Bye: Conflictual Identities against Iran, Hi: New Horizons for Cooperation

Friday, December 11, 2015

Mehrdad Pahlevani
Asia Analyst

Just imagine that right now you have received from a national TV network or a creditable news agency a report that a volcano close to your house will forcefully erupt and you have to evacuate your domicile. Or one of the neighboring countries has invaded your country’s border regions and you have to leave the border city in which you are living. Undoubtedly, when this happens, you would not have a good feeling toward that neighboring country or the aforesaid volcano. If, however, these reports were denied after a few hours, you would not be suspicious about that country or volcano anymore, but you would slam that media and would wonder what goals have those who reported these false stories were pursuing?

A story similar to this story is currently unfolding in international arena, especially in the Middle East. The Middle East is the most challenging spot on the Earth in which big powers are engaged in a permanent tug of war. When a region is the most challenging spot of the world, it is just natural for rivalries in that region to be more challenging and more intense than any other place. The importance and position of Iran in the Middle East has caused its rivals to focus on “conflictual identity rivalries” rather than “positive identity rivalry.” In a positive identity rivalry, emphasis is first put on the abilities, assets, historical honors, elites and so forth, and then on the differences that exist between one identity and other rival identities. That is, salient features of an identity are demonstrated through comparison. However, what Iran's rivals are doing now is some sort of negative and destructive “conflictual identity” rivalry. In this form of rivalry, Iran's regional rivals seek to undermine the Islamic Republic's true identities and make any effort to direct mental construct of other actors toward more hostility with Iran. This measure has been already taken by Iran's opponents through projects like introducing the Islamic Republic as part of the so-called “Axis of Evil,” and they are currently trying to blame Iran for all acts of sabotage in the region, depict measures taken by Iran as being non-constructive with negative consequences, prove that cooperation with Iran is fruitless, and show its ideology as being ambitious.

A rival conflictual identity is both negative and artificial, and by making up monsters and fictitious enemies, tries to control other people’s minds like what media usually do. Although rival conflictual identity became international following the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979 through cooperation of Western and regional countries, and although Western countries are now unwilling to continue this policy, few countries in the Middle East are still insisting in a surprising manner on continuing this policy. The remarkable point is that at a time that Iran's peaceful nuclear policy was used to stoke an artificial crisis in the region, at the same time, the biggest effort was made to expand conflictual identity against Iran and anti-Iran countries used all their capacities to this effect during that period of time. As a result, these countries have reached the end of their anti-Iran initiatives and this is why we are witnessing a repetition of past methods. This anti-Iran policy pursues a number of goals:

1. It aims to make actors with medium and marginal capabilities to distance from Iran;

2. Its second goal is to increase the number of allies that anti-Iran countries have; and

3. It is meant to maintain political conditions in the same state that they were before achievement of the recent nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, when there was some sort of international consensus against Iran.

On the other hand, the final outcomes of a rival conflictual identity against Iran can be enumerated as follows:

1. Continuation of self-other viewpoints;

2. Depriving regional countries of the positive outcomes of cooperation with Iran;

3. Inflicting additional costs on regional countries; and

4. Bolstering centrifugal tendencies or encouraging efforts to find allies outside the region.

In reality, the pursuit of destructive and negative conflictual identity projects has currently lost steam and apart from Saudi Arabia and Israel, they have not been able to patronize other parties. The aforesaid regimes are trying to make up for their failures through conflictual identity models. In fact, these two regimes have imparted an exponential nature to conflictual identities, that is, they use them wherever they have a difference with Iran.

At present, other regional countries, which followed suit with the model of Israel and Saudi Arabia in the past, are first of all following the rational model of “boosting national interests,” and secondly, implement “Europe’s model in cooperation with Iran,” in their assessments.

The type of policy that Iran has pursued in the past two years has further restricted the maneuvering room for the policy of conflictual identity, has increased its cost for prestige of its advocates, and has provided ground for positive identity rivalries with economic tendencies.

Iran has announced time and again that its foreign policy priority is relations with regional countries and has declared in various ways its resolve to engage in cooperation and dialogue with littoral states of the Persian Gulf, member states of the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council [(P)GCC] and other important actors in the region. In doing this, Iran has tried to take advantage of mediatory efforts of some moderate regional actors, but it has not received any positive answer to its goodwill gestures.

Undoubtedly, emergence of a powerful determination among regional countries for the elimination of policies that are based on conflictual identity rivalries against Iran could be a prelude to further regional cooperation, determination of regional trends by regional countries, independent adoption of regional policies, and reducing the cost of regional countries’ measures, while helping countries in the region to achieve positive and fruitful results. Such measures can also delineate new horizons for cooperation in the region the scope of whose positive outcomes cannot be measured.

Key Words: Conflictual Identities, Iran, New Horizons, Cooperation, Middle East Rivalries, Positive Identity Rivalry, Nuclear Deal, Centrifugal Tendencies, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Europe’s Model, Persian Gulf, (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council [(P)GCC], Pahlevani

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*Photo Credit: iStock/Thinkstock

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