Peter Henne on Religion-State Relations and Counterterrorism
Date: August 27th, 2017

What determines whether or not a foreign government cooperates with US counterterrorism efforts?  Prof. Peter Henne, and assistant professor of political science at the University of Vermont, examines the variation in how different governments in Muslim nations respond to US overtures.   We discuss a bit of Dr. Henne’s background as a terrorism/counterterrorism analyst, why he became interested in the topic, and then dive into the content of his new book Islamic Politics, Muslim States, and Counterterrorism Tensions (out with Cambridge University Press).  He begins by reviewing the general literature in international relations that seeks to explain why nations agree to cooperate with one another.  We review international self-interest (the realism school), domestic political pressures, and then turn to how religion might play into this mix via the theories of “civilization” theorists such as Bernard Lewis and Samuel Huntington.  While each perspective adds something to our understanding about why nations would yield to pressure from the US to help in quashing terrorist groups, Peter proposes an institutional perspective that takes into account pre-existing religion-state relations within Muslim nations, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism over the past half century, and the international context.  We review some of the dimensions of US counterterrorism policy and then Prof. Henne lays out his theory of why some states would be more cooperative with the US than other states.  Whether a state is “open” or “closed” politically matters a great deal, as does how governments have structured their relations with Islamic organizations, including militants.  The history of counterterrorism since the early 1990s is the presented and we review some of the larger trends in counterterrorism efforts, noting that Africa has been the least cooperative region with the U.S.   Our attention then turns to three case studies that present different religion-state relations:  Pakistan, United Arab Emirates, and Turkey.  Pakistan, while relatively open politically at times, must wrangle with Islamic activism, support for such activism in the military, and the conflict in Kashmir when weighing its policy options towards the US.  The UAE, by contrast, has exercised greater control over Islamic groups in civil society and although there has been funding of militant groups through charitable channels, the interest and ability to manage these groups more effectively have made the Emirates a more consistent partner with the US.  Finally, we examine Turkey that has had a history of overt secularism, favored by the military leaders, but which has also seen an uptick in religious activism within civil society and amongst political parties.  This has led to Turkey as having one of the most complex and nuanced positions towards US counterterrorism efforts, including the surprise decision by the government not to participate in the US invasion of Iraq in the early 21st century.  We close with some speculation by Prof. Henne where US relations with Muslim nations are heading in the near future, as well as what he has learned over the course of his study of this topic.  (It should be noted that while we were recording this, there was a three-alarm fire on the University of Vermont campus, but Dr. Henne — not in the building that was burning — stayed on for the interview.  How cool is that?)  Recorded: August 3, 2017.


Prof. Peter Henne’s bio at the Department of Political Science, University of Vermont.

Islamic Politics, Muslim States, and Counterterrorism Tensions, by Peter Henne.


Podcasts on the topic of Islam and Politics.

David Smith on Religion, International Relations, and Foreign Policy.

Lawrence Rubin on Islam and Ideational Balancing.

William Inboden on Religious Liberty, Foreign Policy, and the Arab Spring.

Thomas Farr on Religion, Religious Liberty, and US Diplomacy.

Jeremy Menchik on Islam, Tolerance, Democracy, and Indonesia.

Denis Dragovic on Religion and State-Building.

Robert George on the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (and banjo music).

Daniel Philpott on Religious Resurgence and Democratization.

One Response to “Peter Henne on Religion-State Relations and Counterterrorism”

  1. Jonathan Fox says:

    Great talk Peter and thanks for the quick plug.

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