Iran's Ideological Expansion

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“We shall export our revolution to the whole world. Until the cry, ‘there is no god but God’ resounds over the whole world, there will be struggle.”

- Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini

Iran has pursued a two-pronged approach, encompassing hard and soft power strategies, in order to spread its brand of Islamic fundamentalist ideology throughout the Middle East and beyond. In terms of hard power, Iran has offered financial, ideological, and material support for global terrorist proxies loyal to Iran’s supreme leader. Iran’s backing of terrorist movements has helped Iran establish spheres of influence throughout the region, including in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the Palestinian territories.  An extensive analysis of Iran’s support for terrorist proxies can be found here, and a timeline of Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism in pursuit of its revolutionary goals can be found here.

This report will focus on Iran’s ideological expansion through soft power means, examining the key institutions and agents driving Iran’s bid for influence around the globe.

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Introduction

Since the 1979 establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Iranian regime has sought to export its revolutionary ideology in an effort to establish Iranian hegemony in the Islamic world. American diplomat Henry Kissinger has remarked on several occasions that Iran needs to decide “whether it wants to be a nation or a cause.” In fact, the need to spread the Islamic Revolution beyond Iran’s borders is ingrained in the principles of Khomeinism, Iran’s guiding ethos.

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Profiles of Institutions Spreading Iran's Revolution Abroad

Ideological Expansion by Region

Iran’s actions to plant the seeds of the Islamic Revolution in regions such as Europe, Africa, and Latin America, detailed extensively in this report, are largely carried out in service of its most pressing foreign policy priority, supplanting the United States and becoming the rightful dominant power in the Middle East.

Iran has established a worldwide network of religious and cultural organizations, including universities, charities, media outlets, and civic organizations oriented towards propagating the regime’s Khomeinist ideology. Iran has thus anchored loyal adherents to the regime’s religious and foreign policy vision in a diverse array of societies, in turn generating funding and a pipeline of recruits supporting its hegemonic military pursuits around the Middle East.