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Values - Institute of Iranian Studies - case study


Haji 2003

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Introduction

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.

About us

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.

image.png

https://rasanah-iiis.org/english/about-us/

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:

Quote

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.

https://www.aei.org/about/

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. 

Quote

 

      Try my best to achieve parents’ expectation

      你會盡力達成父母對你的期望。

      Always be polite when talking to parents 

      與父母談話,你會溫和有禮。

      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

      你會經常對父母噓寒問暖

 

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:

  1. The values section is for internal Saudi consumption
  2. They don't understand what a values section is about and simply copied and pasted the idea from somewhere else and made some amendments
  3. 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?

 

 

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      [amended 19 August 2023 to include references to the Irish potato famine and two Bengal famines]
      Surah Yusuf
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      Light interference - provision of information
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      Of all the policy options open to Prophet Yusuf (عليه السلام) he advised Pharoah to pursue the most interventionist one. Some people may be tempted to call this socialist or communist, but I think those terms carry a lot of excess baggage, so I won't bring them into the discussion.
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      https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jun/08/a-deadly-ideology-how-the-great-replacement-theory-went-mainstream
      In this post, I will argue that at least in terms of one example, this is indeed the case, but rather than representing some form of surrender on the part of the 'white race' as the far right claims the policy represents, it is actually the opposite.
      The Windrush Generation
      This is the narrative all Britons have been brought up with (the following is from the UK government's own website):
      http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/pathways/citizenship/brave_new_world/immigration.htm
      It sounds very multi-culti, liberal and nice. Britain needed labour, brown people needed jobs and everyone would get along swimmingly in post-war Britain. This was not illegal immigration, it was planned and made good economic sense.
      Here's some more justification from the British Library:
      http://www.bl.uk/learning/timeline/item107671.html
      To help immigration into the UK, the British Nationality Act of 1948 gave rights to all people from the commonwealth to settle in the country. West Indian immigration to the UK from the 1940's to the 1960s was about 170,000. In Britain, there was an increase of about 80,000 people originating from the Indian sub-continent from 1951 to 1961.
      So if there was such a shortage of labour in postwar Britain, surely the British government would have been aghast at the prospect of Britons leaving the UK? And trying to put a stop to it?
      Apparently not.
      The Assisted Passage Scheme from Britain to Australia
      Australia's 'Assisted Passage Migration Scheme' started in 1945 and involved 1 million people migrating from Britain to Australia.
      http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/7217889.stm
      The following paper adds some nuance to this:
      Yet despite the 'reluctance' we still get:
      Stephen Constantine (2003) British emigration to the empire- commonwealth since 1880: From overseas settlement to Diaspora?, The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 31:2, 16-35, DOI: 10.1080/03086530310001705586
      From the same paper the following motivation, which refers to policies in the nineteenth century could perhaps explain the flow of people observed at the top of this post:
       
      Conclusion
      In sum, Britain was allowed to go a bit brown, because it was essential that Australia, Canada and other dominions remain essentially white. And this racist policy was maintained until the facts on the ground had been established. This point is one counter-arguments to the 'Great Replacement Theory' that has been espoused in some far-right circles in the West.
       
      https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jun/08/a-deadly-ideology-how-the-great-replacement-theory-went-mainstream
       
      So we have two migration stories. And the funny thing is that the first story is covered in the press, and you'll also find the second story given a lot of attention.
       
      But the two are never mentioned together.
       
      It's when you put, what are otherwise very positive stories together, that something far nastier emerges. Something which is within plain sight but unacknowledged.
       
      https://contemporaniablog.wordpress.com/2016/10/24/poms-and-windrush/
         3 comments
      Summary
      Iran is often accused of sponsoring groups such as Hamas. But what form is any help likely to take? Some speculative answers in the absence of any tangible proof.
      Background
      A short period after the Iranian revolution in 1979, Saddam Hussain, the Iraqi President decided to invade the country. He was funded by the Saudis and Kuwaitis amongst others and supplied by various western countries. Iran was embargoed. So they had to develop their own capabilities both in terms of hardware and likely software (military tactics etc.).
      Later on Iran helped set up Hizbollah because the Shias of Lebanon were being trodden on by all the other communities of that country as well as the invading Israelis. Hezbollah proved to be instrumental in helping the Israelis leave.
      Fast forward many years and Iranian-backed militia defeated ISIS in Iraq, and Hezbollah helped do the same in Syria (worth noting that very useful experience was derided by some who felt they should stay within Lebanese borders). Throughout all of this, Iran and its allies have no doubt picked up quite a few experiences and ideas about what it takes to fight in urban settings.
      In contrast, all other Arab countries relied on foreign armies' training. How effective that has been can be seen from the experience of the Iraqi army vs ISIS and the Afghan army vs the Taliban.
      Since the Nakba the Palestinian resistance was never known for the sophistication of its urban guerrilla warfare.
      Hamas
      The current anti-Israeli insurgency seems to be based on a mixture of small arms, tunnels and tactics. Assuming that sophisticated arms can't be smuggled, I'd hazard that the most valuable support they have received has been 'soft'. Strategies and tactics and that sort of thing. Knowing how to work around informers, etc., would also likely be very useful.
      No doubt someone has also been advising them how small arms can be made in motorcycle workshops. The Omani forts of centuries past had various defence mechanisms. One of them was the liquid produced by pressed dates. Nourishment for peacetime but a weapon for sieges when it could be boiled and poured onto invaders' heads. The point is that dual-use technology has a rich heritage and is eminently useful for a Gazan economy under siege for years. 
      Again throwing resources at problems such as this needs a state actor.
      Conclusion
      In sum, the Muslim world likely now has its own West Point, albeit not located in a physical location and one that does not need powerpoint slides and manuals. But as I said at the very start all speculation on my part.
       
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