Abdul Basit (Nanyang Technological University) - South Asia’s Educated Jihadists: Motivations, Radicalisation and Consequences
The rapid rise and anti-climactic fall of the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria has transformed extremist narratives, recruitment and propaganda patterns in South Asia. Furthermore, the diffusion of IS’ extremist narrative has galvanised a new generation of educated and urban militants who constitute the fourth generation South Asia jihadists preceded by the Afghan jihadists in the 1980s, Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the 1990s and Al-Qaeda linked groups such as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, Jandullah, among others, after 9/11. Using Peter Neumann’s New Terrorism Framework, this paper will explore the structure, methods, goals and ideological orientations of South Asia’s educated jihadists. Characteristically, the fourth generation of South Asia jihadists comprises of self-starters and freelancers who are moral consequentialist, tech savvy, overtly sectarian and decentralised. It will also explore whether the rise of South Asian educated jihadists is a novel phenomenon or continuation of old trends. The paper posits that the rise of educated jihadists in South Asia is the aftereffect of War on Terror as opposed to the aftereffect of Afghan Jihad which created different trends in the region.
Dr Adel Abdul Ghafar (Brookings Institution) - EU-Egypt relations in an age of uncertainty
The US‐led liberal international order
is going through a fundamental change
with implications for the
Middle East and North
Africa (MENA) region. President Trump’s ‘America First’ rhetoric combined with inconsistent and shifting US policy towards the region has meant that MENA countries have been increasingly looking to deepen their relationship with other international partners such as Russia, China and the European Union. This has been the case for Egypt, which has sought to increase its economic and security engagement with the European Union, amongst other partners. In
an increasingly chaotic Southern Mediterranean region, the European Union has also looked towards Egypt as a stable and reliable partner to cooperate with in facing with many of the ongoing regional challenges.
Based on a study conducted by the author for the European Parliament, this research examines some of the key drivers for EU – Egypt relations, and investigates its prospects and challenges over the next decades. The study argues that the EU’s economic and security engagement with Egypt should not come at the expense of supporting democracy, human rights and the rule of law. The study also argues that EU programmatic assistance to Egypt should focus on youth, women, education,
and entrepreneurship. Finally, the study also argues that the EU’s engagement is likely to be more successful if EU member states are more unified in their approach towards Egypt.
Anas Iqtait (ANU) - The Fiscal Dimensions of the Palestinian Authority’s Foreign Policy response to Trump’s Jerusalem Decision
President Trump’s announcement of the United States’ recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel sparked wide international criticism and protest, and general approval in Israel. In response, the Palestinian Authority (PA) pushed to internationalize the moribund peace process by taking to the United Nations, and advocating for a multilateral international mechanism to replace the United States as the sole mediator. This paper explores the limitations of the PA’s internationalization strategy by shifting the focus from Israel and international actors, to the PA’s fiscal structure. By examining the evolution of the PA’s fiscal skeleton, this paper sets the ground for exploring links between the PA’s fiscal structure and foreign policy. Taking into account the absence of functional sovereignty, rentierism, and the PA’s revenue generation record, the paper utilizes a theoretical framework of fiscal sociology and international relations theory. Findings highlight that aid and indirect taxes, that are collected and processed by Israel (clearance revenue) on behalf of the PA, represent on average 80 percent of the PA’s total revenue. Furthermore, in recent years, a shifting fiscal dependency from aid toward clearance revenue and other indirect taxes controlled by Israel have dictated new parameters to the PA’s internationalization strategy.
Prof Anita M. Weiss (University of Oregon) - The Potential of Non-State Actors to Counter Violent Extremism in Pakistan: Innovative Efforts to promote Interfaith Harmony and Understanding
Violent extremism has manifest in myriad ways over the past decades in Pakistan. In response, the Pakistan state and military have sought to counter this extremism through different strategies. However, these have been fraught with problems, and the violence continues, sometimes escalating with such agitations as those by Khadim Hussain Rizvi and his Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan in November 2017. More importantly, many non-state actors are engaging in various kinds of social negotiations and actions to lessen the violence and recapture indigenous cultural identity and religious values.
This paper is part of a book project, Countering Violent Extremism in Pakistan: Local Actions, Local Voices, and addresses one of many local efforts currently underway to counter violent extremism in Pakistan. Based on research conducted in Pakistan between 2017-19, it focuses on innovative ways that religious leaders and practitioners, throughout the country, are promoting interfaith harmony and mobilizing their constituencies and others in these efforts. These include efforts to mobilize communities in the event of an attack, to educate communities about other faiths, to revise syllabi at madrasas and other religious schools. The paper also questions the impact such efforts are having on countering extremism in Pakistan.
Dr Anshuman Behera (National Institute of Advanced Studies) - Interrogating Religious Fundamentalism in India: Processes, legitimization and institutions
By far the understanding of religious fundamentalism in India has led to two extreme narratives, each looking at only that part of the picture that suits it. The popular and the state-centric view limit it to a security and law and order issue. At the other extreme, the individual religious fundamentalist groups project themselves as the ‘legitimate custodian’ of their respective religion; the violence used by them against other religion is often ‘justified’ through minority/majority status of the group. While these two narratives dominate the religious fundamentalism discourse in India it certainly fails to identify and engage with some subtle but important aspects such as the processes of legitimization and the evolvement of institutions around religious fundamentalism. Moving away from these two narratives the proposed paper seeks to engage with three important but least addressed aspects of religious fundamentalism in India.
The process in which fundamentalism, across religious spectrum, operates is a major aspect that the paper seeks to engage with. In the last couple of decades, especially after the proscription of the Students’ Islamist Movement in India (SIMI) in 2001 and followed by the infamous Godhra riot in Gujarat in 2002; the nature of religious fundamentalism has been going under significant changes. Prior to these events activities around religious fundamentalism in India were largely confined to ‘reaction of a particular group against the action of the other’. However, the post Godhra riot period witnesses the processes of consolidation among the fundamentalist groups against each other. While the popular understandings often engage with the Hindu and Islamic fundamentalist groups the Christian fundamentalism, though in a lesser degree, has also grown substantially. One striking feature among these religious fundamentalist groups has been their flexibility in forging alliance with another with a motive to target what they perceive as a ‘common enemy’. The alliance between the Hindu and Christian radical groups against celebration of ‘ Tipu Jayanti’ in Indian state of Karnataka or the Popular Front of India (PFI), an Islamic radical organisation forging alliance with Christian radical groups, largely led by the Pentecostals, against the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS) in Kerala are some examples. While these alliances are extremely localized in nature they do have significant impact larger processes of religious fundamentalism in India.
A second major motive of this paper is to engage with the aspects of legitimization and representation that the fundamentalist groups operate with. Religious fundamentalism in India is increasingly seen to be functioning through legitimizing its activities. Fundamentalist groups across the religious lines enjoy certain degree of support and legitimacy from various civil societies and political dispensations. It will not be entirely wrong to say that religious fundamentalism is increasingly becoming an inseparable part of Indian party politics and there by enjoys legitimization. A least known Hindu radical group, Karni Sena’s, violent activities in most North-Indian states over a fictional character without any criticism by political parties is a testimony to this. At the same time religious fundamentalism in India is also observed to be closely interacting with other forms of extremism. Extremist groups like the Maoists closely interact Christian and Islamic radicals in states like Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and West Bengal. Similarly, the caste based extremist groups like Ranbir Sena and Karni Sena are seen to be closely interacting with the Hindu radicals.
A third objective of this paper is to identify and engage with the institutions which are either established or influenced by the fundamentalist groups. Institutions created by the fundamentalist groups, both in terms of practices and norms and establishments (Rawls 1971, 1999, p. 47), help them sustain their activities.
Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal (Kashmir Times) - Intersections of political conflict and competitive extremisms: A case study of Jammu and Kashmir
A site of political conflict with a diverse demographic profile is rich ground for religious extremists to penetrate. The vertical and horizontal expansion of such extremism is phenomenally quick as it is nurtured by competitive extremism of two or more groups, xenophobia of one being a stimulant for the other.
Jammu & Kashmir with its religious and ethnic diversity provides a perfect setting where Islamic extremism in the north and Hindu extremism in the south, despite being at logger heads, are perfect stimulants for each other. This paper explores the rise of competitive extremism in Jammu & Kashmir as a case study, looking at intersections of conflict with extremism and role of various agents and catalysts including state and non state actors in exacerbating communal divisions to the point that even incidents like rape and murder of a minor girl (Kathua, 2018) become rich cash crops in the hands of extremists for politicization and furthering the binaries of ‘us and them’. The region is not unfamiliar with divisive politics played by various stake-holders including the deep states of India and Pakistan in the last 70 years. At present, the ground is much more fertile for popular appeal of respective extremists.
Dr Arshi Saleem Hashmi (National Defence University) - Changing Dynamics of Religious Extremism: Rise of Religiously Motivated Urban Violence in India and Pakistan
Religiously motivated violence in the form of communal riots in India and sectarian violence in Pakistan has been a dominant factor inciting hate against the minorities. The new dynamics however now being experienced is the urban youth being mobilized in the name of religion , they are otherwise relatively educated, live in cities, practice religion and professionals. These young "normal" people find motivation following their leaders and indulge in committing acts of violence against the "other'". In India, with the rise of BJP under Modi and the political space RSS Sanghis acquired has resulted in violent expression of their commitment to the cause of Hindutva. Pakistan on the other hand, while dealing militarily with the Taliban ( who happen to be Deobandis) ignored the fact that more larger population of urban youth following Braelvi school of thought has managed to acquire the social and political space. This has resulted in mass mobilization by the leaders of Sunni Braelvis in the cities in the name of Propher (PBUH). These young mobilized city dwellers proved to be extremely intolerant towards other sects and minorities particularly Ahmedis. In both countries, unlike old extremists, the new extremists prefer to participate in democratic politics and yet believe in violently convincing the other.
The paper is significant to understand the changing dynamics of extremism in both countries that is weakening the democratic order of the post colonial South Asian states. It is also important as the threat is within and unlike traditional India-Pakistan conflict, it endorses the ideological hardening which makes both the states vulnerable to ideologically driven mass mobilization of young urban extremists , thus making it extremely difficult to establish peace in the region.
Dr Aslihan Mccarthy (La Trobe University) - Public Diplomacy under Occupation: Instrumentalizing Education for Leveraging the Palestinian Cause
Public diplomacy is a powerful tool for helping to change people’s perceptions of each other’s countries and cultures. Face-to-face contacts between peoples of different countries and cultures helps diminish stereotypes and ultimately facilitates intercultural communication. International educational and professional exchanges play an important and vital part in public diplomacy.
Although its effectiveness is questionable as a soft power tool in the Middle East under the shadow of the contemporary developments like the crash of the US-Palestinian relations after Donald Trump, we observe the traces of public diplomacy utilized by both superpowers and the weak to serve certain issues that states or its people want to communicate to the world.
In that context, this paper will try to unroll the challenges and possibilities of public diplomacy through education for the Palestinian Authority. To that end Birzeit University, Palestinian and Arabic Studies (PAS) program, its aims and framework will be examined based on observations and personal experience as a student at the Birzeit University in the West Bank in 2014. The main question this paper tries to answer is what education as a means for public diplomacy offer for leveraging the Palestinian cause in the international arena and forming an international public opinion.
Dr Ben Macqueen (Monash University) - Renewal of the Restoration of Lebanese Sovereignty Act under Trump
Dr Ben Rich (Curtin University) - Saudi Arabian Foreign Policy: The Best Defence is a Good Offence?
In his presentation, Dr Ben Rich, a researcher of Saudi Arabian politics, will discuss recent developments in Saudi foreign policy and their wider implications for regional security. In particular, he will focus on the historically divergent bellicosity of the Salman administration under the auspices of Prince Mohammad Bin Salman. Of particular note have been a number of developments in the past three years, including the unprecedented GCC military intervention into Yemen, the artificially orchestrated Qatari diplomatic crisis, and the kidnapping of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri. In each instance, the Saudis have displayed a worrying tendency towards recklessness that has generated numerous unforeseen and destabilising consequences for the Gulf region.
Dr Binoy Kampmark (RMIT) - Matters of Recognition: Donald Trump on Jerusalem
This paper considers the US policy on recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the opening of the US embassy on the occasion of the establishment of the State of Israel. More importantly, it plots the way in which the Trump administration engaged the subject in opening the embassy, noting areas of contention and policy imperatives. The timing of the move in terms of such actions as that of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Iran atomic files expose is also considered. US congressional debates leading up to the issue of recognition, and Trump’s own specific response to the issue, are also considered, suggesting that the picture, as ever, is more complex than it seems.
Dr Costas Laoutides (Deakin University) - External involvement in the Kurdish Separatist Movements in Iraq and Iran
This paper analyses the external involvement of regional and major powers in Kurdish separatism in Iraq and Iran. It is argued that the Kurdish cause has been used as a proxy for clashes between international actors in the Middle East for a long period of time and the current situation resembles this historical trend. The paper is separated in three parts. Part one analytically distinguishes the motives of external involvement into instrumental reasons on the one hand and affective reasons on the other. Instrumental motives are international political considerations, short-term and long-term economic motives, domestic motives and short-term military gains. Affective involvement includes reasons of justice, humanitarian considerations, ethnic, religious or ideological affinity. Part two, analyses the Kurdish struggle as a proxy during the Cold War and until the creation of the Iraqi Federal Government with reference to the involvement of major powers as well as regional actors. Part three analyses recent developments of Kurdish separatism in Iraq and Iran in light of the 2017 referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan and well as the recent hardening of US foreign policy in the region.
Dr DB Subedi (University of the South Pacific) - Religious extremism and neo‐nationalism in Sri Lanka: Perspectives on Buddhist-Muslim relations and co-existence
Sri Lanka’s transition from civil war to peace has been conflated with the rise of religious extremism and neo-nationalism. Buddhism is the dominating religion in Sri Lanka with about 70% of the people following Theravada Buddhism, followed by 16% Hindus,
8% Islam and about 8% Christians. While Sinhala Buddhism was favoured by the state in the past when “the Sinhala Only Act” of 1956 made Sinhala the official language of the country, at present, there has been a forceful resurgence of Buddhist religious nationalism, which
has been inherently violent. The recent rise of radical and, at times, violent religious movements led by Buddhist organisations including Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) has resulted in racial and faith-based hatred and violence primarily against Muslim but also Christian minorities communities.
Focusing on the resurgence of Sinhala Buddhist ideology and contentious political mobilisation in Sri Lanka, this paper critically examines why and under what circumstances countries emerging from armed conflicts experience the rise of religious extremism and neo-nationalist discourse
and what impact it will have on inter-religious co-existence. The findings presented in this paper are drawn from interviews conducted in northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka between March and June 2018.
Prof Elena Savicheva (Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia) - Russia’s Policy in the Middle East: Opportunities and Risks
The paper considers peculiarities of the political situation in the modern Middle East, examines the changing balance of power and geopolitical aspirations of various international actors in the region.
A special attention is paid to the “Arab spring" and its consequences for the regional security. The large-scale protest movements which opened a way to inter-political turbulence and social crises, internationalization of almost any conflict arising in the region, continuing increase in military costs, activation of the Islamist movements, including fundamentalist, political chaos, new waves of migration, interference of external-regional powers - all these factors indicate the chronic instability in the region as a whole and in individual countries, unpredictable, and sometimes unexpected turn of events. The paper also focuses on Russia's position on topical issues in the region. Russia has been always connected to the Middle East through numerous historic, cultural, economic and humanitarian links. Events in the region have a visible positive or negative impact on Russia. Moscow has been seriously concerned about the destabilization of the region that started after the American invasion of Iraq. It wants the Arab world to become stable and predictable yet again, eliminate the terrorist threat and create favorable conditions for national business.
Russian military involvement in the Syrian conflict has no historical precedent - unlike other global powers neither the Russian Empire nor the Soviet Union ever fought with the Arabs.
Felix Pal (ANU) - Syncretic Extremism: Muslims reinterpreting Islam in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh
In the twilight of the twentieth century communal violence in India began to acquire a sharpened political salience. In response, social scientists sought to emphasise the syncretic character of many Indian intercommunal interactions. Highlighting sharing and synthesis within folk religious traditions, these scholars rejected the communal logic fast colouring Indian public debate. While a powerful rebuke to communal antagonism, this work has not explored how syncretism can also be a tool of communal of division. Who syncretises? Who is syncretised? How does Indian syncretism reflect power differentials between Hindu and Muslim communities? In this paper I argue that syncretic discourses can be shrewdly manufactured by instrumentalist political brokers seeking to publically legitimise communal activities. Drawing on my fieldwork in New Delhi with the Muslim Rashtriya Manch, the Muslim wing of the militantly Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), I explore how religious syncretism can operate in the service of violent religious extremists. By examining how the RSS promotes Islamisation of Hindu nationalist theology among Manch members, I critique the uncritical placement of religious extremism within orthodox religious traditions. When we question this placement, we can begin to realise the reactionary and conservative potential of religious syncretism in India.
Firas Naji (University of Sydney) - Post-ISIS Iraqi election results – new era or false dawn?
In June 2014, one third of Iraqi territory – including Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city – fell under ISIS control, which represented a major threat to Iraq’s existence as a united nation-state. However, despite ending this threat, and taking measures against the ramifications of the Kurdistan referendum for independence in October 2017, serious challenges are still overshadowing Iraq’s future. Iraq remains a contested field for the Saudi-Iranian regional rivalry, and for the looming conflict between Israel and Iran, especially following Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal. This paper analyses the results of the 2018 Iraqi election, as an indicator of which pathway Iraq is heading towards: ethno-sectarianism or strengthening its overarching national identity. selections of media interviews for political leaders of the main election coalitions representing the main communal and cross-communal groups, are analysed using discourse analysis in relation to their national sentiments. The election results indicate significant breaches of the ethno-sectarian political framework that dominated the Iraqi political scene since 2003. The election results of the examined political alliances are interpreted to detect the future directions of Iraq’s internal dynamics, and the regional implications of these dynamics.
Dr Galib Bashirov (Florida International University) - Domestic Debates on Foreign Policy in Turkey
With the dramatic changes in domestic political scene and a shift toward growing activism in its foreign policy, many observers have started to question the objectives of Turkish foreign policy. How does Turkey perceive the existing US-dominated global order and what does Turkey want from it? To answer these questions, this paper will examine the existing foreign policy beliefs and ideas in Turkey within a framework that identifies different foreign policy schools of thought based on each school’s scope (national, regional, global), means (hard, soft power) and goals (geopolitical institutional, ideological). I will track domestic debates on foreign policy in terms of these schools of thought, associate the schools with individuals and/or institutions, and identify shifts in the intellectual center of gravity of these domestic foreign policy debates. Finally, I will explain the implications of these shifts for Turkey’s interactions with major powers such as the United States and the European Union, as well as with the Middle East and North Africa. For this study, I will analyze foreign policy views and programs of various political parties, groups, prominent figures and experts in Turkey. While I certainly do not argue that these worldviews are always the primary causes of foreign policy outcomes, they are nonetheless good proxies for shifts in foreign policy.
Dr Hanlie Booysen (Victoria University of Wellington) - Qatar’s Gamble on the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood
Why did Qatar support the opposition Syrian Muslim Brotherhood (SMB) in the Syrian uprising? Existing literature describes Qatar’s foreign policy as a textbook example of hedging, i.e. to pursue opposing positions in order to reduce risk. However, hedging does not adequately explain Qatar’s significant support for the SMB in the early stages of the Syrian uprising. Another possible explanation might be that Qatar and the SMB share a similar worldview. However, though Qatar supports the SMB, the MB in Egypt, and Hamas in Palestine, Qatar does not share in these movements’ revivalist interpretation of Islam. In contrast, Qatar shares in Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi doctrine. In the proposed paper, I will argue that Qatar acted as a rational political actor in its support for the SMB. In doing so, I will show that Qatar, as president of the Arab League, succeeded in rallying Arab support for actions against Libya and Syria that resonated with the Western-led international community, and that (for a limited time) the SMB succeeded in presenting its moderate policy on governance as a plausible alternative to Bashar al-Asad’s one-party state.
Hashem Karami (University of Garmian) - Sub-State Actors and Trump’s Foreign Policy in the Middle East: The Case of the Kurdish Forces in Iraq and Syria
This paper studies the position, role and importance of sub-state actors in the Trump government’s foreign policy, with a focus on the Kurdish forces in Iraq and Syria. Specifically, the paper investigates the role of the sub-state Kurdish forces located in Iraq and Syria as leverage and/or as the implementers of the policy defined by the US in the Middle East. In Iraq, Kurds , on the one hand, have played political-military roles in counter-terrorism initiatives against IS and, on the other hand, the US has been strengthening these Kurdish Iraqi forces to provide leverage to challenge Baghdad’s increasingly pro-Shia domestic and foreign policy. In Syria, the political forces of the Syrian Kurds and their joint military forces with their Arab allies, known as the SDF, have played an important role as an element of US foreign policy in the fight against the terrorism of radical Islamists, and now SDF is acting as the implementer of US foreign policy in Syria. This paper will argue that the Kurds have become a more important actor due to US support and have an important role in foreign policy of the US.
Dr Hosain Safari (IRIB) - From Isolationism to interventionism, Where will Trump's foreign policy towards Middle East stop?
US foreign policy is described as a Hegemon who is fluctuating between isolationism and interventionism. Trump came to power with slogans showing him as an isolationist president. After a year in power he appears to be an interventionist president.
The paper is going to prove that trump is going to remain an Isolationist president in contrary to his interventionist appearance of his public diplomacy. My theory framework is Constructivism. In this framework we regard hegemony as the pervasive attitude in US foreign policy.
The survey’s question is “How United States hegemonic approach has been dominated during Donald Trump's administration? My hypothesis is: United States hegemonic approach which is resulted from its political and international identity, has been the main factor in Donald Trump's foreign policy in Middle East. Our research method is analytical-descriptive.
A/Prof Hossein Esmaeili (Flinders University) - Independent Judiciaries and their Relations to Democracy in the Middle East
Establishing and promoting the rule of law and democracy in the Middle East has been an ongoing strategy both within and outside the Middle East for many decades. One important element of the rule of law, as well as a democratic system in any country, is an independent judiciary where the rights of people are protected and the power of the government is confined to the Constitution and the legal system. While in countries based on a democracy, in Europe, Australia, and elsewhere, independent judiciaries protect the rule of law against political pressures. In most Middle Eastern countries, there is no well-established and effective judicial system to protect civil rights and to control political powers and pressures. There are, however, working legal systems, separation of power to some degree, and some important theoretical bases for independent judiciaries.
This paper will first analyse the importance of independent judiciaries in systems based on the rule of law and democracy. This paper will then review the status of judicial independence in the Middle East, particularly in major countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Turkey. It will be suggested that the tradition of independence of the institution of law and the independence of judicial systems and judges must be promoted in the Middle East in order to establish effective legal systems based on the rule of law.
Prof Husam Mohamad (University of Central Oklahoma) - Reflecting on Continuity and Changes in U.S. Policy and Israeli-Palestinian Relations
This essay reflects on current and historic challenges relating to U.S. mediation efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. While marginal changes in U.S. policy towards the region may have developed over the years, the U.S.’s approach to Israel and the Palestinians has been, and remained, entrenched in the same conventional wisdom and frame of reference that favours Israel against the Palestinians. The U.S. backing for Israel, namely during the Trump administration, created key discrepancies and double-standard policies in relations to Israeli vis-à-vis the Palestinians. This paper will highlight the George W. Bush and Barak Obama administrations’ perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Although Donald Trump has not yet developed a substantial policy on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, his approach already placed the Palestinians at a major disadvantage and turning point in their history. Trump’s first visit to the region (Saudi Arabia, Israel and the PA) in May 2017 resulted in more uncertainties about the future of the peace process. Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his focus on confronting Iran at all costs enticed his administration to build stronger military alliances with both Israel and key Arab Gulf states. The Palestinian issue has thus become less central not only for Israel and the U.S., but also to the Arab Gulf states, namely Saudi Arabia. The Saudis main focus is also cantered on confronting Iran and its allies, and therefore they, along with the US and Israel, have downplayed the Palestinian issue and established unified efforts to confront Iran. This essay also affirms that U.S. policymakers, advisors and the U.S. public at large have, irrespective of the political affiliations with Republicans or Democrats, always sided with Israel at all costs. There is no evidence pointing that this situation may change under Trump’s presidency. On the contrary, under Trump, the U.S. has clearly and aggressively acted on the side of Israel at all levels.
The Bush and Obama administrations have embraced the two-state vision as blueprint for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The plan was intended to fulfil Palestinians’ minimal claims without hindering Israel’s security concerns. The two presidents assumed that reaching a lasting peace settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would strengthen the U.S.’s ties with Arab autocratic regimes without hindering their strategic relationship with Israel. The U.S., during the Trump administration, aims at creating new and lasting rapprochements between Israel and its Arab allies, who are increasingly becoming unified in their attempts to confront Iran’s regional influence. The Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital may have already ended the Oslo peace process. While the Palestinians fear the notion of the permanence of their status-quo situation, Israel and the US (along with the Saudi regime seem indifferent about the Palestine issue.
Iain MacGillivray (The University of Melbourne) - Turkey in the Trump Era - a disgruntled ally or aspiring revisionist power?
The US-Turkey Alliance has a long and tumultuous history. Relations between the two have particularly changed in the post-Cold War era as Turkey’s geostrategic interests in the region and its place in the western alliance has been questioned. The Trump era in US-Turkey relations has seen the relationship between these two supposed allies reach new and unprecedented lows. Turkey’s incursion into Syria and continued US support for the Kurdish militants (YPG-PYD) in Manbij and East of the Euphrates has also added to the tensions which has put the two countries at logger heads. Given this set of developments centred on an aggressive adventurist foreign policy which has put Turkey’s relations with its long-time ally on the verge of complete collapse, is it possible to conduce that the country has become an aspiring revisionist power in the international order? This paper seeks to explore Turkish domestic and foreign policy in the post-July 15 coup era arguing that Turkey’s continuing authoritarian trajectory under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is not a shift to the ‘east’ but a ‘precious isolation’ as it demonstrates patterns in line with anti-hegemonic tendencies associated with revisionist powers within the international system. Moreover, it will explore whether these anti-hegemonic tendencies are consequences of historical path dependencies or indeed a new ‘Turkish Foreign Policy’.
Dr Ian Nelson (The University of Nottingham, Ningbo) - Something New in the Offing, Or a Case of More is Less: Wilsonianism in the Trump Era
President Barak Obama’s decision to abstain in UNSC Resolution 2334 (23 December 2016) marked a turning point in American diplomacy towards the Middle East. Not only did Washington’s stance effectively reiterate the validity of U.N. Res 242 (1967) —centrally, the illegality of the Israeli occupation and settlement building in the territories captured during the Six-Day War,— it also appeared to constitute a departure from the customary trilateralist negotiating template —bilateral Arab-Israeli talks, unilaterally overseen by the U.S.— characterising peace efforts since the Camp David summit hosted by Jimmy Carter in 1978.
This paper argues that these developments, enacted on the eve of the transition of power from Obama to the president-elect, Donald Trump (a figure already touched by controversy after a presidential campaign promise to move the American embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem), have not only laid down the foreign policy-making gauntlet for the incoming Republican administration, but defined the changing political contours of U.S. identity towards the Mideastern region. Moreover, the paper explores how the U.S. shift might be perceived in the historical framework of Woodrow Wilson when compared with the directness of Trump by its global allies and opponents alike.
Dr Ihab Shalbak (University of Sydney) - Donald Trump and the Palestinian Question
Upon his election Donald Trump announced his ambitious initiative, the Deal of the Century, to solve the Palestine/Israel conflict once and for all. Although the parameters of Trump’s deal are not clearly discernable, the geopolitical shifts in the region made it possible for his administration to exercise the utmost pressure on the Palestinians to force them to accept whatever is on offer. In this context, even the usually compliant Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas called Trump’s deal ‘the slap of the century. In this paper, I look at the implications of, and reactions to, Trump’s two major decisions in relation to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict: the decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem and the cutting of funding to UNRWA. I argue that the two decisions aim to dissolve the Palestinian question rather than solve it. In this sense the decisions are a continuation of a long history of failed attempts to diminish and side-step the Palestinian people. In the current instance, the bluntness of Trump’s approach, combined with the changing geopolitical circumstances, have undercut the normative and conceptual framework that has underpinned Palestinian political moves since the early 1970s. The question that remains is, will the American pressure drive the Palestinians to come up with their own creative solutions, as they did in their successive uprisings, or drive them to despair?
Prof Ihsan Yilmaz (Deakin University) - TBC
Dr James Barry (Deakin University) - Sectarian Entrepreneurs and the Formulation of Cross-Ethnic Sunni Identity in Iran
James Morris (University of Queensland) - So Don’t Stop Me Now – An Examination of Counterinsurgency and Security in Post-Election Iraq
This paper will explore three elements of Iraq's domestic security challenge to demonstrate the centrality of counterinsurgency in ensuring stability and political and social development under its new administration.
Firstly, the importance of continuing to pursue ISIS and ISIS-sympathetic groups to ensure that “ISIS 2.0” does not develop. It will discuss the popular problematic perspective of “ISIS 2.0” in relation to the group’s shift to regular insurgency terror tactics: this is not “ISIS 2.0”, but rather “ISIS Classic”. Misunderstanding this reality risks increased insurgent strength and activity under the noses of Iraqi forces.
Secondly, to protect against insurgent growth, a concerted effort is required within schools. Militant groups have much to gain through control of school infrastructure and students, and influence of educational curricula (previously used by ISIS for long-term ideological influence and child recruitment). Multi-level coordination is required to ensure curricula are informed by principles of tolerance and inclusion, that community-led awareness programs for youth radicalisation are established, and that schools are protected. Failure risks undermining community cohesion, security, and fragmentation as seen during the early 2010s.
Thirdly, engagement with regional and foreign powers is essential for protecting against cross-border insurgent activities. The Iraqi government must priorities border protection and preparedness. Coordination with neighbours and utilisation of foreign assets such as US intelligence and logistical support should be prioritised to limit cross-border insurgent activities. Doing so starves armed groups of logistical strategic options. Failure risks decreased confidence in the government’s counterinsurgency abilities, resulting in vigilante violence, arms trafficking and other destabilising activities
Dr Jeremiah Thomas Brown (IPAG Asia Pacific) - An Unclear Divide: What Consolidating Democracies Can Tell Us About the Current ‘Democratic Crisis’
Whilst contemporary scholarship on democracy has exploded with accounts of established democracies in crisis, literature examining established and consolidating democracies often treats the challenges faced by each as unique. Despite recent scholarship and media commentary highlighting an ‘authoritarian’ and populist turn in established democracies, there remains a divide in how scholars speak about established and consolidating democracies. The proposed paper will argue that there are important similarities in the issues faced by democracies at different stages of consolidation, and that they can provide valuable insights for each other. The paper will demonstrate this by using examples of issues facing democracy in India, Pakistan, Egypt and the United States. In doing so, the paper will argue that theorists in established democracies should be drawing on the democratic experience in countries which have at times been ignored. This will be demonstrated through a discussion of the similarities shared in the experience of minority groups in each society, highlighting that minority political experience in consolidating democracies can provide valuable insights for democratic theorists more generally. The paper will also examine the similar role that economic inequality plays in shaping the domestic political context of each country, especially with respect to how citizens engage with the political process.
Khurram Abbas (Islamabad Policy Research Institute) - Conceptualising the rise of Barelvi extremism in Pakistan and its impact
Pakistan is a multi-ethnic and multi religious country. Country’s foundation rests on the two nation theory. Therefore, it has an impact on the post-independence state and society of Pakistan. Religion assumes significance in Pakistan’s state and society. It has exhibited in Pakistan’s foreign policy, which describes developing cordial relations with brotherly Islamic countries. This state promotion of religion, especially since the 1979 after Soviet invasion of Afghanistan has a profound impact on Pakistan. External interference in Pakistani society increased, resulting in proxy wars/proxies that lead to violent religious extremism. Therefore, last two decades of 20th century exclusively revolved around sectarian war between Shiite and Deobandi sects. Though, Pakistan has managed to curtail terrorism through excessive military operations, yet, the country seems far away from effectively dealing against extremism in the society. Barelvi sect of Islam consists majority of Muslim population in the country. It associates itself with peaceful Sufism. However, recently this sect has started showing assertiveness through various audacious acts. The sect is hyper sensitive on the issues of blasphemy and finality of Prophethood. Barelvi clergy has started organizing itself and established a political party known as Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYRA) in order to protect their religious interests. Their sentiments of extreme aggression against political elite can be witnessed in assassination of Governor Punjab, incident of violent sit-ins, assassination attempt of Interior Minister, etc. However, due to the religious sensitivity of the issue state response towards many such incidents is naive. This paper is an attempt to highlight the significance of this emerging phenomenon in Pakistan. The paper revolves around two basic questions: Why the rise of Barelvi extremism took place and how it can affect Pakistan? The paper assumes that rise of Barelvi extremism in Pakistan may resurrect violent sectarianism in Pakistan. Being a political group it may likely find further leverage in state and society to persecute Ahmadis.
Dr Kumuda Simpson (La Trobe University) - Climate Change and Complex Insecurities in the Middle East
Since the 2011 Arab uprisings there has been an increased interest in examining how the effects of climate change may affect the Middle East region. The World Bank has declared the region one of the most vulnerable to drought and rising temperatures. Energy security will be a key issue, with some predicting a decline in fossil fuel demand over the next decades. Likewise states in the region face severe water scarcity, dependency on agricultural imports, political corruption and authoritarianism, a youth bulge and rising youth unemployment, civil wars, terrorism, and geopolitical tensions.
This paper will argue that climate change effects must be included in risk assessments of the region in the coming decades, presenting unique challenges for the Trump Administration. The lack of a clear US strategy when it comes to the region, and President Trump’s denial of climate change, suggest that these risks will not be given adequate attention. This has troubling implications as energy security, food and water security, and political and social stability are all interconnected. Each of these systems in the Middle East region is under increasing strain and a failure or collapse in any one system could have a cascade effect across the region.
Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert (University of Melbourne) - Authoritarian Downgrading and New Media Activism in Post-‘Arab Spring’ Bahrain
While considerable scholarly attention has focused on analysing the role and impact of new media during the Arab uprisings of 2010-11, comparatively little research has been devoted to examining how online activism has changed in response to the regime stabilisation measures undertaken by the authoritarian governments which survived the unrest. Characterising the de-liberalisation policies of post-Arab Spring states as ‘authoritarian downgrading,’ this paper considers how the growing involvement of authoritarian regimes in online spaces is impacting activists’ use of new media technologies. Adopting Bahrain as a case study, this paper presents the results of a multi-modal study of Bahraini opposition groups’ online activism across a number of years following the 2011 uprising and subsequent crackdown. This paper finds that while new media technologies continue to be viewed as essential tools for activism, the Bahraini government’s authoritarian downgrading has had an observable impact on how political activists utilise new media to mobilise, communicate with supporters and promote their message.
Mahmood Pargoo (ACU) - A disenchanted Islam: the outcome of the four decades of Islamization in Iran
Islamic revolution of Iran was a reaction to secularization of the Shah regime and an attempt at de-secularization of the society and the state. After four decades of striving towards an Islamic polity, however, the Islamic state in Iran has given rise to an Islam which is secular at its foundations. Ontologically, it is based on a world without God and His intervention. Its universe has the same entities as other secular conceptions of the world. The natural and material forces are the master drivers of the world and casualty is understood scientifically. At the end of the chain of casualty there is only a deistic ultimate cause. No supernatural entities are considered ‘really’ instrumental in the nature and thus, they are not accounted in the everyday calculations and planning of the state. This cosmology is purely materialistic and worldly. In this paper, I will argue how the revolution has unwantedly gave rise to this secular worldview and helped to un-do the old conceptions of an active, all-encompassing, and omnipotent God by focusing on the theories of the most important thinker of the revolution Murtaza Motahhari.
Maria Syed (ANU) - Trump and the Saudi Kingdom: Shared interests and possible points of disagreement
In the waning days of Obama Administration, particularly after the Join Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Saudi Arabia’s long-standing alliance with the United States and its regional clout was seen to be in the doldrums. Things have changed since the President Trump has come into the office. Making the Kingdom the destination of his first state visit, signing business deals worth billions of dollars, a nod to setting up nuclear reactors in the Kingdom and most recently withdrawal from Iran nuclear deal—are telling signs of growing cosiness between the two countries. The paper reviews the shared interests between the two countries and explores what could possibly give way to dissension. The paper also discusses how this bodes for the Middle East region.
Marika Sosnowski (University of Melbourne) - Diplomacy and legitimacy: the Astana ceasefire negotiations and the development of rebel governance in Syria
The emerging literature in the field of rebel governance offers many interesting insights into how and why armed groups with statebuilding aspirations use violence, develop institutions of governance and seek legitimacy through diplomacy. While notable research has discussed many important aspects of rebel diplomacy and legitimacy, scholars working in this field have not yet focused on the knock-on affects the involvement of armed rebel groups in ceasefire negotiations has on their legitimacy and the ramifications of this for local governance efforts. This article fills this gap by examining how the Astana negotiations in 2017 for a ceasefire in Syria affected the legitimacy of a number of rebel groups. Focusing on the dynamics of the negotiation process that led to the announcement of four de-escalation zones, the project draws on interviews with members of Syrian opposition groups involved in negotiations, literature in the field of rebel governance and diplomacy, policy documents and media reports. I argue that for armed groups with statebuilding aspirations, ceasefires signed in international fora such as Astana offer an important opportunity to insert themselves into international politics and the state-based system. However, perceived international legitimacy can also create ruptures between groups at the local level thereby influencing their use of violence against each other and civilians as well as the development of governance structures.
Marisa Della Gatta (Macquarie University) - External and internal Invasions: Sectarianism and Siege narratives in the crafting of Syrian Diasporic Identity
Since the uprising of the Syrian conflict in 2011, scholars and political analysts have thought of Syria as the country in which sectarianism or ṭā’ifīyah is suffered the most (Byman 2014). Contrary to the old current of thought that considered sectarian tensions as endemic and primordial forces in Syrian society, the most recent literature focuses on sectarianization as a political construction (Hashemi and Postel 2017). More academic attention still has to be paid to the socio-political nature of sectarianism. This paper looks at ṭā’ifīyah through a political sociological perspective, not as an intrinsic reason for conflict, but rather as a by-product of its internationalization. Given that Syria is not accessible for social research at the moment, diaspora is an important source of empirical evidence. By combining the analysis of the sectarian political discourses in Syria with results of the fieldwork with Syrian diasporans surveyed on ṭā’ifīyah, the representation of sectarianism as an external force emerges. Understood that way, sectarian narratives are closely connected to foreign domination in Syria.
Dr Mehmet Ozalp (Charles Sturt University) - The Trump Card: Failure of US policy in Syria
Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011, the United States (US), and by extension Western policy on Syria, was tentative, unclear and seemed to change course over the course of seven-year conflict. Their primary counterpart Russia on the other hand has followed an open and consistent policy: declare Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime the legitimate government of Syria, always support his regime to ensure it doesn’t collapse, and morally justify its involvement as a struggle against terrorism. Under Barack Obama’s administration, the US consistently stayed out of direct involvement in the Syrian conflict. Busy with the Iraq exit, Obama missed the window of diplomatic opportunity in the crucial early months of the Syrian uprising in 2011. When violence started, Obama elected to provide limited military support to opposition groups, hoping they could muster enough power to dismantle Assad without success. Trump opted for a more active policy but restricted it to the elimination of ISIS in Syria and supporting Kurdish YPG forces. Yet in April 2018 Trump declared US would pull out of Syria. This paper will chart the series of events and the US actions and announcements related to Syria to uncover US policy shifts and uncertainties in Syria before and during Trump era.
Dr Minerva Nasser-Eddine (University of Adelaide) - Demographic swaps: Reshaping the Geo-Political Fabric of Syria
Labib al-Nahas, the Chief of Foreign Relations for Ahrar al-Sham, recently commented on the extensive demographic swaps taking place in parts of Syria. He noted ‘this is not just altering the demographic balance. This is altering the balance of influence in all of these areas and across Syria itself. Whole communities will be vulnerable. War with Iran is becoming an identity war. They want a country in their likeness, serving their interests. The region can’t tolerate that’1. This paper will examine whether such demographic swaps are taking place and who the key actors are. Additionally, the paper will consider the implications on the fabric of Syrian society, Syrian identity, and defining national character post-conflict. Whilst al-Nahas solely blames Iran for these changes, this paper will consider whether other key regional and international players such as Russia and the US are equally complicit in reshaping the geo-political fabric of Syria.
Mohsen Solhdoost (University of Queensland) - Israel & Saudi Arabia, Strange Bedfellows
Israel and Saudi Arabia (KSA) have had no official diplomatic relations since the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948. KSA has not only participated in the Arab-Israeli wars of 1948, 1967, and 1973, but also has refused to recognize the state of Israel, continued backing Palestinian rights to sovereignty, and demanded that Israel withdraw from all Arab territories occupied in 1967. In 2009, KSA rejected U.S. pleas to improve ties with Israel reiterating that the core issues: “the border of a future Palestinian state, the fate of refugees, water disputes and the future of Jerusalem” must be fully resolved as preconditions. Despite unfulfilled preconditions, the two states disclosed the onset of diplomatic linkages in 2015. The growing alignment between two unlikely allies, endorsed by Trump admin, begs the question: what put the two enemies on the path towards alliance?
In this paper I use Role theory and method of narrative analysis to examine how KSA and Israel, the two members of a dyad (ego-alter), continued to stay in a conflictual relation before 2015 sudden reorientation. Then I argue that the strategic interaction in the process of role location created a limited state of détente between KSA and Israel, hence their reorientation.
Mossarat Qadeem (Paiman Alumni Trust) - Women, violent extremism and social change in Pakistan
In Pakistan women’s social reality is a complex one, mediated by multiple elements outside the mainstream political and social framework. Since the last one and a half decades women have been exploited in the name of religion. The religious extremist fervor has brought a fundamental change in the outlook, behavior and thinking of certain group of women in urban Pakistan on one hand. This group of women instead of using religion for a positive social change is using it for furthering differences and dissentions on narrow lines of piety, fundamentalism, sectarianism. On the other, in certain regions of Pakistan, violent extremist groups attacked women, imposed limits on their dress, mobility, freedom of expression, stopped girls from attending schools, and have created a deep resentment as well confusion amongst the women.
Keeping in view the saying of Holy Prophet, “be aware of extremism in religion, for it destroyed those before you”, the paper would discuss: how some radicalized women try to affect social change as per their narrow agenda; how other women suffer at the hands of extremist groups in certain regions of Pakistan; and explaining women, violent extremism and social change within the context of Pakistan.
Muath Abudalu (Humboldt University of Berlin) - Advocating for Women's Rights Under Authoritarian Regimes: The Case of Sadaqa, A Women’s Group in Jordan
This paper focuses on the factors and processes that affected the trajectory of a women’s rights group in Jordan named Sadaqa. Sadaqa, which was first a campaign to promote the implementation of a daycare law for women workers, is now considered one of the main players and official groups advocating for women’s economic participation and equality in Jordan. So what explains how Sadaqa was able to move from a campaign to an institutionalized organization for women’s rights in the Jordanian context? Through this case, I find that groups who advocate for legal and social change under authoritarian regimes are more likely to achieve their goals when they possess strong social networks at the national and international levels, financial resources, focus on a single issue or demand, and align their goals and demands at least partly with the vision of the regime. Sadaqa’s main members’ socioeconomic and social status in the country are closely linked to these latter factors, and why the group has been able to meet its initial goals and demands. At the same time, tensions both within and around the group related to its goals, but also its branding as a “liberal women’s group,” is indicative of the role of class and social status in shaping—and challenging—perceptions of women’s rights—and campaigns for social change more broadly—in Jordan and authoritarian regimes generally.
Dr Narayanappa Janardhan (Emirates Diplomatic Academy) - Trump policies and Asian-led collective security for the Gulf
Seldom does the literature on Gulf-Asia relations focus beyond their expanding economic ties. Exploring the ‘what next’ dimension reveals attempts at ‘strategic’ cooperation that offer alternative possibilities for Gulf security.
Asia’s long-term interests cannot allow it to remain dependent on the United States for the security of its energy supplies. This is true in light of President Donald Trump’s emphasis on ‘America First’, which is likely to get greater attention during the remaining term of his presidency. Simultaneously, the US’s economic problems is adversely impacting its political and military influence abroad.
There is also evidence that some Gulf countries are thinking out of the box and exploring strategic partnerships beyond the exclusive arrangement with Washington.
This opens doors for other players to pursue a broader cooperative approach. The expanding naval capabilities of some Asian countries, especially China and India, are particularly relevant to the Gulf. An Asian-led global initiative, thus, offers Trump and Washington a perfect stage to remain relevant even as its influence wanes in the Middle East.
Dr Niamatullah Ibrahimi (Deakin University) - Religion, Politics and Ethnic Identities in Afghanistan 2001-2017: The Case of Sunni Hazaras
Since the 2001 US-led military intervention, Afghanistan has experienced an upsurge in old and new forms of identity politics. While the country continues to be seen by many either through the prism of colonial era tribal and conservative politics or more recent conceptions of power rivalries among the country’s major ethnic groups, smaller ethno-cultural groups have also embarked on processes of redefining their collective identities, challenging the dominant narratives and categories and creating new forms of collective identities and belongings.
This paper will seek to shed light on this process through a detailed study of an ongoing effort at redefinition of a new ethno-religious identity: the Sunni Hazaras of Afghanistan. Focusing on the National Council of the Sunni Hazaras of Afghanistan, it will explore how a new generation of activists seek to carve out a new identity between the predominantly Shia and historically-marginalised Hazaras on the one hand, and the predominantly Sunni and Farsi speaking Tajiks, on the other. Drawing on extended field work and interviews with with Sunni Hazara activists, the paper will explore how the roles of religion, language, and myths of origin change as markers of collective identities as they interact with broader processes of institutional and social change in contemporary Afghanistan.
Dr Paul M. Esber (University of Sydney) - Between a Rock and a Hard Trump? The “Jordan Option”
Since the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States, whisperings of the re-emergence of the Jordan Option as a viable solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict have been heard increasingly in Amman, Tel-Aviv, Ramallah and Washington. This is ironic as when it was first proposed by King Hussein in 1972 it was rejected forthright. But times change.
Unless Israel is convinced that it needs to make the necessary substantial and meaningful concessions for the emergence of a viable Palestinian state, the two-state solution, which has absorbed international energies for several decades, is dead. In addition, there is too little momentum behind the one-state solution, and as it endangers Israeli preferences it is unlikely to gather sufficient international support, unless the Palestinian Authority actively campaigns on it.
This leaves the Jordan Option, consisting of a confederation between the West Bank and the Jordanian Hashemite Kingdom, open to possibility. This paper examines the history of the so-called “Jordan Option” and places it in its current context, critically analysing its details, possibility, costs and benefits. Ultimately however it suggests that any pursuit of the Jordan Option is unlikely to prove a lasting solution to the conflict.
Radwan Ziadeh (Arab Center Washington D.C.) - Trump's Syria Policy
Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s speech at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution on January 17, 2018 outlined what he deemed to be US policy toward the Syrian war. He indicated that Washington is not contemplating a military withdrawal from Syria. Defense Secretary James Mattis had indicated earlier too that the United States cannot repeat prior mistakes it made in Iraq; the early withdrawal of US troops allowed extremist and fundamentalist groups to exploit conditions in the country, which led to the establishment of a “caliphate” there by the so-called Islamic State (IS).
But weeks after that and soon after Trump fired his Secretary of State Mr. Tillerson, Trump announced he will his troops from Syria in a contradiction to what his secretary of State and defense said.
This is only one indication to the disarray of the Trump policy going through in Syria.
This is apply too to his decision to strike the Syrian regime twice after the use of chemical weapon in Idlib in 2017 and then in Douma in April 2018, Trump gave a decision of a limited response twice but never though he needs to develop a strategy in Syria after the strikes which makes Tillerson’s speech no more than a Wishlist.
The US president thus knows that there is an urgent need for an American strategy in Syria after Raqqa, one that takes into account the security, military, and political aspects of the conflict instead of concentrating only on single pinprick operations like he did twice in 2017 and again in 2018. Unfortunately, however, the administration does not seem to understand the negative repercussions from the absence of a comprehensive strategy—in the past and present. Instead, the United States has focused its efforts on defeating IS and neglected the need to have a political solution, the US approach of arming and supporting the YPG may allow the Kurds to try to secede, which, in turn, would lead to the dismemberment of the country. This contradicts the administration’s stated goal of preserving Syria’s unity and territorial integrity.
Dr Raihan Ismail (ANU) - Transnational Networks of Salafi ‘Ulama: Contestation and Cooperation
Salafism has received scrutiny as the main ideological source for violent extremism propagated by jihadi groups. However, Salafism is not a monolith: it contains numerous streams. An understanding of all such streams is crucial to understanding the socio-political dynamics of Muslim societies that Salafism influences. Besides Salafi jihadis—those who sanction violence—there are two other broad trends of Salafism: quietist and activist. Quietist Salafis endorse an apolitical tradition. Activist Salafis advocate peaceful political change. Each stream is led by ‘ulama, seen as the preservers of Salafi traditions.
Rebecca Devitt (Monash University) - Buddhist Extremism, Social Media and Hate Speech in Sri Lanka
This paper will exam the resurgence of Sinhalese Buddhist extremist groups in Sri Lanka and how these groups exploit social media to spread Islamphobia and incite violence. Recent attacks against Muslim minorities in the towns of Kandy and Ampara were triggered in part by hate speech filled social media posts spread by groups such as Bodu Bala Sena (otherwise known as BBS or Buddhist power force.) Since the end of the Sri Lankan Civil War in 2009 there has been an increase in support for Sinhalese Buddhist extremist groups who have targeted Muslim minorities. Groups such as BBS have adopted the rhetoric and language of the global anti-Muslim movement which has gained increased momentum in South Asia.
Debate around the place that Sinhala Buddhism holds within Sri Lanka and the fears that it is under threat by Muslim minorities is at the heart of understanding the recent attacks and the rise in popularity of groups such as BBS. Sinhala-Buddhist extremist groups such as BBS have large followings on Facebook and recent polling results in the 2015 parliamentary elections in which the BBS political wing received a small proportion of the vote suggests that such groups are gaining mainstream appeal and consolidating political influence. The spread of an anti-Muslim narrative through social media platforms is a fairly new phenomenon and this paper seeks to explore the motivations for this institutionalised Islamophobia by examining how social media has been weaponised by groups such as BBS and Sinhala Ravaya.
Safi Taye (Deakin University) - Why the U.S Needs to Change its Approach in Afghanistan
Samah Sabawi (Victoria University) - Trump’s ultimate deal and the way forward in Israel/Palestine
This year, as Palestinians commemorated 70 years of dispossession and erasure, news networks broadcasted on split screens footage on one side of thousands of unarmed Palestinians protestors in Gaza being met with Israeli live fire, while on the other, American and Israeli elites dressed in designer labels and drinking Champaign, celebrating the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem. The stark contrast between the two realities left many wondering what will be next for Palestinians and Israelis, especially given the presence of the amalgamation of absolute power, and the absence of strong international bodies able and willing to enforce basic International Law and human rights. This paper will address the possible outcomes of Trump’s aggressive policies in regard to Israel/Palestine and will make recommendations as to what needs to be done in order to ensure a future where Israelis and Palestinian can finally have a peace with justice, freedom and dignity for all.
Samantha Kruber & Stephanie Carver (Monash University) - Al Shabaab’s troubled relationship with foreign fighters: internal and external determinants of foreign fighter membership patterns
The relationship between Al-Shabaab and its foreign fighters has been tumultuous, with periods of active recruitment followed by rifts and purges. This paper will seek to provide context to this relationship by considering the tactics, targeting and recruitment strategies of Al-Shabaab between 2006 - 2017. By exploring the recruitment trends that Al-Shabaab have exhibited during this timeframe, as well as the contribution of Al-Shabaab foreign fighters throughout this period, the paper offers some hypotheses as to why the flow of foreign fighters has been inconsistent. This paper engages with the existing body of foreign fighter research, as well as primary source material released by Al-Shabaab, including its official social media posts and its English language magazine. This article argues that the flow of foreign fighters to Somalia between 2006 – 2017 was erratic, with stages of significant foreign fighter entry followed by low recruitment levels and the mass exit or, in some cases, forced removal of foreign fighters from the organisation. This article identifies some of the factors that influenced these recruitment shifts and will build on the growing body of work on foreign fighters.
Prof Samina Yasmeen (University of Western Australia)
Dr Sarah Phillips (University of Sydney) - The Uncountable Cost of Trump’s Air Wars
The number of US counter-terrorism airstrikes roughly doubled between 2016 and US President Trump’s first year in office in 2017 – an upward trend that looks likely to continue. The question of whether such strikes (mostly conducted using drones) reduce either the number or intensity of terrorist incidents is one of the biggest debates in terrorism studies today. One side of the debate highlights the ability of the strikes to disrupt the organisational capacity of terrorist groups, thereby limiting their ability to do harm. The other emphasises the civilian casualties and delegitimisation of local governments the strikes can cause, both of which may drive radicalisation and thus ‘blowback’ on the United States and its allies. Understandably, both sides attempt to quantify the number and nature of the casualties (civilians or militants) as evidence of their strategic in/effectiveness as a counter-terrorism tool. However, both sides tend to draw contrasting conclusions from similar evidence. Statistical studies also seem to show that airstrikes could either increase or decrease the threat of terrorism. This paper explores what we can – and cannot – know about the counter-terrorism effects of airstrikes, and asks what not knowing means for Trump’s air wars?
Dr Scott Burchill (Deakin University) - Supporting secularism or radical Islam? US foreign policy towards the Middle East
US foreign policy towards the Middle East, and the Islamic world more generally, has tended to favour radical Islamists over secular governments. This is in direct contrast to the public face of US diplomacy which has long been cast as an existential struggle against radical Islamists in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Pakistan and elsewhere.
This paper explains why the US favours radical Islamists wherever it can and what this tells us about the driving forces behind US foreign policy in the region and beyond.
Scott Patton (University of Melbourne) - The Kurds and their politics: Diasporic interpretations of the political paradigm
To represent their interests, the Kurds organised political groups to address all their cultural and political grievances. While the plurality of political groups each claim to facilitate this objective and represent the will of the Kurds, their numerous disagreements highlight their ideological disparities which frequently contradict each other and, subsequently, the actual demands and desires of the Kurds. As their ideological divide has grown, the wider international impact of the animosity between the groups has caused further consternation for the Kurdish community. The support, indifference, or vehemence the groups have faced are often a result of the complex nature of their internal relationships. To ascertain the levels of support these groups enjoy throughout the Kurdish diaspora, numerous interviews were conducted. After examining the common themes and arguments prevalent throughout the interviews, the political groups’ effectiveness and levels of support can be gauged. The results of this research make it possible to ascertain how accurate the politic groups’ claims are and how closely the Kurdish community’s expectations of these groups links with the rhetoric of the groups. It also allows insight into how the Kurdish diaspora thinks the groups can improve to better represent their constituents.
Dr Shabnam Dadparvar (North-West University of Xian) - Kurdish Women Fighters against Terrorists and the Expectancy in Achieving Full Gender Equality in Iraqi Kurdistan
Undoubtedly, the degree of progress in any society is related to the active role of women and their participation in the development of that society. Although Kurdish women actively participate in all aspects of working life in Kurdistan, most of them still suffer from violence. The KRG officials passed laws which support women’s right; however, the problem is the implementation of laws. The Kurdish society and its struggle for women rights is an issue that has been affected by both internal and external factors which will be discussed. The author believes, although the emergence of ISIS to the region was a great tragedy, it gave women visibility and empowered them. after the attack and the participation of women who truly can be named as “new generation of Valkyries” in the war and passing the law of complete gender equality in Rojava, (an equality decree of the year 2014) recognizing the rights of women in Syrian Kurdistan which was unique in the Middle East, this is the time for Iraqi Kurdistan to do the same and do not let Islamic fundamentalists groups struggling against women rights in the area. With educating and informing about human rights and the correct interpretation of Quran, it is possible to change people’s fundamentalist mindsets about women rights.
Shafi Md Mostofa (University of New England) - Bangladesh: A Fertile Ground for Daesh’s Recruitment
Bangladesh, the third largest Muslim country of the world, is beginning to be depicted as a hub for Islamist militancy which is attracting media as well as academic examination. Yet Islamic militancy is not a new phenomenon in Bangladesh. Indeed, a number of Islamic militant groups that have been operating in Bangladesh since the mid-1990s. Islamic Militants are reported to have killed around 156 people in the country between March 1999 and January 2005. On 17 August 2005, the country was deeply shocked by a series of 459 bomb attacks that took place in 63 out of 64 districts of the country. Islamic militancy clearly exerts an obvious and present danger to Bangladesh. The latest attack at the Holy Artisan Café, which killed at least 20 foreigners in the diplomatic zone of the capital Dhaka on 1 July of 2016, and a failed attack, just six days after the café attack, which killed 2 people (including one police at Kishorganj district outside Dhaka, bear testimony to the presence of Daesh and the severity of the militant challenge in Bangladesh. This study uses qualitative research methods to explore how Bangladesh has become fertile ground for Daesh’s recruitment and who have been radicalized and how. It seeks to examine how Daesh is impacting on and exploiting religious beliefs, which religious groups are being targeted and in its efforts/strategies towards the recruitment of members - how is Daesh's religious message distinct from other militant organisations in Bangladesh.
Shima Shahbazi (University of Sydney) - The Muslim ban: How does whiteness define new transnational spheres and identities?
In this paper, I use a decolonial and intersectional approach to multiple definitions of the transnational sphere and of mobility. I use auto-ethnography, participant observation and textual analysis of testimonies posted on social media to discuss the ways in which the travel ban or the Muslim ban has affected Iranian people’s border crossing and mobilities in general. Looking into testimony narratives, the Muslim ban is not a new phenomenon and systemic injustice towards some Muslim identities in the American immigration policies has been a long-lasting issue. Iranians’ othering and consequent exclusion from the transnational mobilities sphere dates back to the hostage crisis back in the 80s, and followed by the 9/11 attacks. Taking into account these microhistory narratives, I argue that transnationalism in terms of mobility is a privilege that is not shared by all identity groups, even if it is claimed to be a universal value. Using evidence from lived-experience narratives, I demonstrate how this form of Islamophobia/racism under the title of “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” affects the ways in which Iranians identify themselves as transnational or international, Persian or Iranian, in the West. Once they do not transcend the borders of the state and whiteness identifies them with the official narratives attached to the state of Iran, they perform a form of epistemic violence to themselves, which is called “testimonial smothering” according to Kristie Dotson. I attempt to show how hegemonic whiteness and Islamophobia change the ways in which Iranians identify themselves in the West and show that Trump’s Muslim ban is not an avant-guard American exclusionary practice towards Iranians.
Sirous Amerian (Massey University) - Balancing strategies of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia against Iran, a Dynamic Balancing model perspective
Dynamic Balancing proposed by Kai He in 2009 is quite a new tool to look at balancing behaviour amongst states by predicting specific outcomes for different situations in the system which hasn’t been studied widely. The model predicts that under unipolarity states threatened by non-hegemonic states would select external balancing at first but then move away from it and towards internal balancing. This research studies the balancing efforts of the United Arab Emirates and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia from 2014 to date to see if such a pattern exists in their grand strategies. What was observed was that during the last years of the Obama administration and its policy of resolving issues with Iran, the aforementioned Arab states started to feel that uncomforting that Kai He talks about and moved towards Internally balancing against Iran and relying less on their alliance relations with the US as the hegemon and taking things in their own hands.
Sonia Qadir (UNSW) & Junaid S. Ahmad (University of Leeds) - Islamophobia, Trumpism and the End of Empire
Islamophobia and the rise of Trump-ism is most commonly understood to be a problem that only impacts Muslim minorities living in Western countries, and is a symptom of media’s role in spreading of negative views about Muslims and Islam. This paper argues that Islamophobia is not simply about how Muslims are portrayed but is implicated in the broader crisis of post-Cold War liberal order that Trump represents. Our paper addresses question of the relationship between liberalism (and neo-liberalism), Islamophobia, and the new imperial assault on, and machinations in, the Middle East. We examine the relationship between between the Trumpian discourse of ‘take our country back’, the post-Cold war liberal political order, and how this has affected Trump's war cabinet's assault on what Noam Chomsky has called the US's "most strategic prize in world history": the Middle East. Our paper examines the intellectual and political resources and possibilities that now exist for imagining the Western liberal order in contravention of the Islamophobic assault on the Islamicate world. In this light we also examine the presence of the non-white, culturally unassimilable, rights bearing subject as a political problem for western liberalism. Finally, we interrogate the relationship between neo-liberal economic policies, the Western-supported authoritarian autocracies of the Middle Eastern region, and the ongoing deployment of vulgar neo-orientalism and Islamophobia.
Prof Steven Wright (Hamad bin Khalifa University) - An Analysis of the role of Trump’s Foreign Policy and the Blockade of Qatar
The June 2017 breakdown in relations between Qatar and its neighboring states of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain, in addition to Egypt, has proven to be the most significant crisis that has been witnessed between the member states of the GCC, and the way it has unfolded carries long-term and wider implications. The United States has been a central actor in the crisis, both in terms of its origins and in terms of how it remains intractable. In terms of foreign policy, it will be argued that it serves as a useful example of stark agency divergences in US foreign policy direction. The purpose of this paper will be to analyze the role of the United States in the crisis, and to contextualize this in relation to broader interests the Trump administration has within the Middle East. It will further argue that the Qatar blockade was enabled by the Trump administrations broader interests, and through a foreign policy analysis approach, will draw conclusions on the way special interest groups have impacted its policy towards Qatar. Finally, it will draw observations on the outlook of the blockade and broader ramifications on the role of the United States in the Gulf.
Dr Stuti Bhatnagar (University of Adelaide) - Social Media and Hindu Extremism in India
The BJP was elected in 2014 with hopes for a development oriented socio-economic agenda and a robust foreign policy, yet, soon after the election the fear and apprehensions regarding its Hindu nationalist ideology resurfaced. Cultural nationalism calling for the revival of a Hindu nation has had significant ramifications for the non-Hindu populations in India and instances of Hindutva influence are evident in institutional appointments, free rein to radical groups and an increase in violence against religious minorities in India under the guise of cow vigilantism and religious conversions. The party and its associated Hindu nationalist groups have benefited from the strong parliamentary position and in addition to the traditional print and TV mediums that have reflected a strong bias towards these policies, social media is now a crucial method for propaganda. The BJP’s election campaign itself relied heavily on social media to promote the party’s message and present an acceptable and often exaggerated image of its leaders, particularly Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Since 2014, social media has become an active tool to deepen polarisation and spread misinformation campaigns about religious minorities and their disregard for “Hindu” traditions and values. This paper will highlight the increase in religious extremism in India since 2014, focusing specifically on the political use and abuse of social media in propagating and intensifying religious differences.
Thanos Trappelides (Lancaster University) - Trump and the Kurdish Question: implications on the nature of the problem
For decades, Kurdish independence was only regarded as a theoretical discussion among academic circles due to presence of insurmountable regional and international realities that the Kurds did not possess the power to alter. However, only a year ago, it appeared that the Kurds could constitute the biggest winners of the war against ISIS. Their alliance with the US along with the incorporation of the language of human rights and democracy within their political efforts, created the perception that the dream of establishing justice for the post-WWII historic wrong was not far away.
Not only they did not witness a sovereign homeland, but also saw their utilization by the West as proxies against ISIS not being translated into a long-term military or diplomatic support. The decision of the Kurds within Iraq to vote overwhelmingly for secession from the central state was not approved by the US that avoided to recognise the legitimacy of the independence referendum. The paper examines the US policy on the Kurdish Question under the Trump administration and discusses its implications and consequences on the regional dynamics of the problem, arguing that the apathy which characterised the US reaction altered its nature and complexity.
Dr Tristan Dunning (University of Queensland) - Blurring the lines of authority: hybridity and governance in Iraq
This paper examines the rise of hybrid political actors in Iraq culminating with the success of the electoral coalitions led by Muqtada al-Sadr and Hadi al-Amiri in the parliamentary elections of May 2018. Both figures are able to shapeshift to meet changes in their environment and adopt one or multiple identities according to social, political, and geo-strategic expediency.
Al-Sadr is a prominent religio-political figure with a long historical pedigree stemming from familial sacrifices under the rule of Saddam Hussein, albeit best known in the West as a “firebrand cleric” at the forefront of armed resistance to US-led occupation after 2003. Today, he has reinvented himself as an Iraqi nationalist building cross-sectarian, cross-ideological alliances unified around resonant political objectives of curbing foreign influence in Iraq, eliminating corruption, and restoring basic social services.
Al-Amiri, conversely, is a long-time oppositional figure and leader of the Iranian-backed Badr Organisation which, similarly, possesses an armed wing. He was the commander of the Popular Mobilisation Forces, a collection of volunteer militias at the forefront of the fight against the Islamic State group and politically legitimated by legal recognition.
This paper examines the alliance-building strategies of these electoral coalitions driven by seemingly opposed aims. It explores the post-election negotiations to form the new Iraqi government within the context of heightened US-Iran tensions following the Trump administration’s abrogation of the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal and the effects that this may have on Iraq.
Dr William Gourlay (Deakin University) - From Kobane to Kirkuk: minorities in Syria and Iraq between the US, ISIS and regional players
In 2014, ISIS’ atrocities against Yezidis in northern Iraq, and its advance on the Syrian-Kurdish enclave of Kobani, prodded the reluctant Obama administration into action in the Middle East. Using Kurdish fighters as proxies against ISIS saved the US from committing boots on the ground, but shifted the geopolitical terrain in favour of certain non-state actors in northern Syria and Iraq. This paper examines the emergence of Kurdish, Yezidi and Assyrian non-state actors in recent years and how they figure within US foreign policy. As state control diminished amid war and political disruption, Kurdish and other ethnopolitical actors capitalised on circumstances to advance their own causes and entrench their political projects during the international campaign against ISIS. Analysing these dynamics, this paper assesses whether these non-state actors were viewed by the US as proxies or as long-term allies. US support extended to military hardware but little political support. Regional states Turkey and Iraq have now reasserted their dominance at the expense of minorities – Yazidis in Sinjar and Kurds in Kirkuk – while the US has taken a back seat. The fate of minority political actors remains uncertain, subject to the vagaries of US policy in the region.
Yasmin Chilmeran (Monash University) - Women’s Civil Society Organising in Post-2003 Iraq
In international spaces, organisations and discourse, there is an increasing emphasis on the role of women in peace-building efforts. This is in part due to the UN Security Council Resolution 1325. UNSCR1325 (and 7 subsequent resolutions constituting the ‘Women, Peace and Security’ agenda) emphasise the importance of the presence of women in post-conflict recovery. In turn, this emphasis shapes the projects, funding and framing of the relationship between international organisations (particularly UN affiliated bodies) and local civil society. Civil society organisations (CSOs) are often tasked with implementing development, humanitarian and other peace-building projects funded by international organisations and donors. This paper draws on PhD research on women’s civil society organising in Iraq to examine local-global relationships and how they affect women’s participation in peace building on the ground. Using key informant interviews and primary source material from Iraqi CSOs, this paper analyses examples of local civil society projects to illustrate the strength and limitations of women’s organising in the post-2003 Iraqi context. These examples provide insight into the struggles that local actors face in negotiating both global and local expectations about Iraq’s future and the role women can play in that future.
Dr Zainab Abdul-Nabi (University of Sydney) - Differences Between Al Jazeera Arabic and Al Jazeera English’s Representation of Bahrain’s Uprising
This paper utilises framing theory and the Peace Journalism model as evaluative criteria to empirically analyse how Al Jazeera Arabic (AJA) and Al Jazeera English (AJE) covered Bahrain’s uprising during the Saudi-led military intervention from March 14th to June 1st 2011. The quantitative findings conclude that the news stories and features of both channels were dominated by War Journalism framing. However, AJE presented Peace Journalism frames and characteristics more than AJA. This paper indicates that the absence and low percentages of Peace, People, Solution and Truth-Orientated frames in AJA have led to the promotion of sectarian narratives, representing Bahrain’s protests as a special case that does not relate to the Arab Spring uprisings and neglecting protesters’ peaceful means as well as their calls for unity between Shias and Sunnis. On the other hand, AJE’s critical representation of the Saudi military intervention and the moderate presence of Peace Journalism criteria in its coverage have made it stronger than AJA in challenging sectarian narratives and propaganda. This paper draws on the AJE-produced documentary film, Shouting in the Dark as a model that reflects how ‘reflexivity’ and Peace Journalism orientations are able to create a more accurate framing of the conflict.