Recent news reports point toward a major change in Iran’s population policy in near future. Worried about the falling birth rate and its consequences for country’s future, Iranian policy planners are reversing the population policy once again and hoping that the population will listen to them as it did twice before in the 1980s and 1990s.
While many Muslim ulema (traditionally trained scholars) would claim family planning is not allowed, Quran and Sunnah, the two main sources of Islamic law, are ambiguous on this issue. Family planning has been approved, partially approved and rejected using the same two sources. This multi-vocality of Islam has given the Muslim-majority states more leeway in designing population policies than the Catholic-majority states, though most of the Muslim-majority states have not used this leeway to the fullest extent. Iran is an exception in this regard. Though not giving full reproductive rights, Iran has managed to first convince its population to increase the birth rate and then decrease it to close to replacement levels, all in three decades. Let’s look at Iran’s population policies in a little more detail.
Iran presents a fascinating case of successful population control in a political system that many have called a Muslim theocracy. Iran’s first population policy was introduced in 1967 as part of King Muhammad Reza Shah’s modernization/Westernization drive and it was not very successful. A result not quite different from the experience of other modernizing Muslim-majority countries. After the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the new regime adopted a pronatalist policy. Although no change in population policy was announced, the emphasis shifted from population control to family and children and the family planning program was largely abandoned. War with Iraq, restrictions on women employment, lowering of age for marriage and allowing polygamy/temporary marriages created an enabling environment. Not surprisingly, birth per women increased to more than six, one of the highest in the world.
By the end of 1980s, many in the Iranian religious and political elite realized that continuing pronatalist policy could have disastrous consequences. Imam Khomeini and other ayatollahs were also convinced and they issued fatwas, terming family planning not only Islamic but necessary in some cases. This was the cue Iranian officials needed and from then on, they devised and managed a comprehensive family planning program. This program included production, distribution and promotion of contraceptives in a variety of ways. New laws and rules were also adopted to encourage use of contraceptives e.g. marriage license is only issued after the couple has attended family planning classes. The commitment of Islamic regime to family planning could be seen by the setting up of first and only state-supported condom factory in the Middle East. More educated women, decrease in restrictions on women employment, rise of the Islamic-feminist discourse, and a comparatively more liberal regime provided the enabling environment that helped the acceptance of government’s message. The results were miraculous. The births per women dropped to two. Iran achieved the decrease in fertility in two decades what other countries have taken more than hundred years to achieve and this was done under ‘mullahs’.
Not unlike Italy, Germany and South Korea, Iran is now trying to increase its birth rate. While its concerns are understandable, it is important to keep in mind what made the previous effort so successful. First, only laws and regulations do not change reproductive behavior. Rather, a singular focus on them makes people wary of the state’s motives. Individuals have to voluntarily accept state’s proposals. So, incentives are in, punishments are out. Legislating to ban vasectomies and to punish doctors for performing them, a recent effort in Iranian parliament, will not help. Second, state policies cannot be successful, if they ignore the context, the ground realities. As literacy in Iran becomes universal, a comparatively more independent Iranian generation enters adulthood and more better-paying jobs require higher education (thus favoring delay in marriage and children), it is important to tailor fertility incentives to working women, women in late 30s and nuclear or one-parent households.
Iran’s example shows that it is not Islam that is stopping other Muslim-majority countries (like Pakistan. Yemen etc.) from devising and implementing population policies that are best for their people. As is often the case, it is politics hiding behind religion, not religion driving politics or policy.
On June 6 , 2014 the corporate ownership of Academi, which is the current name of the private military and security company (PMSC) that began its operational life as Blackwater, merged with The Constellis Group, which is a group of companies that includes the PMSC Triple Canopy, to form Constellis Holdings Inc. Now this is an admittedly niche news story to discuss for my first post to the Calgary Centre for Global Community blog, but this corporate merger does mean and reveal some rather interesting things about the contemporary governance of (post-)conflict spaces. For instance, with this merger, Constellis Holdings becomes the key commercial provider of security guards for the United States’ Department of State (DOS), particularly for protective services in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Beyond the potential for better looking balance sheets, Constellis’ position as a key provider of security guards to the DOS signals the continued import of commercially sourced services to the day-to-day going-ons of (post-)conflict spaces. Protective services, i.e. armed guarding of persons, places and things, have in recent history been thoroughly scrutinized by academic, media, government and civil-society investigators and analysts - with due cause. During the mid-2000s in Afghanistan and Iraq, PMSCs under contract to the DOS committed and were alleged to have committed a litany of egregious, unethical and illegal activities of which Blackwater were front and centre. The problems with Blackwater’s operations in Iraq became so troubling that the PMSC was ordered to leave the country in 2010. Although the exploits of commercially sourced armed men are a significant feature of the recent historical/contemporary landscape of (post-)conflict spaces the operations of and services provided by PMSCs extend far beyond protective services. Indeed the homepage for The Constellis Group boasts that its “family of businesses” provide “complementary security, support and advisory services” to a range of clients “working in challenging environments worldwide”. Such services include risk-assessment and mitigation, materiel transport and logistics, project management and consulting and market research, which in the case of Strategic Social involves in-depth socio-cultural research.
The clientele of PMSCs are also not limited to the military, diplomatic, development or intelligence apparatus of nation-states. Multinational corporations, especially those involved in the resource and logistics sector, aid and development non-governmental organizations as well as private individuals have all and continue to seek the services of PMSCs. This diverse array of services and clientele also ensures that PMSCs operate, whether corporately or in the field, on every continent save for Antarctica and recruit their contractors from and through global labour markets. As Rita Abrahamsen and Michael Williams point out in their influential book Security Beyond the State PMSCs are representative of as well as an integral productive aspect of the agential and structural changes that have effected how (post-)conflict spaces are governed over the past fourteen years. Accordingly, the contemporary governance of (post-)conflict spaces involves a complex arrangement of political, economic, military and security relations amongst globally influential and locally effectual agents and structures alike. PMSCs serve as both the vessels and in the case of the individual contractors the literal bodies through which other agents express and enact global influence and local effect. PMSCs themselves must also be recognized as influential and effectual agents and not simply for egregious, unethical and illegal activities.
Likewise the global and local rearrangements of political, economic, military and security relations brought on by processes of globalization, neo-liberalization, securitization and digitization are readily manifested by and through the work of PMSCs. This work most readily seeks to increase the security, mobility, functionality, efficiency and profitability of certain people, resources and finances. By increasing security, mobility, functionality, efficiency and profitability the work of PMSCs extends the influence the aforementioned processes not only in (post-)conflict spaces, but less violate locales as well. For instance, the global daily dependence on oil and other fossil fuel based products is utterly dependent upon the work of PMSCs particularly in Northern and Western Africa and the Persian Gulf. The formation of Constellis Holdings Inc. may only garner interest from the financial media and thus be of niche interest to investors or subject matter experts. It, as asserted in this post, can also serve as significant reminder of the complex arrangements of global and local structures and agents that are involved in the governance of contemporary (post-)conflict spaces.