The institute is a Saudi attempt to exercise soft power. It presents 'research' designed to undermine the IRI. The people behind this organisation know the value of appearing to be independent and great care has been taken to present the image of a western 'thinktank'. Indeed you almost get the impression that the people behind an American think tank came up with this one.
But as with any articificial exercise there are holes and I'll examine one of them.
Nowadays it's a requirement (in the interests of transparency) to have something titled 'about us', so visitors can know who it is that is running or even sponsoring an organisation. Below is an extract of their About Us page.
All this verbiage about vision, mission and values. It's straight out of Harvard Business School. Obviously I am using that as a surrogate to stand-in for contemporary western ideas about how you shape the scope and direction of an organisation. Whoever put this together either attended a western institution or was told to copy the relevant sections from another website. The key thing is the importance of 'emulation', the people running the site are in the taqlid of a foreign ideology and doing their best to ape it.
But they fall down.
Form vs. function
The problem with copying someone else is that you pay attention to the form of something but not necessarily its content. You use the right headings, but not necessarily the right meanings. The words are in the right order but they don't mean very much. If you are running a grocery shop and you attended a two day seminar on management so that you could write a business plan this is not necessarily a problem.
If you are running a thinktank, it is. You are in the business of creating and presenting ideas. If you can't get the basics right, you're in the wrong business.
The problem in a nutshell - Values
By the time they got to values they ran out of ideas. Quite funny really, in a pathetic kind of way. Values is where you write what your organisation stands for. Again if you are running a think tank you do obviously have values. To give you an example here is something from the American Enterprise Institute:
The American Enterprise Institute is a public policy think tank dedicated to defending human dignity, expanding human potential, and building a freer and safer world. The work of our scholars and staff advances ideas rooted in our belief in democracy, free enterprise, American strength and global leadership, solidarity with those at the periphery of our society, and a pluralistic, entrepreneurial culture.
I have used them because just as I don't agree with the Saudi outfit that is the focus of this post, I also don't agree with the AEI, but they are at least transparent. And they set out their values clearly. They believe that free enterprise (as opposed to State control) is a good thing in and of itself. Their having declared this tells you in advance that studies they publish are likely to show free enterprise in a positive light.
Values in a bit more detail
The great thing about values is that the concept allows for the fact that people have different values. Going back to the AEI example, clearly other people around the world have different values, they believe that e.g. State control of all the means of production is a good thing and there are people somewhere along the middle of this continuum, who believe that some mixture of free enterprise and State control is to be preferred.
When I talk with Chinese audiences I use the concept of filial piety as representing a set of values. What follows below is a set of statements (measuring filial piety) with which you can either strongly agree or disagree or be somewhere in the middle.
In Asian societies, for example, you will tend to find that people will be more likely to strongly agree with many of these statements. In some western ones disagreement is more likely - because of their greater focus on personal independence.
Are some values better or worse than others? Are some values right and other ones wrong?
You may have a belief system that does indeed tell you what values are right or wrong, indeed adherence to some is more likely to send you to heaven or hell. For example I believe that Islam tends more towards filial piety than personal independence, at least in some measures of filial piety. I am not sure our religion advocates trying our best to achieve parents' unachieved goals, but I do think the imperative to always being polite to parents applies.
■ Try my best to achieve parents’ expectation
■ Always be polite when talking to parents
■ Try my best to complete parents’ unachieved goals
■ 如果父母有未完成的心願，你會盡力 替他們達成。
■ Always care about parents’ well-being
Terry Y. S. Lum1, Elsie C. W. Yan, Andy H. Y. Ho, Michelle H. Y. Shum1, Gloria H. Y. Wong1, Mandy M. Y. Lau1, and Junfang Wang (2015) Measuring Filial Piety in the 21st Century: Development, Factor Structure, and Reliability of the 10-Item Contemporary Filial Piety Scale. Journal of Applied Gerontology 13
So why do I have a problem with the IIIS's values
The values that they set out contrast vividly with those of the AEI. The AEI sets out those values that it believes will make the world a better place.
The IIIS sets out the importance they attach to answering emails on time and doing whatever it is they do well.
That's ridiculous and leaves us with one of three possibilities:
- The values section is for internal Saudi consumption
- They don't understand what a values section is about and simply copied and pasted the idea from somewhere else and made some amendments
- They're too embarrassed to state their values
Lets look at each of the above in turn.
It's for internal Saudi consumption
Running a professional organisation as these values state is pretty much a sine qua non, something you'd take for granted. Actually on reflection, it's a sine qua non in cultures where doing things properly is the norm. In Saudi, given the general lack of professionalism, overall levels of incompetence and laziness, perhaps it is a mark of recognition that you do what you should be doing.
So perhaps there is a rational explanation for what they have done - but it does not reflect well on Saudi, if this is the case.
They don't understand what a values section is about
If the people putting together the site knew they needed one, but could not get the sign off from those higher up as to what the values statement should be, they just defaulted to something inane - which defats the purpose of the exercise, especially for people claiming to run a think tank.
They're too embarrassed to state their values
We are still left with the unanswered question as to what the Institute stands for. If their values posit that Saudi influence in the region is a good thing they should say so. If they believe that Iran is a malign power and the world would be a better place if people knew this, they should say so. But are they embarrassed to state the obvious? Are they really trying to run with the fiction that theirs is a neutral and independent organisation?