, UK: Ithaca Press,
2012), 474.
53  Michael C Hudson, Arab Politics: The Search for Legitimacy, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977), 383.
54  Ibid., 377.
55  Abadi, Tunisia since the Arab Conquest, 475.
56  Slaheddine Jourchi, “Authenticity, modernity, and the Islamic movement in Tunisia. In Cosmopolitism, Identity and Authenticity in the Middle East edited by Roel Meijer, (London: Curzon Press, 1999), 124.
57  Ibid., 127.
58  Geyer, Tunisia: A Journey through a Country That Works, 109.

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Across the Mediterranean, Lebanon charted a similar approach to national identity.59
Divided into eighteen different sectarian communities, the tiny state seemed much more
difficult ground for cohesive nationalism than the homogeny of Tunisia. Nevertheless, it
succeeded in developing an overarching national ideology that accommodates, rather than
suppresses, each of its individual communal identities. This ideology—alternately called
“Phoenicanism,” or “Chihism”60—was originally articulated in the early- to mid-twentieth
century by the Christian Lebanese thinkers Charles Corm and Michel Chiha.61 Corm, a businessman and poet, took a literary approach, ultimately cementing himself as a key architect of Phoenician Lebanese identity. His writings, as analyzed by political scientist Asher
Kaufman, portray the Lebanese as one people unified in their Phoenician ancestral past;
Corm “begs this past…to be a bridge for all Lebanese and to teach them—Muslims and
Christians—their place of glory in human history.”62 In a body of work that both reflected
and shaped Lebanese thought, Corm was especially vehement that despite Arab influences,
Lebanon was not fundamentally Arab. Like its Tunisian counterpart, then, rejection of authoritarian Arabism was of paramount importance to the Lebanese national movement.
Corm’s inclusivist ideal was put into political practice by lawyer Michel Chiha, the
chief framer of Lebanon’s 1926 constitution. According to Kaufman, Chiha prescribed a
fluid national identity constructed “in the image of the cosmopolitan, [multilingual] atmosphere of Beirut.”63 For all of its cultural inclusivity, however, Chiha’s Lebanon was no less
Lebanese than Corm’s; in his conception, tolerance and shared understanding were among
the fundamental building blocks of the national persona. To him, Lebanon had always been
essentially pluralistic in character, a meeting-ground of peoples “living together in a spirit
of co-operation and mutual respect.”64
59  The connection between Lebanese and Tunisian nationalisms is an interesting point that offers rich opportunities for
further study. Both nations have Phoenician roots, deeply Francophone tendencies, and strong pro-Western orientations. The
kinship between the two nations was expressed by Habib Bourguiba during his visit to Lebanon in 1965, when he proclaimed,
“Lebanon is a land where civilizations have interacted, and born of their meeting is an openness of mind and of heart, the likes
of which is rare in any other countries”—a description strikingly similar to the ones he used for Tunisia (See Habib Bourguiba,
“Al-Bourgibiyya” (Bourguibism), Les Conférences du Cénacle Libanais XIX, 1965, 64). In addition to the spiritual connection they share, the political bond between Lebanon and Tunisia is also noteworthy. Jacob Abadi reports that “during his visit
to Lebanon in March 1965, Bourguiba met the Lebanese president, Charles Hilu, and both agreed to widen the scope of their
friendship. Implicit in their statement was criticism of Nasser’s policy in the region.” (Abadi, Tunisia since the Arab Conquest,
434).
60  Though there are real differences between the views of Lebanese identity articulated by Chiha and the Phoenicianists,
Asher Kaufman defines them as essentially branches of the same tree in his great study of Lebanese national identity, Reviving
Phoenicia: The Search For Identity in Lebanon.
61  The Chritsian poet Sa’id ‘Aql was also an extremely important figure in the articulation of Phoenicianist Lebanese nationalism.
62  Asher Kaufman, Reviving Phoenicia : The Search for Identity in Lebanon, (London: I. B. Tauris, 2004), 145.
63  Ibid., 166.
64  Kamal Salibi, “The Lebanese Identity,” Journal of Contemporary History 6, no.1 (1971).

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Built on this proudly unique and liberal foundation, Lebanon held regular, free and
fair elections for the first thirty years of its independence; according to Adeed Dawisha,
“Lebanese politics, while imperfect, were liberal enough to make the country the most
politically tolerant in the Arab world.”65 Kaufman concurs—in his analysis, the 1950s and
1960s were the “high noon” of Lebanese national identity, years during which “the vision
of Michel Chiha appeared to be fulfilled.”66 Muslims and Christians shared power and
prosperity, both bound together and distinguished by their Lebanese identity. Until 1975,
“Phoenicianism was a symbol of Lebanon’s pluralism, of its liberal propensity and its
triumph.”67
Despite the strong roots of national identity in each country, Lebanon and Tunisia both
suffered severe setbacks on the route to democratization. Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war,
though largely instigated by outside pressures, remains a dark stain on the country’s political history. The war thoroughly radicalized the previously-tolerant bastions of Lebanese
society, and the 1989 Ta’if accord “marginalized the socio-political forces within Lebanese
society that advocated for a distinct, non-Arab identity.”68 Until 2005, the country’s identity
remained spiritually and politically under the control of Arabist, autocratic Syria. Tunisia,
likewise, laments six decades of post-independence authoritarian rule.69 However, the
strong sense of wataniya nurtured in both Lebanon and Tunisia allowed the two countries
to become the most democratic in today’s Middle East.
For Lebanon, the democratic revival was inspired by local nationalism. In the 2005
“Cedar Revolution,” the occupying Syrians were expelled thanks to demonstrations incorporating more than a million Christians, Muslims, and Druze waving Lebanese flags and
demanding a return to what they saw as Lebanon’s democratic birthright.70 Since then,
while the polity has remained divided between pro- and anti-Syrian elements, both sides
have respected the integrity of the electoral process.71 This was due in large part to the
continued strength of Lebanese identity, which plays a vital role in constraining Islamists’
anti-democratic impulses. As Daniel Brumberg puts it, while “Hezbollah is not, philosophically speaking, a champion of pluralism, in practice its leaders do not and cannot favor the
imposition of an Islamic state;” such a proposal would simply be too drastic a departure
65  Adeed Dawisha, The Second Arab Awakening: Revolution, Democracy, and the Islamist Challenge from Tunis to Damascus,
(New York: Norton, 2013), 30.
66  Kaufman, Reviving Phoenicia, 233.
67  Ibid., 234.
68  Ibid., 239.
69  It should nevertheless be acknowledged that, as Jospeh Abadi points out, “Drastic measures such as the persecution and
execution of political enemies, such as Nasser applied in Egypt, were unknown to the Tunisians.” (Abadi, Tunisia since the Arab
Conquest, 476).
70  Ibid., 233.
71  Ibid., 236-7; see the account of the 2009 elections.

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from Lebanon’s pluralist ethos.72 In the modern century, while Lebanon remains unstable
and divided, the pluralist national identity articulated by Chiha remains enshrined in the
national consciousness and binds together a people and a political system that would otherwise suffer even more division.
The ability of state-based nationalism to constrain Islamists has also been key to
Tunisia’s successful democratic transition. Ennahda, its largest Islamist party, has been
careful to present a restrained image in line with Tunisia’s proud history of modernization;
the group has clearly been mindful of its past failure to unseat the nation’s identity. When
it won elections, Ennahda opted to share parliamentary power with a coalition of secular
parties, and when it lost, it dutifully stepped aside. These actions have sharply distinguished
Ennahda from Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, which, by contrast, spent its short stint in
office aggressively consolidating authority. The Egyptian Islamists, operating in a society
where wataniya had been suppressed and failed to link together disparate groups, ultimately
followed by a much darker and more divisive path than Ennahda, which was constrained
by Tunisia’s national unity.

Conclusion

National identity may be among the greatest forces for democracy among all the forms
of human association. Its long suppression in the Middle East, brought about by the joint
forces of Arabism and Islamism, has accordingly limited democratic development. But the
examples of Tunisia and Lebanon are causes for optimism for the rest of the region.
Areas for future research remain plentiful on the subject of national identity and democracy in the Middle East. Egypt, as a pivotal state in the region, is a particularly interesting case to examine. The state has experienced a strange interplay between its strong natural
sense of nationhood and the series of leaders who have either failed to fully articulate this
identity or denied it completely. The following must be considered: if Eyptian national identity is a great enough force internal cohesion, whether or not the new General Abdel Fattah
el-Sis regime has successfully institutionalized wataniya, and how the Muslim Brotherhood
has learned from its failed attempt to subvert national identity. Based on its latent national
identity, Egypt certainly has the potential to become another “democratic exception,” as it
briefly was one. The answers will provide a strong indication of Egypt’s future prospects
for flourishing liberalism. Other questions present themselves beyond Egypt. What is the
state of wataniya in the Arab monarchies? Can lessons be learned from their experiences?
More broadly, are there exceptions to the general rule that in Arab states wataniya is both
naturally felt and rooted in historical truth? If so, what alternative models of national identity capture citizens’ legitimate aspirations for their states? In-depth examinations of these
72 

Brumberg, 112.

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questions will prove helpful in expanding and refining the case for authentically rooted,
state-based national identity as a path toward closing the Arab world’s gap in democracy.

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Telhami, Shibley, “Egypt’s Identity Crisis,” The Washington Post, 16 August 2013.
Tibi, Bassam. Arab Nationalism: Between Islam and the Nation-State. Third Edition. New
York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997.
Tibi, Bassam. The Shari’a State: Arab Spring and Democratization. New York: Routledge,
2013.

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Hagop Toghramadjian

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The Origins of the Muslim Foreign Fighter Phenomenon
Nick Kaderbhai

This dissertation argues that the Muslim foreign fighter phenomenon emerged from a
populist pan-Islamic movement originating out of the Hijazi region of Saudi Arabia. A faction
of marginalized elites, employed in nonviolent international Islamic organizations, took the
strategic decision to create a broad social movement in order to regain political influence. The
elites promulgated an exaggerated discourse that emphasized external threats to the Muslim
nation while simultaneously establishing a global infrastructure for the provision of charitable
support to the global Muslim community. Through analyzing this social movement, the scholar
Abdullah Azzam reinterpreted the concept of jihad from a collective duty to an individual duty.
This new ideology, combined with the networks and norms established by the Arab activists,
resulted in the recruitment of foreign fighters into the Soviet-Afghan War. A Muslim foreign
fighter is defined as an insurgent who is recruited to fight in a country with which he is unaffiliated for the sole reason of defending members of the ummah,1 from an existential threat.

Introduction: The “Muslim Foreign Fighter” Puzzle
“…if anyone slew a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land –
it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved
the life of the whole people.” Qur’an 5:322
On December 17, 2010 in the rural Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid, Mohamed Bouazizi
set himself on fire in response to the confiscation of his fruit stand by a municipal inspector.
Exasperated at the lack of economic opportunities provided by President Ali’s government
and his continued harassment at the hands of local bureaucrats, Bouazizi enacted a helpless
protest that ultimately costed him his life. His grisly death sparked public outrage across
Tunisia and began a cascade of revolutionary events throughout the Middle East.
1  Ummah is defined as the collective Muslim community.
2  Al-Ma’idah’ Sura, The Holy Quran, 5 Verse 32, accessed March 21, 2014

Nick Kaderbhai graduated in 2014 with a First in War Studies from King’s
College London. He is currently studying for an MA Terrorism, Security and
Society, also at King’s, and is a Research Fellow at the International Centre for
the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence.

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The most notable of the turmoil continues in Syria. While the United Nations has
stopped updating the death count due to the dangerous conditions, the Next Century
Foundation places the number of dead at 100,678.3 The conflict has received recognition
for the intensity of its violence, the full-scale destruction of cities,4 and its use of chemical
weapons.5
The conflict has also been notable for the reemergence of a trend that has caught the
attention of social scientists and policy makers, particularly in the West – the recruitment of
Muslim foreign fighters.6 The transnational recruitment of insurgents to fight in the Middle
East is of major concern. Mohammed Hafez has shown that the presence of foreign fighters escalates conflict. In post-2003 Iraq, foreign fighters promoted “sectarian violence and
indiscriminate tactics.”7 They act as a stepping stone. While the history of foreign fighters
is littered with recruits traveling to fight and then leaving when the conflict is over, the
nature of recent conflicts has provided opportunities for the transition into more extreme
types of militancy.8 Hafez concedes that many transnational jihadi groups evolve from foreign fighter mobilizations and that the majority of Al Qaeda operatives emerged from war
volunteering.9
For Western leaders, this phenomenon provides potential threats to national security.
The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation claimed that Western Europeans
formed up to 18% of the current Muslim foreign fighter contingent in Syria, with the majority coming from France and the UK.10 This is the largest mobilization of fighters since
the Soviet-Afghan War,11 and it poses serious national security problems for Western governments. The concern is that fighters’ experiences in combat will incite them to commit
atrocities at home, and this fear has already led to arrests in the UK.12 While risk experts
3  Number represents casualties between the dates of May 1, 2012 – January 3, 2014. From Next Century Foundation’s Syrian
Working Group, “Syria War Dead Report,” accessed March 21, 2014.
4  Coghlan & Boyes, “Homs Misery Like Siege of Stalingrad,” 2013, accessed March 21, 2014.
5  Carla Stea, “Syria: UN Mission Report” (Center for Research of Globalization, 2013), accessed March 21, 2014.
6  It is difficult to distinguish between different categories of combatant before the Treaty of Westphalia and the creation of
nation states. However, examples of multinational forces in medieval Europe do exist e.g. the Varangian Guard. See Cook (2001),
238.
7  Hafez, “Suicide Bombers in Iraq: The Strategy and Ideology of Martyrdom,” (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of
Peace Press, 2005).
8  Thomas Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters – Islam and the Globalization of Jihad,” (International Security,
2010) Vol. 35, No. 3, 53-94.
9  Hafez, Suicide Bombers in Iraq, 71.
10  Aaron Zelin, “Up to 11,000 Foreign Fighters in Syria; Steep Rise Among Western Europeans.” (The Washington Institute,
2013), ICSR Insight, accessed March 21, 2014.
11  Ibid.
12  Samira Shackle, “What risk do foreign fighters in Syria pose on their return?” Rationalist Association (2014), accessed
March 21, 2014.

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have advised against overly-punitive measures, the political realities make safeguarding society against the returning recruits difficult.13 While the softer approach is empirically more
effective, governments err towards the conservative side of caution, given that an attack on
home soil would leave their policies open to intense criticism.
The idea that governments can formulate policies to mitigate against the influence of
foreign fighters is based on the assumption that those governments actually understand the
phenomenon. Thomas Hegghammer, an academic expert on violent Islamism, notes that
the presence of foreign fighters is often taken for granted as a “corollary of conflict in the
Muslim world.”14 Yet before 1980, the presence of Muslim foreign fighters in conflict was
exceedingly rare.15 The assumption of a foreign fighter tradition within Islamism is understandable given the recent history of the movement. Foreign fighter ideology emerged as
an ideology at the end of the nineteenth century, and Islamist groups have been engaged in
violence since the 1940s including numerous conflicts with the non-Muslim world.16
This dissertation considers why Muslim foreign fighters emerged in the 1980s and not
before. The typology of potential explanations is diffuse: the disciplines of history, sociology
and psychology provide insights into the answer, yet a nuanced combination is required to
fully understand the movement’s origins. As such, how and why the movement occurred,
mechanisms of its mobilization, and a chronology of the movement will be investigated and
addressed. The paper will present an argument that supports the emergence of the phenomenon in the 1970s out of a larger, pan-Islamic movement that formed in the Hijazi region
of Saudi Arabia. It will subsequently support the notion that Abdullah Azzam, the Islamic
scholar who reinterpreted jihad to emphasize individual duty and the defense of Muslim
lands from external aggression, used the networks and norms of the Hijazi movement to
recruit foreign fighters in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Part one will attempt to define the term “foreign fighter.” Since an established definition does not exist in the literature, the veracity of proposed definitions will be critically
evaluated through an analysis of different methodologies, resulting in the formulation of
an original and more critical definition. Part two will examine whether the structure and
character of warfare up until the 1980s constrained mobilization, explaining its chronological distribution. Part three will provide a socio-historical analysis of the Muslim foreign
fighter ideology, hypothesizing that its origins can be traced to a pan-Islamic movement
that emerged out of Saudi Arabia in the 1970s. In light of these findings, the conclusion will
13  Zelin, Up to 11,000 Foreign Fighters in Syria.
14  Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters,” 53.
15  Some Muslims acted as paid volunteers in the Arab-Israeli conflict. However, they would not be categorized as foreign
fighters today because they were compensated and were affiliated with a nation-state. See Morris (2007), 90.
16  Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters,” 54.

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provide policy recommendations for those attempting to militate against the threat posed
by returning fighters.

Part One: What is a “Muslim foreign fighter?”
Before articulating the phenomenon through the prism of Islamism, the basic definition of “foreign fighter” must be understood. Empirical validity of the concept becomes
crucial when concerned with the question at hand. This dissertation attempts to explain
both the chronological distribution of the phenomenon as well as its mechanisms for mobilization. This implies that a variable, or combination of variables, existed that was unique to
the circumstances of that time. If there is not complete conceptual clarity on what defines
a foreign fighter, the unique variables that formed the Muslim variant cannot be discerned.
Defining the concept on its own merits is difficult. The term is vague yet describes a
multi-faceted concept. It requires an appreciation of the relationships between the actor,
state, and military organizations. It also requires knowledge of recruitment mechanisms,
how foreign fighters differ for other actors, and how they have evolved.17 In the last thirty
years, the exponential rise in communications technology has fundamentally changed the
nature of recruitment. Scott Shane, an American journalist for the New York Times, references this shift, claiming that Al Qaeda’s propagandists’ response to intensified American
counterterrorism efforts was “to call on their devotees in the United States to carry out
smaller-scale solo attacks which would be provided to them via the internet.”18
The foreign fighter has encompassed many different forms, fought in different environments and supplied different functions. Yet formulating a neat and detailed definition of a
‘foreign fighter’ is crucial, because it is a term that shares qualities with many other concepts
while remaining distinct. Scholarship that does not take this into account is to be treated
with caution. In modern day discourse, the interchangeable use of foreign fighter with concepts such as “international terrorist” and “jihadi” leads to losses in conceptual clarity.
As head of the Foreign Fighter Project, an ongoing data set that compiles research surrounding the foreign fighter movement, David Malet caveats his discussion of definitions by
claiming that although transnational insurgencies have existed for centuries, “the fact that
political scientists have not perceived them as a singular type of phenomenon is evident from
the lack of an existing term in the discipline used to describe the concept.”19 Hegghammer
17  Malet claims that recruitment of foreign fighters occurs when “local insurgents, who always begin conflicts as the weaker
faction…attempt to broaden the scope of conflict to increase their resources and maximize their chances of victory.” See Malet
(2013), 4.
18  Scott Shane, “A Homemade Style of Terror: Terrorist push new tactics,” The New York Times online (May 5, 2013), accessed
March 21, 2014.
19  David Malet, “Foreign Fighters: Transnational Identity in Civil Conflicts” George Washington University (2013), 3.

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furthers this sentiment, claiming that the literature rarely deals with the nature and origins
of the “independent global activist.”20
Malet has been able to distill the phenomenon down to a single phrase for the ease of
understanding: “noncitizens of conflict states who join insurgencies during civil conflict.”21
While Hegghammer does not attempt this distillation, both authors apply the same strict
criteria in order to identify the true meaning of the phenomenon. The foreign fighter concept can be illustrated via three categories: its relationship with the state, its relationship
with military organizations, and the mechanism through which the fighter was recruited.
Underpinning these three mechanisms is the concept of insurgency. The foreign fighter is
an insurgent, yet this conclusion is nuanced, and both authors attempt explanation with
differing degrees of clarity.
Hegghammer’s conclusion of “foreign fighter as insurgent” is reductionist, failing to advance his argument past apparent semantic difficulties. His aim is for the foreign fighter to
remain a distinct grouping from “international terrorist” and “local rebel,” yet he is unable to
conjure a term more appropriate than the broad, complex term of “insurgent.” Hegghammer
concludes that foreign fighters are insurgents in every way except for their passports but fails
to expand on his reasoning.22
Foreign fighters as insurgents is a valid problem of conceptual clarity. Other evidence
suggests that Hegghammer’s conclusion is correct, that foreign fighters are insurgents.
However, it must be noted that Hegghammer’s method appears flawed given his derision
at the use of generic terms. He explicitly chides the lazy and misleading use of phrases like
“jihadi” and “Salafi jihadi.”23 On one hand, Hegghammer opposes conflation through ease,
yet he appears to commit the same action on the other. He is ultimately correct, and one
could dismiss this point as immaterial. Malet’s method contains more intellectual rigor in
supporting the use of the term and should be more relied upon.
The primary distinction between Malet and Hegghamer’s methods is how they define
insurgency. Hegghammer uses the definition provided by James Fearon, a professor at
Stanford University, and David D. Laitin, a professor of University of California at Berkeley,
that insurgency is a “technology of military conflict characterized by small, lightly armed
bands practicing guerrilla warfare from rural bases.”24 One can only ascertain that this is
a comment on foreign fighters at the tactical level, as Hegghammer does not expand on
his reasoning. He instead relies on the conceptual conclusion of insurgents as stated above
20 
21 
22 
23 
24 

Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters,” 55.
David Malet, “Foreign Fighters: Transnational Identity in Civil Conflicts” George Washington University (2013), 3.
Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters,” 55.
Ibid.
Fearon and Laitin, “Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil War” American Political Science Review (2003), Vol. 97, No.1, 75-90.

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—that it is synonymous with foreign fighter. Malet comments on foreign fighters at the strategic level while also placing an emphasis on technology. This approach is more nuanced,
and it provides the basis of an actual mechanism that foreign fighters feed into within the
conflict.
Malet uses two definitions of insurgency: “a faction in an internal war that does not
control the legitimate machinery of the state and is therefore in the weaker position” and
“an armed conflict within the boundaries of a recognized sovereign entity between parties
subject to a common authority at the outset of hostilities.” James N. Rosenau, former director of International Relations at the University of Southern California, and Stathis Kalyvas,
a political science professor at Yale, both stress the internality and asymmetry of the conflict.25 However, Malet claims that when revolutionaries finally seized Havana and Beijing,
“they had become the superior, conventional force and no longer needed to rely on guerrilla tactics.”26 Thus, the recruitment of foreign fighters represents “a strategic decision by
rebel groups to…leapfrog the need for guerrilla tactics by assembling a conventional force
through greater manpower and technical proficiency.”27 They are insurgents regardless of
whether they are strong enough to confront it conventionally.28 Explaining the foreign fighter phenomenon at the strategic level rather than the tactical level protects against a loss of
clarity should the insurgent begin to undertake the actions of a conventional force. While
both authors are correct in their conclusions of foreign fighters as insurgents, Malet provides
the strongest method.
Identifying a foreign fighter as an insurgent allows for further analysis of the phenomenon’s characteristics. First, the foreign fighter has no affiliation to a conflict state. He must
lack citizenship to the conflict state and have no legal protection from any state actor.29
Hegghammer supports this point, adding that the fighter must also lack kinship links to
the warring factions.30 Returning diaspora members or exiled rebels who have pre-existing
stakes in the conflict are therefore not foreign fighters. This distinction is crucial when
understanding the mobilization mechanisms involved in recruitment and is missed by the
broad definitions of “global insurgent” provided by John Mackinlay, a war studies professor
at Kings College London.31
25  James Rosenau, International Aspects of Civil Strife, (Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 1964),14 and Stathis
Kalyvas, The Logic of Violence in Civil War, (New York, Cambridge University Press, 2006), 17.
26  Malet, “Foreign Fighters,” 10.
27  Ibid.
28  Ibid.
29  Ibid., 9.
30  Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters,” 58.
31  Mackinlay describes “global insurgents” as having no center of gravity, no globally effective leader, no hard-wired organizational structures and no single manifesto. See Mackinlay (2005), 26.

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The level of state sponsorship must also be limited. States have been known to create
irregular armies of foreign fighters while “seeking operational flexibility and plausible
deniability.”32 During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the Arab League set up an “Army of
Salvation” that was trained and led by Iraqi and Syrian military officers.33 However, paying
the soldiers negated their classification as foreign fighters. Even if the fighters were not legally affiliated with a state, they were paid, rendering them mercenaries rather than foreign
fighters.34
State sponsorship and compensation provides a clear link to the second category: the
relationship between foreign fighters and military organizations. An actor with any kind of
affiliation or relationship with a military organization cannot be a foreign fighter. Foreign
fighters are not soldiers, terrorists or mercenaries competing for the highest bid.35 Malet
conceptualizes this distinction through mechanisms. State affiliated combatants enjoy “legal
protections, can reasonably expect to be compensated and…can expect to survive those
compensations.”36 Unaffiliated insurgent groups cannot be expected to make any of these
offers reasonably. Through the Spanish Civil War, the Israeli War of Independence, and the
Iraq War, Malet illustrates that recruits were told “to expect only token payments.”37
The final category of definition is recruitment. While facets of the recruitment process
are shared by a number of different state and non-state organizations, what is notable about
the foreign fighter process is how little it has changed historically. Using historical data and
a series of case studies, Malet created a template of recruitment that is congruent through
time, from the Texas Revolution up to the recent war in Afghanistan. Malet notes that the
relationship between the insurgents, whether it be “shared ethnicity or…religion” and “the
particulars of the conflict” are irrelevant to the logic of transnational recruitment.38 The
common denominator throughout the history of foreign fighter recruitment has been the
emphasis of an existential threat.
In order to maximize their chances of winning, insurgent groups must broaden the
scope of the conflict.39 This requires the use of resources that the groups do not possess, so
they frame the conflict in such a way that outsiders will travel to provide assistance. Malet
notes the contemporary irony of this strategy–as U.S. forces engaged with transnational
32  Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters,” 58.
33  Army of Salvation members received 18 Palestinian pounds a month–“a substantial amount.” See Levenberg (1993), 191.
34  Mercenaries are a more difficult category to differentiate from foreign fighters than soldiers or terrorists. They have a long
history and arguments regarding their legitimacy come down to matters of jurisdiction, which are open to interpretation. See
Malet (2013), 39.
35  Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters,” 58.
36  Malet, “Foreign Fighters,” 9.
37  Ibid.
38  Ibid., 5.
39  Ibid., 4.

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insurgents in Iraq to “fight them over there so [Americans] don’t have to fight them at
home,” their opponents offered precisely the same argument.40 The framing of an existential
identity against a transnational one is congruent through history. In the Texas Revolution,
for example, the defense of Texas was framed as a “defensive imperative” of national importance, and in the Spanish Civil War, anti-fascism was framed as a duty that “transcended
national identity.”41
The typical recruitment process involves recognition of the need for outside support,
specifically “manpower specialists.”42 Potential resource hubs are targeted, such as the nonstate organizations that share common ties of ethnicity, religion, ideology etc. Often marginalized within the broader community yet active within the institutions of that society, the
community’s social structure provides both the rationale and the mechanism for participation.43 This structure is exploited by recruiters–potential recruits claim that their common
group and the fighter themselves are under an existential threat.44
This comprehensive evaluation of the foreign fighter concept and an understanding of
its basic tenets supports the following definition. A foreign fighter is an insurgent recruited
to fight in a country with which he has no affiliation, for the sole purpose of defending
members of his own transnational group from an existential threat. The concepts ingrained
in this definition are faithful to those found in the movement historically while remaining
appropriate to the concept of the Muslim foreign fighter of which this dissertation looks to
discover the origins.
As a brief caveat before advancing onto an investigation of those origins, personal motivations have not fallen into the scope of this definition. Hegghammer dismisses that economic or material incentives factor into an explanation of the origins but acknowledges that
“an assumption of the existence of subjective, nonmaterial grievances (social status, afterlife
rewards etc.) must be made.”45

Part Two: Constraints to Mobilization
Hegghammer provides four explanations for the chronological distribution of Muslim
foreign fighters and categorizes them as “constraints to mobilization.”46 These explanations
describe the structure and character of conflict and the recruitment of actors, rather than
the characteristics of the actors themselves. While Hegghammer ultimately does discuss
40 
41 
42 
43 
44 
45 
46 

Ibid.
Ibid.
Malet, “Foreign Fighters,” 4.
Ibid.
Ibid.
Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters,” 64.
Ibid., 65.

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ideology, it is conceptually important to distinguish between structural and motivational
explanations for mobilization. Acknowledging that his approach lacks rigor, Hegghammer
concedes that the methodology is limited by the availability of data.47 This author acknowledges the limitations involved in data collection and the subsequent formulations of hypotheses. The author also acknowledges the above categorization of constraint as useful
but believes another framework should be added that allows the arguments to be weighted
with regard to their primacy. The framework would be an acknowledgement of whether the
explanation is a necessary or sufficient cause in explaining foreign fighter mobilization. By
doing this, one can disregard the less adequate explanations for mobilization, allowing for
more detailed comparative analysis between the stronger explanations. While Hegghammer
does make passing comments about such distinctions, this author believes a reorganization
of the arguments will provide a more rigorous platform on which to make conclusions regarding mobilization.
The first hypothesis is that mobilization of Muslim insurgents relied on a certain “profile:” that recruits would only join insurgencies possessing certain qualities and resources.48
Transnational Muslim actors would look for insurgencies that shared their Islamist ideology
and contained the necessary infrastructure (mainly pre-existing links with other countries)
to accommodate their recruitment and maintain their survival.49 To negate this argument,
there must be evidence of mobilization occurring in insurgencies that neither share the same
style of Islamic ideology nor have pre-existing links with other countries.
Numerous examples of the former exist: militant Islamists did not join the Lebanese
Civil War until the end of the decade. Nationalists and leftists represented the base of the
insurgency through the early- to mid-1970s.50 Likewise in the late 1990s, Kosovo and Bosnia
saw Islamism punctuate their respective ethnic conflicts toward the end.51
The argument that the existence of pre-existing links to Islamist communities in the
Arab world would increase the chances of mobilization is also not supported by evidence.
Roy confirms that “several Afghan Mujahedeen leaders had studied in Islamic universities
in Egypt in the 1960s, which likely facilitated the early Arab involvement in Afghanistan.”52
However, this evidence, which Hegghammer acknowledges is at best “anecdotal,” can be
countered in two ways. 53
47  Ibid.
48  Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters,” 67.
49  Ibid.
50  Michael Hudson, “The Problem Of Authoritative Power In Lebanese Politics: Why Consociationalism Failed” (N. Shehadi
and D. Haffar Mills, 1988) eds. Lebanon: A History of Conflict and Consensus, (London: Centre for Lebanese Studies and 1. B.
Tauris & Co. Ltd. Publishers), 145.
51  Paul Aaron, “The Anguish of Nation Building: A Report from Serbia”, World Policy Journal (2005), Vol.22, 113-125.
52  Olivier Roy, “Islam and Resistance in Afghanistan”, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990) 2nd Edition, 23.
53  Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters,” 67.

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As a first hypothesis, McKenna notes the extensive links that existed between the Moro
National Liberation Front and Islamist communities without the necessary mobilization of
foreign fighters.54 Hegghammer then notes that mobilizations of foreign fighters occurred in
Somalia, Tajikistan and Kosovo organically through their respective circumstances, rather
than through any pre-existing links.55 Thus, the profile of the insurgent, with regard to character and resources, is neither necessary nor sufficient in explaining the mobilization of
Muslim foreign fighters in the 1980s.
A second hypothesis presents the issue that foreign fighters “only join certain types of
conflicts” and that such conflicts were more common after 1980. The hypothesis has three
variants, which differ depending on the typology of the conflict (i.e. the religiosity of the
conflict, the severity of the fighting, and the political status of the disputed territories).56
Each argument carries its own chronological inconsistencies. The first argument says foreign fighters tend to join conflicts of religious difference, what international relations scholar Monica Toft describes as “religious civil wars.”57 For the chronological element of this
argument to be sustained, evidence must suggest that foreign fighters joined conflicts of
religious difference almost exclusively after 1980. A brief study of past events refutes this
theory by demonstrating conflicts of religious difference in the Muslim world that have
not been exclusively centered on the religious difference. The civil war in Tajikistan was
inspired by ethnic rivalry while the civil war in Algeria pitted Algerian nationalists against
Islamofascists.58
The second variant of the conflict structure hypothesis emphasizes the political status of
the territory in which the conflict occurs. Conflict as a result of decolonization was prevalent
in the mid-twentieth century, yet foreign fighter mobilization was uncommon. It was not
until newly independent Muslim nations began to defend themselves from invasion that
foreign fighters began to mobilize.59 Hegghammer posits that perhaps invasion was “seen by
the broader Muslim public as more dramatic…and thus more likely to attract foreign fighters” compared to the decolonization conflicts of the twentieth century.60 Afghanistan being
invaded by a non-Muslim superpower attests to this theory. Hegghammer strengthens the
54  Thomas M. McKenna, “Muslim Rules and Rebels: Everyday Politics and Armed Separatism in the Southern Philippines,”
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), 143.
55  Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters,” 67.
56  Ibid., 65.
57  For Toft’s definition of religious civil conflict see Toft (2007), 97.
58  The term “Islamofascist” was first used by Malise Rutven in 1990 to describe the way in which traditional Arab dictatorships
used religious appeals in order to stay in power. The author uses the term retrospectively, with connotations more recognizable to
the term’s usage since 9/11 and the consequent War on Terror. For more, see Hitchens (2007) “Defending the term Islamofascism,” accessed 21/03/14.
59  Gary Thorn, “End of Empires: European Decolonisation. 1918-80”, (Hodder Education, London, 2001), 389.
60  Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters,” 66.

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argument with data–the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq following 9/11 are two other
major examples of non-Muslim state vs. independent Muslim state takeovers and represent
the second and fourth largest foreign fighter mobilizations since 1945.61
However, if it is invasion specifically and not other forms of aggression that catalyzed
“foreign fighter” mobilization, then the conflicts of the 1990s do not support this hypothesis.
Hegghammer notes that the conflicts in Chechnya, Bosnia, and Tajikistan, had “structurally more in common with decolonization struggles than with invasion of Afghanistan and
Iraq.”62 This empirical difference sheds light on a conceptual gap that appears between conflict type and mobilization. Hegghammer concludes that the rise of independent Muslim
states should have produced an increase in the number of local, nationalist groups rather
than the transnational groups that emerged.63 This evidence, along with the chronological
inconsistencies stated above, rule out the “inter-religious” as well as the “political territory”
variants of the “conflict type” hypothesis as neither necessary nor sufficient causes in the
mobilization of the foreign fighter phenomenon.
The third variant states that the severity of conflict is proportional to the rate of mobilization. This criteria represents a disconnect in the series of explanations, as it is the first
to be categorized as a necessary but not sufficient cause. Data on violence within conflict is
inherently limited and notoriously difficult to gather.64 The data that does exist, however, is
unfavorable. The Algerian War of Independence against the French in the mid-twentieth
century saw no foreign fighter mobilization but was much bloodier than any of the conflicts
in the 1990s and 2000s.65 Hegghammer, having updated the data provided by Lacina and
Gleditsch,66 is able to show “no such correlation between battle deaths and foreign fighter
involvement in general use.”67 However, there is then indeed a correlation. A marked increase “by orders of magnitude” in battle deaths occurred in the 1980s with the conflicts
in Afghanistan, Iran-Iraq, and Lebanon.68 Recognizing battle casualties as a catalyst for the
rise in the phenomenon but still a lack of general correlation helps to formulate a stronger

61  The largest mobilization was for the Afghan/Soviet War where 5,000-20,000 recruits travelled to fight. The third largest was
during the conflict in Bosnia in the 1990s where 1,000-2,000 joined. See Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters,”
66.
62  Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters,” 67.
63  Ibid., 67.
64  Recent estimates put the number of people who died in wars in the past half century at three times the number previously
predicted. See Obermeyer (2008) 336:1482.
65  Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters,” 65.
66  Nils Petter Gleditsch and Bethany Lacina, “Monitoring Trends in Global Combat: A New Dataset of Battle Deaths,” (European Journal of Population, 2005) Vol. 21, 145-166.
67  Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters,” 66.
68  Ibid., 65.

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argument. Given the suspect validity of this method, Hegghammer argues that it would be,
at best, a necessary cause but not sufficient.69
The next hypothesis posits that the foreign fighter phenomenon occurred due to a lack
of government obstruction, implying that government interference had hitherto prevented
mobilization from occurring.70 “Arab Afghans” were not actively supported by governments
but enjoyed a frictionless recruitment environment in the Gulf States and in the West.71
Governments undoubtedly affect the scale. Palestine would arguably be a different entity if
its neighbors allowed for an easier passage of travel.72 States are ultimately in a position of
proactive mitigation. States can undermine the infrastructure of larger recruitment operations, but governments will struggle to defend against small mobilizations if the will is strong
enough.73 Ultimately, the relationship between government obstructionism and mobilization rates can be conceptualized via the change in attitudes towards mobilization within the
Arab states. In the 1970s, states imposed a number of obstacles to recruitment. These were
relaxed in the 1980s, allowing for transnational groups to set up the necessary structures and
access the much needed yet unofficial support of the state.74 They were tightened again in the
1990s, however, mobilization continued to flourish due to the strength of the infrastructure
created in the 1980s, with “some Saudi fighters making it as far as Palestine.”75
While logically valid, Hegghammer acknowledges the exclusive use of anecdotal evidence to support the hypothesis. The whole premise relies on “the proof that government
obstacles really were higher before 1980, which is difficult to prove.”76 This author can only
concur with Hegghammer that, on balance, some sort of passive state support for mobilization was a necessary but not sufficient cause of Muslim foreign fighter mobilization.77
The final hypothesis relates to globalization. The first variant involves improvements
to travel and communications infrastructure. Former British intelligence agent John
Cairncross illustrates that the cost of ocean freight, air transport, and telephone calls fell
sharply between 1940 and 1980.78 Hegghammer notes that it is not clear through which
specific mechanism (price/technology) such mobilizations became possible. However, it
69  Ibid.
70  Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters,” 68.
71  “Arab Afghans” refer specifically to the Islamist Mujahedeen who travelled to fight following the 1979 Soviet invasion. See
Wiktorowicz (2001), 20 And Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters,” 68.
72  Ibid.
73  Ibid.
74  Ibid.
75  Ibid.
76  Ibid.
77  Ibid.
78  Francis Cairncross, “The Death of Distance: How the Communication Revolution will Change Our Lives” (Boston: Harvard
Business School Press, 1997), 214.

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is not controversial to argue that “cheaper transportation facilitates global foreign fighter
mobilizations.”79 Such infrastructure is clearly a necessary condition for 1980s foreign fighter mobilization.80
The second variant of the hypothesis builds on communications improvements, emphasizing that mobilization was dependent on “new media,” which directly affects “the
reach, speed, and impact of recruitment propaganda.”81 Knowledge of international events
is an obvious first step, and new media aids in that process. The evidence illustrates that
new media infrastructure increased vastly in the Arab world, bringing “greater awareness
of events involving Muslims abroad.”82 Hegghammer notes a major drawback to the this
hypothesis: its scope. Given that communications infrastructure is a public good (and open
to all), the hypothesis would allow for a corresponding rise in non-Muslim transnational activism.83 Malet’s findings provide a data set that notes no increase in transnational activism
in this period,84 with scholars like Tarrow placing the emphasis instead on the late 1990s.85
The above hypotheses and their variants, considered here within our “necessary and/or
sufficient” framework, cannot offer a sufficient cause for the mobilization of Muslim foreign
fighters. A reevaluation of the conundrum is needed in lieu of these findings. To restate the
objective, this dissertation investigates the explanation for the chronological distribution
and mobilization mechanisms of the Muslim foreign fighter movement. Having ruled out
structural explanations, mechanisms must be investigated that were unique to that time and
contained the ability to motivate Muslims to travel and fight. This forces the focus, to some
degree, onto individual motivations. However, as mentioned previously, individual motivations are limited in their ability to explain mass participation. By recognizing general patterns in perceived personal interest, however, it becomes clear that ideology is the common
denominator that connects each fighter.
An investigation of ideology should begin with an analysis of the preceding ideologies of the time in order to ascertain whether a quantitative or qualitative shift occurred.
Through an analysis of both its content and its chronological distribution, the preceding
ideologies are ruled out by Hegghammer as a mechanism in the mobilization of foreign
fighters.86 A large body of potential recruits existed long before 1980. Rahnema notes that
79  Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters,” 69.
80  Long-distance volunteering is not a new phenomenon; fighters travelled from today’s Iran to southern Turkey to defend the
Abbasid caliphate against Byzantine invasion. See Bonner (2004), 133.
81  Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters,” 69.
82  In Saudi Arabia, newspaper circulation rose from 10 to 47 per 1000 between 1975-84 and television reception from 14 to
262 per 1000 between 1976 and 1982. See Alfaleh (1987).
83  Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters,” 69.
84  David Malet, “Foreign Fighter Observation Set Data,” (2013), accessed March 21, 2014.
85  Sidney Tarrow, (2005), “The New Transnational Activism,” (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 118.
86  Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters,” 70.

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Islamism emerged as an ideology “in the late nineteenth century and as an organized political phenomenon in the late 1920s.”87 By the late 1940s, the Muslim Brotherhood had several
hundred thousand members, yet fighters were not mobilized from this group.88
The second problem is that a disconnect exists between “the political project of Islamist
groups before the 1980s and the activities performed by the foreign fighters.”89 The political
will of Islamism in the early twentieth century remained internalized as Islamists took umbrage at their own regimes rather than projecting any kind of internationalist agenda.90 The
logic that internationalizes local problems is not present here. Hegghammer illustrates the
same problem through the example of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, which is often cited as a
contributing factor to mobilization. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s aims were domestic and
did not, at any stage, involve the liberation of occupied Muslim territories. Mobilization of
revolutionaries, a more logical consequence, occurred in Egypt and Syria for a short while
in the 1980s.91 Thus, there was “no reason...why the Iranian Revolution should have fuelled
the foreign fighter movement.”92
Some scholars, notably professors Oliver Roy and Gilles Kepel, have argued revolutionaries were the active ingredients in the mobilization of foreign fighters.93 These revolutionaries, reacting to the moderation of Islamist parties, internationalized their focus
by becoming transnational insurgents. For Hegghammer, the argument that the “transnationalization of Islamism…was a reaction to the weakness or moderation of mainstream
Islamist parties” is unsatisfactory. 94 The creation of a radical fringe through the moderation of the mainstream is a valid causal process but does not describe what occurred with
the aforementioned revolutionaries in countries like Egypt and Syria. The movement of
Egyptian and Syrian revolutionaries was not a cause but a consequence of mobilization in
Afghanistan. Had it been a cause, these revolutionaries would have been the first to arrive,
which Hegghammer illustrates was not the case.95 Finally, the majority of Arab Afghans
were from Saudi Arabia, a country that had almost no Sunni revolutionaries in the 1980s.96
Despite the annulment of this explanation, ideology would provide both a necessary
and sufficient explanation for the origins of mobilization. Ideologies provide the philosophical foundation from which actions are explained. They often transcend constraints, as a
87 
88 
89 
90 
91 
92 
93 
94 
95 
96 

Ali Rahmnema, “Pioneers of Islamic Revival,” (London: Sez, ed.1994), 34.
Richard P. Mitchell, “The Society of the Muslim Brothers,” (London: Oxford University Press, 1969), 328.
Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters,” 70.
Sidney Tarrow, “The New Transnational Activism,” (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 118.
Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters,” 70.
Ibid.
Roy, 87 and Kepel, 54.
Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters,” 70.
Hegghammer also notes that they were not particularly active in international recruitment.
Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters,” 47.

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committed ideologue would not allow difficulties in travel or communications to hinder his
or her ability to achieve his or her goals. The prevailing Islamist ideology contained neither
the doctrines nor appropriate mechanisms for foreign fighter mobilization. If a new ideology can be identified that fulfills both these criteria, it could provide a sufficient explanation
for mobilization.
Part three will investigate whether a new foreign fighter ideology explains mobilization,
and if it does, how this process occurred.

Part Three: Social Movements, Ideology, and Recruitment
If an ideology existed that was sufficient in explaining the origins of the Muslim foreign
fighter phenomenon, it would have to be substantially different from those that preceded
it.97 Ideologies are intertwined with social movements. Investigating the social movement
attached to the Muslim foreign fighter ideology can both explain the chronology and provide context for this phenomenon. This process will be described in three stages. First, the
chronology will provide a socio-historical analysis of a pan-Islamic movement that emerged
out of the Hijazi region of Saudi Arabia in the 1970s. The second stage will explain two concepts that this author believes are crucial in understanding how the foreign fighter ideology
emerged from the Hijazi social movement: the level of the movement’s autonomy and its
humanitarian work. Third, the formulation of the ideology will be explained through an
analysis of its chief architect, Abdullah Azzam, who is a founding member of Al-Qaeda and
the Father of Global Jihad.
It is important to note the limited literature on the origins of first movers and their
preferences.98 A concentration on late joiners rather than first movers is increasing as the
origins of movements tend to get lost in the “intangible world of ideas,” rather than data
and observable arguments.99 Hegghammer cautions against this approach and explains that
a difficulty in establishing causality “should not stop scholars from proposing well-founded
hypotheses.”100
In the 1960s and 1970s, the Hijazi region of Saudi Arabia became a hub for repressed and exiled members of the Muslim Brotherhood. An influx of intellectuals into
the “Hijazi triangle” of Mecca, Jidda, and Medina resulted in an intense concentration of
Islamic International Organizations (IIOs).101 By gaining the employment of religious and
97  Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters,” 72.
98  Laitin, “Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil War,” 59.
99  Hegghammer, The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters, 77.
100  Ibid.
101  King Faisal set up the Muslim World League in Mecca in 1962. The Organization for the Islamic Conference was set up
in Jidda in 1969, and the expanding Saudi education sector brought “large universities to the region.” Hegghammer, “The Rise of
Muslim Foreign Fighters,” 80.

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educational institutions, a group of political refugees created a new intellectual class that
sought influence.102
Within a short time, a pan-Islamist movement emerged from the region. It placed an
emphasis on the ummah, the collective Muslim community.103 This is not unique. Earlier
pan-Islamist manifestations attempted to restore the Caliphate through a political union
of Muslim countries, while King Faisal of Saudi Arabia sought foreign policy coordination
among Muslim governments.104 This new doctrine attempted to foster popular awareness
about Muslims’ standing in the world and “cooperation between Muslims worldwide.”105
Hegghammer argues that the Islamist intellectuals constituted a marginalized elite with
“limited prospects of influence in a domestic political arena.”106 He argues that the presence
of intellectuals in a region does not necessitate the creation of a movement or ideology. The
creation of the aforementioned Islamic organizations within the Hijazi triangle provided a
platform where the elites could publish ideas to an international audience. This platform,
actively supported by the Muslim Brotherhood and passively by Saudi leniency, would in
time emerge into a full-blown social movement.
The movement operated on two partially overlapping platforms. The inward facing
component was the Muslim Brotherhood’s International Organization (M.B.I.). This secretive body, coordinating between international branches of the organization, pursued a
mandate of creating a support network that focused on international rather than domestic
politics.107 The IIO’s, notably the Muslim World League (M.W.L.), constituted the outward
facing component. Buffered by a substantial budget following the 1973 oil crisis, the IIO
mandate was the “global promotion of Muslim solidarity,” which was organized through a
number of daughter institutions.108 Specific issues garnered levels of public awareness directly correlated with the amount of acknowledgement activists could acquire from the IIOs
and intellectual elites. It was in the interest of activists to raise as much public awareness of
global Muslim affairs as possible.109
If a movement wanted to expand, it would require the creation of an “other,” an entity
that it could characterize as an existential threat. Without the tools of government to
102  Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters,” 81.
103  Ummah is distinguished from the Arabic word Sha’b, which means “nation with a common ancestry or geography.” It is
normally used to mean the collective community of Islamic peoples. See Houtsma (1987), 125–126.
104  Jacob M. Landau, “The Politics of Pan-Islam: Ideology and Organisation,” (Oxford: University Press, 1990), 27 and J. Piscariot, “Imagining Pan-Islam,” in Sharam Akbarzadeh and Feti Mansouri, eds. Islam and Political Violence: Muslim Diaspora and
Radicalism in the West (London: I.B. Tauris, 2007), 27.
105  Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters,” 80.
106  Ibid., 81.
107  Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters,” 82.
108  See Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters,” 81 and Kepel, 72.
109  This was crucial in countries like Egypt where the public were against the Sadat regime after it initiated an unpopular
peace process with Israel in 1978. See Hegghammer (2010), 82.

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disseminate its message, social movements had to create a threat that was abstract enough
to relate transnationally but also nefarious enough to incite action. The identity discourse of
the Hijazi narrative was no different. It was “alarmist, self-victimizing…and xenophobic”110
while referencing what Huntington called “fault line conflicts.”111 Numerous components of
the discourse were by no means original, yet the Hijazi pan-Islamist discourse was uniquely
global in its outlook and alarmist in its use of language. In a speech given in April 1980,
M.W.L. Secretary-General Muhammad Ali Harakan said that Zionism, Communism and
Christian missionaries were called out as being complicit in the extermination and suppression of millions of Muslims around the world.112 The absoluteness of this language was
fundamental in creating the transnational nature of the foreign fighter ideology.
The propaganda effort employed by the Hijazi activists was unique to Islamist movements. While the dissemination of propaganda in movements across the socio-political
spectrum is not a new phenomenon, the scale and scope employed by the Hijazi activists was never seen before.113 The activists were effective purveyors of the Hijazi message.
Hegghammer notes that both the distribution and quality of their media “increased markedly in the late 1970s as a result of increased budgets and new technologies.”114 They also
fulfilled the objective of gathering monetary support, containing emotive, colorful depictions of the harsh existence of Muslims worldwide accompanied with requests for charitable
donations and support. Combined with empirical credibility gained from international political developments, the propaganda infrastructure also helped legitimize the movement.115
The militant ideology that emerged from the movement was a reaction to external circumstances. The foundations for the ideology were laid haphazardly. While the process of
formation was proactive, it did not require a large conceptual step to move from a movement
based on humanitarian action to one based on armed action. How violence emerged from
a non-violent movement as an essential tactic is illustrated through two of the movement’s
components: its autonomy and its humanitarian efforts.
This paper previously discussed the nature of state support with regard to the categorization of the foreign fighter. That the movement was largely autonomous in its operations,

110  Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters,” 83.
111  Russian vs. Chechnya is a fault line conflict because it represented “an existential battle between Orthodoxy and Islam on
the fault line between two civilizations.” See Huntington (2002), 45.
112  Muhammad Ali al-Harakan, “Duty of Implementing the Resolutions.” (Journal of the Muslim World League, 1980) No. 6,
48-49.
113  The most influential publications were the MWL weekly News of the Muslim World and the monthly Journal of the Muslim
World League. See Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters,” 83.
114  Ibid.
115  The late 1970s saw continued tension on the Arab-Israeli front, with Israeli incursions into Lebanon in 1978 and 1892.
Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters,” 84.

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receiving only circumstantial support from the Saudi government, offers an explanation of
the philosophical underpinnings of the foreign fighter ideology.
The literature acknowledges the frequent misperceptions of the relationship between
the movement and the Saudi government. Yet, few scholars view the movement as having
“interests and preferences distinct from those of the Saudi government or the Wahhabi religious establishment.”116 Gilles Dorronsoro, a political scientist and expert on Afghani national security, has taken full advantage of new access to Saudi Arabia in order to illustrate
the reality of the structures that tied the government to the movement. In reality, the Saudi
bureaucracy and the religious are much more decentralized and segmented than previously
imagined.117 It was not the case, as Hegghammer notes, that any kind of passive support was
a sign of uniform complicity from the Saudi government. Much of the literature illustrates
generic Saudi support for the jihad, suggesting that the government had conscious knowledge of all transactions between itself and the movement, thereby giving a false impression
of the reality of the relationship.118
Ultimately, the movement maintained a strong level of autonomy. Writing about the
workings of the M.W.L. in the Peshawar region of Afghanistan in the 1980s, Dorronsoro
admits that Saudi Arabia was the most important donor but adds that the country appeared
to have only a loose control over its funds. Direction of funds came through the local IIOs.119
In the end, the relationship can be best explained through Saudi self-interest—if the movement had a neutral or positive effect on Saudi interests, then the state had no reason for
concern. The propaganda effort from the movement serves as a prime example. The government allowed the dissemination of propaganda that condemned non-Muslims and diverted
attention away from tensions in domestic politics. This does not mean that the government
was disinterested, such was the influence of the movement. Hegghammer notes that Arab
governments often found themselves “caught in bidding games with the pan-Islamist community over declared concern for the well-being of the Muslim nation.”120
The potential reasons for the lack of a direct relationship between state and social movement are not elaborated on in the literature, although it would be fair to say that they are undoubtedly broad and political. This author believes that a philosophical argument exists that
not only explains the lack of a relationship but also reflects a philosophical aspect of foreign
fighters’ foundation. As previously illustrated, foreign fighters cannot be directly affiliated
with a state. This distinction is based upon the political and legal relationships between state
116  Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters,” 82.
117  Gilles Dorronsoro, “Revolution Unending: Afghanistan, 1979 to the Present,” (New York: Columbia University Press,
2005), 133.
118  Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters,” 82.
119  Dorronsoro, “Revolution Unending,” 133.
120  Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters,” 16.

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and individual. However, the philosophical foundation on which this distinction is based
mirrors the philosophical foundation of the foreign fighter ideology. The foreign fighter believes himself to be an independent warrior fighting for a pious and existential cause. Jihad
is a righteous path aligned within a single hierarchy and not associated with any state. The
relationship between the Hijazi movement and Saudi Arabia is therefore inherently limited.
It could never extend to a direct affiliation because the fighters within the movement believe that they transcended matters of state. This author argues, therefore, that the personal
autonomy possessed by the foreign fighter emerged from the autonomy that the movement
exercised in its interactions with states.
The social movement’s humanitarian efforts and the complex infrastructure of its charitable organizations, which solely benefitted Muslims, also connect to the resulting foreign
fighter ideology. The Hijazi movement was more than just the formation of abstract philosophies from which a united ummah is theorized. The exponential rise in charitable organizations and donations connected with the Hijazi activists clarifies that tangible results
were a primary objective. Ghandour notes that the 1970s and early 1980s saw the growth of
a “vast network of Islamic charities, most of which were administered by IIO’s.”121 In their
operation, the charities administered responsibilities in a similar fashion as secular charities—monitoring the humanitarian situation around the Muslim world while remaining
ready to respond to accidents.122
Hegghammer notes a tendency in the popular Muslim narrative regarding Arab involvement in the Soviet War, stressing “an immediate and spontaneous rise of the Muslim
nation in response to the Soviet invasion.”123 In reality, the humanitarian infrastructure responded first and in high numbers. Numerous authors note the presence of Hijazi activists and organizations in the country assisting refugees and giving updated assessments of
the situation.124 The initial response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan from the Hijazi
movement was humanitarian in nature and gives a direct insight into the philosophical and
mechanistic foundations of the foreign fighter ideology.
A militant movement requires committed personnel who acknowledge the existence
of an existential threat. The movement had the committed participants and responded with
humanitarian aid. If the threat was reframed, however, to represent a direct danger to members of the group, then the conceptual step required to take up defensive arms would not be
121  See J. Miller Burr and Robert Collins, “Alms for Jihad: Charity and Terrorism in the Islamic World” (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 111.
122  Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters,” 84. At times, the increase in charitable donations to foreign Muslim
causes exceeded the gross domestic product. See Jamus (2001), 56.
123  Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters,” 85.
124  Muhammad Amir Rana and Mubasher Bukhari, “Arabs in Afghan Jihad,” (Lahore: Pak Institute for Peace Studies, 2007),
79.

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considered. Leaders would simply need to explain the theological justification and insert it
into the movement in order to prove the unnecessary taking up arms while a charismatic
leader assuaged the fears of volunteers. This outline describes the simplified process that
appears to have occurred in the formulation of the Muslim foreign fighter ideology. The
philosophical and structural foundation was inherent to the Hijazi movement. Its formation
simply required a focusing event and leadership to put it into practice.
Islamic scholar Abdullah Azzam, the “Godfather of Jihad,” was a true ideologue.
Doggedly committed to his own beliefs, he was willing to cut ties with powerful actors and
organizations over his principle. As a purported founding member of Hamas, he severed ties
with Yasser Arafat over the decision to adopt a secular national liberation ideology instead of
one based in Islamism.125 The relationship between Azzam, the M.W.L., and the I.M.B. was
crucial for his transition from position of influence to active recruiter. Having been exiled
from Jordan, his I.M.B. contacts secured him a position at the King Abd al-Aziz University
in Jidda.126 Having been inspired to move to Pakistan following a meeting with a senior
Muslim Brother, Kamal Al-Sananiri, Azzam took up a position among the foreign faculty
at the International Islamic University of Islamabad, and his salary was paid for by the
M.W.L.127 However, his reputation for a lack of compromise came to the fore when a schism
emerged with the I.M.B. over the appropriate reaction to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan
in 1979. When the I.M.B. refused to only send humanitarian aid and not fighters, Azzam
renounced the organization and set up the Service Bureau, an office that coordinated foreign
fighter logistics.128 By this stage, the territorial ideology that called for the removal of infidels
from historic lands was cemented in Azzam’s mind.129
When the Soviets breached the Afghan border, Azzam produced a fatwa titled Defense
of the Muslim Lands. This call to arms demanded that Muslim lands be defended against the
non-Muslim aggressors.130 While the call to arms that Azzam used was reminiscent of previous imperatives espoused within militant Islamism, there existed two subtle differences:
the external nature of the enemy and its emphasis on individual rather than collective duty.
In his book Join the Caravan, Azzam externalized the perceived threat to Muslims by
placing emphasis on the need to protect the ummah from outside aggressors.131 This differed
from two of the previous cornerstones of Islamist doctrine, Qutbism and Wahhabism, which
125  Trevor Stanley “Abdullah Azzam: The Godfather of Jihad,” (Perspectives on World History and Current Events, 2003)
accessed March 21, 2014.
126  Ibid.
127  Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters,” 87.
128  Stanley, “Abdullah Azzam: The Godfather of Jihad,” (2003) accessed March 21, 2014.
129  Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters,” 94.
130  Stanley, “Abdullah Azzam: The Godfather of Jihad.”
131  Abdullah Azzam (1979) “Defence of the Muslim Nation,” accessed at March 3, 2014.

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previously emphasized regime change. Political scientist and Islamic terrorism expert Fawaz
Gerges confirms this, claiming that prior to 1980, regime change was the modus operandi
of most militant groups.132
Islamic scholars traditionally placed the responsibility for fighting with the local population.133 The individual was not bound to fight; duty was framed as a collective responsibility with outsiders requiring permission to fight from “parents, creditors and the local
political authority.”134 In The Defense of Muslim Territories, Azzam dictates that collective
responsibility is no longer applicable. He explains,

[Jihad] is incumbent upon those who are nearby, and so on until it spreads throughout
the world. In such a situation, a husband’s permission is not required to fight; nor is the
father’s permission necessary for the son...135

This edict had far-reaching ramifications. Orthodox Islamic views had previously invested the power to allow jihad within the hierarchy of the relevant national government.
This change in emphasis placed the onus squarely on the individual and provided a rationale
for what Hegghammer describes as “privatized warfare.”136 National governments that previously maintained a monopoly on the ability to prevent or allow travel for jihad could have
relied on the need for permission from a local superior. Without this procedure in place, the
influence and power of the state was called into question.
This ideology contained substantive changes evident from the reactions of contemporary mainstream and extremists commentators alike.137 A number of prominent Islamist
scholars stressed their disagreement over the issue of obligation. While non-Afghans would
be granted permission to fight, they were not “theologically obliged.”138 Though, as author
Robert Cook illustrates, the defense of Muslim lands from non-Muslim aggressors is more
in keeping with orthodox jihad doctrines.139 Methods were also a source of much disagreement. Lawrence illustrates that Al Qaeda continued to disagree with the use of conventional
tactics up to the 2000s, most famously via Osama Bin Laden’s 1998 sanction that war must
take place with “all means in all places.”140
132 
133 
134 
135 
136 
137 
138 
139 
140 

Fawaz Gerges, “The Far Enemy: Why Jihad Went Global” (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 39.
Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters,” 74.
Scott, “A Homemade Style of Terror,” 54.
Azzam, “Defence of the Muslim Nation.”
Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters,” 74.
Ibid.
Ibid.
Robert Cook trans, “Njal’s Saga” (London: Penguin, 2001), 122-123.
Bruce Lawrence, “Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama Bin Laden” (London: Verso, 2005), 38.

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Evidence of direct influence on recruitment would require an extensive comparative
analysis of the relevant Islamist literature. This falls out of the scope of this dissertation due
to its scale. In lieu of this, Hegghammer provides a brief summary of what he believes to be
evidence of Azzam’s influence. An analysis of literature from the Bosnian conflict and the
latest Iraq war claims to show uniformity of ideology with Azzam, specifically in the emphasis placed on external threats and individual responsibility. This leads Hegghammer to
conclude that Azzam was “by far the most influential foreign fighter ideologue” and that his
texts were “emblematic of the foreign fighter doctrine.”141
The causal relationship between the Hijazi social movement and the foreign fighter
ideology is connected through Abdullah Azzam and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
This set of relationships provides sufficient evidence for both the chronological distribution and mechanisms of mobilization that explain the origins of the Muslim foreign fighter
movement.

Conclusion
This dissertation attempted to investigate the causal story of the Muslim foreign fighter
phenomenon by exploring the relationships between social movements, ideologies, and activists. It concludes that the phenomenon arose from a militant ideology that emerged from
a wider pan-Islamic movement seeking to unite and defend the global Muslim community.
Abdullah Azzam reinterpreted a new articulation of jihad through a philosophical rubric
that emphasized the individual duty of Muslims to protect fellow members of the ummah
from external aggressors. Structural constraints and personal motivations were deemed
necessary but not sufficient in explaining both the chronological distribution and mobilization mechanisms required for the creation of the phenomenon.
Investigating the origins of Muslim foreign fighters was inspired by the idea that a better
understanding would support efforts to curb the phenomenon’s modern manifestation. The
ongoing events in Syria, where the presence of foreign fighters has undoubtedly escalated
the conflict, have supported a fragile collage of disparate forces vying for power against a
dogged dictatorship and has sharpened the focus for policymakers.
This investigation roots the origins of the movement in ideology, potentially posing serious problems for policymakers. This dissertation has illustrated the power of ideology to
move people physically and psychologically, to fight in battles for purely nominal reasons.
The response from policymakers should not be fatalism, however. The investigation has
highlighted areas that can be exploited to curb the foreign fighters’ influence. Foreign fighters are common within the history of conflict. In order to construct effective counterstrategies, it is necessary to identify consistencies in their conceptual logic.
141 

Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters,” 74.

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