Islam in the Balance Ideational Threats in Arab Politics By Lawrence Rubin (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2014. 189 pages.)

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Amr G.E. Sabet

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Abstract

This concise and important book deals with the dimensional change in international
conflicts and security pertaining to the power of ideas: Do ideas and/
or political ideologies threaten the security of regimes and states in ways that
differ from those conventionally attributed to the mere balance of military
power? By studying the role of religious or transnational ideology in the Middle
East in particular, the study aims to advance an understanding of “how,
why, and when ideology affects threat perception and state policy” (p. vii) via
two aspects, one related to ideational threat perception and the other to
ideational balancing. Together they provide an analytical framework for understanding
strategic interaction as an “ideational security dilemma” (p. vii)
with a specific focus on how Egypt and Saudi Arabia have responded to threat
perceptions emanating both from the rise and the activities of Iran and Sudan.
These four dyads attempt to examine changes in threat perceptions before and
after Islamists came to power in the latter two countries (p. 4).


The idea behind this dyadic approach is to show how threat perceptions
to national security are not altered due to increased hard power capabilities,
but rather due to soft power projections. Rubin makes the interesting point
that Egypt and Saudi Arabia felt more threatened by a militarily weak Sudan
as well as a militarily degraded post-revolutionary Iran far more than they
did during the time of the militarily powerful Shah (pp. 2-3). Much of this
has to do with the point that it is not mere ideology or ideas that pose a threat
to national security, but rather that they become so in their “projected” form
(p. 4).
The following six chapters elaborate on this simple and straightforward,
yet highly significant and relevant, proposition. In the introductory chapter,
Rubin develops his framework of analysis (the “ideational security
dilemma”) and makes it clear that one of the study’s main purposes is “to
take ideology seriously.” This is done within the realist framework that accepts
the centrality of the state, as well as that of neo-classical realism (p.
124) which focuses on the foreign policy emanating from domestic cultural
and perceptual variables (p. 18). The study refocuses attention on ideational
projections that resonate with a foreign domestic audience and that may consequently
bring about a transnational response, thereby exacerbating internal
societal unrest ...

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