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Iran's Untapped Soft Power Potentials

By Dr. Mahmoud Reza Golshanpazhooh, Deputy Director; Tehran International Studies and Research Institute (Source:  Iran Review)

1. A recent debate on China's soft power capacities in comparison to the United States has been going on in Chinese media for a while. The debate actually started after screening of a Hollywood production, Avatar, in China which coincided with the completion of one of the biggest national film projects in the country called The Founding of a Republic which featured most Chinese movie stars. An article by Wang Wen in the Global Times published on January 28, 2010, revealed the key point in the competition. He wrote, "Although The Founding of a Republic hit a new box office record in the whole history of Chinese cinema during 45 days of screening, but Avatar earned as much in a matter of just 15 days! The 1 to 3 ratio of box office returns for two films clearly proves the difference between our soft power capacities and those of the United States."

A similar comparison was also carried out in recent weeks between Avatar and a new Chinese film, Confucius, which rekindled debates on why Hollywood productions are more welcome in the Chinese society and preferred over features about the Chinese history and civilization.

2. The American theorist, Samuel Huntington, maintained that the map and distribution of a country's cultural influence in the world could be taken as the real map of that country which indicates its true power in different parts of the world.

3. Soft power is a rather new concept in politics and international relations offering a more abstract and immaterial image of power, which is usually associated with its hard aspect. Special methods are used to influence subjects of the soft power without using coercion by attracting or convincing the people who are addressed by this new form of power. In this method, the person or entity that is subject to the soft power complies with it either unconsciously or totally consciously and does exactly what the soft power source has asked for. Also, this form of power may be associated with care for other people's priorities, so that, wielders of soft power not only want what we want, but their priorities are the same as ours.

4. In the present age of communications, many countries are doing their best to draw international attention to their preferences. Many countries spend a lot of money to promote their cultural, artistic, touristic, scientific and historical attractions to both improve their country's image in the world and achieve their foreign policy and security goals. Heavy investment by India in turning yoga into a cultural and civilizational product; use of Cuban physicians in times of emergency and their participation in voluntary operations across the world to earn credit for their country; taking advantage of Hollywood, McDonald or Coca-Cola by the US government to increase its cultural influence; China's investment in research institutes promoting Confucian ideas and the ancient culture of China throughout the world; use of famous industrial brands like Benz and BMW by Germany to appeal to various generations; and efforts by South Korea to demonstrate its ancient history through technological novelties are prominent examples which prove that countries are engaged in an intense competition through modern means of communication, especially the Internet, to increase their soft power abilities.

5. During the past 30 years, the Islamic Republic of Iran has determined, defined (and sometimes redefined) and banked on the soft power repertoire of the great Islamic - Iranian civilization. The cultural component alone is enough to demonstrate immense soft power capacities of the Islamic Republic of Iran. In fact, a lot of soft power tools and components are included in the country's culture. Enumerating soft power components, Joseph Nye mentions cultural and ideological values as a major component of soft power. In fact, the culture of a given society, which can be represented in many components such as arts, civilization, religion, scientific status, entertainment, literature, customs, folklore, national behavioral traits, and even internationally accepted food recipes, is considered a very powerful component of a country's soft power abilities. The strength of cultural themes and their relation to civilizational and ideological archetypes of a society provides an accurate measure of the strength of every one of those components.

6. Our country enjoys such soft power capacities which just imagining them will make you gape. You would both feel proud to be Iranian and live in this country, and shed tears when faced with the bitter reality that many countries have ensured their soft security by drawing on their own resources which are meager compared to our country's abilities. Then you would realize how far we are from making the most of these God-given capacities.

7. The aforesaid Chinese columnist, Wang Wen, regrets the fact that his Chinese fellow countrypersons stand in long lines in freezing cold of January in front of theaters screening Avatar and asks Chinese statesmen "what are we supposed to do to make the Americans stand in lines for hours to watch a Chinese movie?"

It is also a good question for us: "What we must do to make the Iranian culture, arts and civilization an indispensable part of people's lives across the globe?" What we have to do to get the Iranian carpet back to its past status? How can we make "Made in Iran" a creditable trademark? What we must do to make other people yearn to watch an Iranian movie or own a piece of the Iranian art? When foreign tourists would have to wait for long times to travel to Iran and visit its touristic, or at least, geo-touristic attractions?

If you think that even imagining such things would be too realistic, then we will have to admit that there is a long road ahead of us.

About Iran Review: Iran Review ( is the leading independent, non-governmental and non-partisan website - organization representing scientific and professional approaches towards Iran's political, economic, social, religious, and cultural affairs, its foreign policy, and regional and international issues within the framework of analysis and articles.

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