Identitarian Reductionism and Geopolitical Analysis

By Tiberio Graziani, President of IsAG, Director of “Geopolitica”

Since the revolution led by Khomeini and the involvement of the mujahideen movement in the coeval soviet-afghan war, the study of the relation between religion and geopolitical analysis has led to a renovated interest among researchers and analysts. The two episodes, in fact, in addition to being an important geopolitical event, in some ways a forerunner of incipient disintegration of the bipolar system, has reinstated the religious element in the international dynamics as an essential factor useful for understanding the global scenarios. According to the author, religious fundamentalism is a reductionist interpretation of the religion itself, doomed to constitute a structural and decisive factor for the construction of the identitarian neoideologies and the definition of their geopolitical projection.

After the crisis of the ideologies of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, strongly surfaced over the past two or three decades of the last century, coeval and connected to the collapse of the old bipolar order, religion has become, over time, an increasingly dominant and structural factor within the construction of what we might tentatively define as “neoideologies of identity”. This can be seen in particular areas of the planet, such as the Near and Middle East. In this geopolitical quadrant, religion has assumed, after the attack on the Twin Towers in 2001, a prominent role in the intricate and complex international issues.

In the matter of theory’s field and geopolitical analysis, while we don’t neglect the methodological contribution of Samuel Huntington(1), it is certainly Frenchman François Thual (2) that has reintroduced a specific reflection on the religious factor as an essential element for the full understanding of some of the most complex regional scenarios. For what concern the geopolitics procedure, it is methodologically proper to refer to the two following events, coeval, but diametrically opposed: the revolutionary process initiated by Khomeini, which ended with the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the experience of the mujahideen in Soviet-Afghan war.

In Iran, the religious factor, declined in a very special sense, in addition to fully express its appeal both among the population and the major of the country’s establishment, succeeded in impose itself in a state level, becoming, through a delicate ideological and confessional balance, a significant portion, if not fundamental, of the current government system’s inspiring vision (3). In the case of Iran, the reprocessing of the Islamic religion, which occurred during an intense historical process started at the dawn of the Khomeini revolution (1963) up to present days, it has become explicit in a synthesis, continually actuated under the impulse of the Islamic Republic’s establishment, between the temporal power and spiritual authority, so as to permeate, with success, the practical management of a modern and, therefore, highly complex society.

But Iran is, so far, not an exception. Other political movements inspired by Islam, such as the Taliban movement, somehow heir of the mujahideen movement mentioned above, and the Muslim Brotherhood, have failed miserably at the first “proof of power”. The causes of failure of these movements are, of course, many and varied, exogenous and endogenous. We note that their inability to understand the changes in place, to realize effective and lasting alliances, to propose realistic and practicable alternatives to Western models and to replace the old oligarchies present in the Countries, where their penetration and settlement led them to the conquest of power, derive essentially from their schematic and reductive interpretation of the great cultural and historical legacy of the Islamic religion. The reductionism of identity, typical of these movements, more pronounced in the extreme case of the Taliban, more varied in the case of the Muslim Brotherhood, not only affect their political action but poses serious impediments on the activity of the government in the medium and long term. In particular, the reductionism of identity applied to Islam, the so-called Political Islam, isn’t suitable for the complex management of a national power in the current era, where the factors like international interdependence in the economic, political and military fields weigh heavily on the ruler’s choices, influencing the dynamics of geopolitics.


1. Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations?, in Foreign Affairs, vol. 72, no. 3, Summer 1993, pp. 22-49; Lo scontro di civiltà e il nuovo ordine mondiale, Milano 1997.
2. François Thual, Géopolitique du chiisme, 1995; Le douaire de Byzance. Territoires et identités de l'orthodoxie, Paris, 1998; Le désir de territoire. Morphogenèses territoriales et identités, Paris, 1999; Géopolitique du Bouddhisme, Genève, 2002; Géopolitique des religions. Le Dieu fragmenté, Paris, 2004. See also, for a different and alternative point of view, the work of Graham E. Fuller and Ian O. Lesser, Geopolitica dell’Islam. I paesi musulmani, il fondamentalismo, l’Occidente, Roma, 1996.
3. Ruhollah Khomeini, Il governo islamico o l’autorità spirituale del giureconsulto, Rimini, 2007; Pejman Abdolmohammadi, La Repubblica Islamica dell’Iran: Il pensiero politico dell’Ayatollah Khomeini, Genova, 2009.
tiberio.graziani (at)