In the first part of his lecture, Prof. Moussavi provided an overview of the theoretical constructs, the assumptions and principles that define and guide the practice of diplomacy both in the Islamic tradition and the contemporary modern world. He contrasted the Western tradition of diplomacy - which focuses mainly on interaction between governments acting through their official agents and including practices such as propaganda, subversion, manipulation and economic pressure- with the Muslim tradition that started as early as the time of the Prophet and included interaction with multiple entities such as communities around Medina and other religious groups, kingdoms, and empires as far as Persia and the Roman empire. In discussing the contemporary context for the practice of diplomacy, Prof. Moussavi focused on the bipolarity that characterized 19th century diplomacy and the multi-polarity that emerged in the second half of the 20th century with the birth of new independent states that refused to align themselves with either of the two major blocks.
Dr. Moussavi argued that Muslim international relations should be viewed in two sets: i) intra-communal or relations between and among Muslim states, and ii) trans-communal, or relations with non Muslim states. He contends that intra-community relations during the classical era of Islam did not receive much attention because Muslim unity was taken for granted and political dynamics such as delegation of power, de fact governments, sectarian relations and internal conflicts or alliances were not carefully observed and studied. Most of the focus was on trans-communal or external relations.
In the modern era, Prof. Moussavi identified two trends in Muslim practice of diplomacy: a secular trend that separates religious doctrine from the practice of diplomacy, and an ideological trend that required diplomats to abide by the tenets of Islam in the practice of diplomacy. The first trend was adopted by most nascent Muslim nations before 1970s and still held up by countries such as Turkey, Malaysia, and Indonesia. The second trend that reflects an ideologized foreign policy adheres to Islam not just as a belief system but also as a set of rituals and performances that require sacred performances. When translated or imposed in the conduct of an international system such as diplomacy, this approach results in problematic practices and awkward situations such as shaking hands between diplomats from different sexes.
Prof. Moussavi identifies current Iranian diplomacy with the later trend of the ideologized foreign policy. According to the Iranian Constitution of 1980, it is legal for the state to “export the revolution”. In the conventional approach, ideas such as reciprocal economic interest and prosperity of nations set the main goals of the foreign policy of two nations. But in a dogmatic approach such as the one adopted by the Iranian government, ideology comes first.
Prof. Ahmad Kazemi Moussavi graduated from Tehran University in the field of Law. He graduated from McGill University with a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies. From 1967-1980 he worked as an Iranian diplomat, serving in Basra and Baghdad, Iraq; Washington, DC; and Ottawa, Canada. He taught at McGill University, Tehran University, and International Islamic University Malaysia, and recently in Maryland University.