This paper discusses specifics of marketing communication in the case of Islam with a purpose to enable better and efficient understanding with the Muslim business community.
This would mean that in order to understand Islamic people it is essential to understand that according to the doctrine of Islamic religion Muslims submit entirely to God, and are ready to give up pleasures in this world so that they will enjoy them in the next world. One should keep in mind that for Muslims, life in this world presents only a transitional phase in which they try to achieve heaven in the other, next world. Hence, against this background marketing and business communication should be very sensitive, taking well into account Islamic teachings. Failure to respect here discussed principles may cause serious damage to companies hoping to operate on Islamic markets, even prevent them from entering such markets. Marketing and business communication represent the first public steps of companies entering the market. If they make a mistake at this stage it will be hard to achieve success in subsequent stages. Particular attention is given to understanding the institution of fatwa as a form of communication and its reference to public relations.
The world is fast becoming a global village, although it still remains a conglomerate of different cultures, religions, nations and traditions. These differences, arising out of various cultures and societies, are also present in business, marketing and advertising as well as in traditional and legal codes of conduct and practice.
Internationalisation refers to the increasingly international dimension of the activities of enterprises, while globalisation is based on the presumption that the world is becoming more and more homogenous at all levels (such as economy, culture, consumer behaviour). The world has actually become a single market, and the ability to compete in this global economy is not necessarily the only challenge of the business world. It also has to deal with the constant spread of international trade.
However, along with this increasing international economic activity there is a growing need to establish successful business communication between subjects from different cultural backgrounds. For business people and academic theoreticians involved in business relations with the Islamic world it is important, in order to be successful, to become acquainted with business practices, customs, norms and other rules applicable in those countries. This is the central topic of this article, which will be explored by methods of presentation, analysis, comparison, comment and generalisation.
This paper examines the dimensions of business communication with a special emphasis on fatwa as an element and principle of Sharia (Islamic law), which has an important role in business relations with the Islamic world. In this context it represents a set of specifically formulated rules and customs in marketing and financial operations arising from traditional Islamic culture, which differ significantly from other cultures and civilisations. Foreigners coming from other cultural backgrounds experience communicational incompatibilities in all life situations, especially in various transactions and negotiations as well as in trade and business relations. The solution, expressed as personal and business success, lies in intercultural communication. The ability to communicate interculturally enables the realisation of business goals at the international business level.
The aim of this article is therefore to present and analyse the set of rules, norms, customs and practices in the business world, especially in business communication, for those who have a theoretical and practical interest in business relations with the Islamic world. Business communication is based on a broad range of sui generis social, political, cultural, legal and religious rules that are applicable across the entire Islamic world and are laid down in Islamic law. Thus, our hypothesis is that the lack of knowledge of said rules and practices renders it very difficult to carry out successful marketing communication with and in Islamic environments. Within this context particular attention is given to understanding the institution of fatwa as a form of communication and its reference to public relations.
Many people share the idea of human universality, believing that human beings are essentially alike and able to overcome the many differences that divide us. This idea may be most convincing, but is also the most difficult to overcome in intercultural relations. Each individual develops his or her way of living over the course of one’s life and in the course of socialisation. Culture is an important element when it comes to relations between people from various backgrounds, because it broadly incorporates the common social and physical environments they share, as well as a mixture of various influences and forces that affect their personal thinking processes and communicational behaviour. Culture thus forms the model that defines the way people live and their life orientations while it also lays down prohibitions, limitations and taboos.
The reason such value systems exist is to organise and maintain an ordered society. In order to understand the values of other people it is necessary to examine the signs of their cultures, using our own culture as support rather than as a pattern that might be taken as a benchmark of perfection.
When we talk about Islam we refer to Sharia Law (Sharia). According to Karčić (1997b:12) this term is usually translated as Islamic law or Islamic religious code. However, it does not represent a legal system in the technical sense of the word, but a “comprehensive system of human obligations” (Ibid.). Islamic law is a practical expression of religion that incorporates rules of a religious, moral and socio-legal character. And it is an understanding of those rules that enables successful marketing communication with the Islamic world.
Sharia represents the legal foundation of the Islamic economy. Its role lies in providing the broad outlines of the Islamic economic system and is similar to the role of any other legal system. In secular societies laws are adopted, amended or abolished collectively based on the will of certain individuals, and as such they are subject to change. However, in Islamic societies the laws are regarded as sacred and therefore unchangeable, eternal and beyond human influence or change. In Islam religion is inseparably integrated into politics and society.
Islamic law is, like any other religious law, based on God’s will and has a special influence on the legal systems of countries with majority Muslim populations as well as on many minority Muslim communities in other countries. The desire to achieve intercultural communication is increasingly present in various spheres of modern life, especially in marketing and business communication. The need for efficient intercultural marketing and business communication is even more intensified at the global level with the acknowledgement of different cultural models that reflect diversity of cultures. The ability to adapt to others, also those coming from very different, even hostile cultures, is the necessity of our time. Productive business communication between different cultures should not remain a mere hope nor an accidental accord or pleasant event. It should include those dimensions of diversity that will overcome ignorance and discover common, mutual interests.
Islamic law has the inherent capacity to develop and adapt to time and place. It is the duty of every generation to read the Qur’an, create its own agreement and apply its own abilities to implement it in everyday life. Islamic law is the basis of the Islamic economy. Knowledge of Islamic law enables successful marketing and business communication in the Arab-Islamic world. Islamic laws are universal, they apply to all Muslims and are binding upon them wherever they live.
Marketing and business communication has an important role in Islamic societies. From its very beginnings Islam has stressed the importance of commerce and trade for society. Islamic societies are not isolated from the rest of the world. This means that marketing and business communication in those societies is a complex mix of the Western model and the traditional Islamic environment
In Islamic law economic principles are based on supporting and developing activities that apply to people and are favourable for the state, such as: trade in goods that are not harmful to people, free market and free pricing, except in cases when state intervention is required, appropriate compensation for the labourer “before his sweat dries up”, prevention of fraud, protection of (private, social and state) property and means of production, caring for the poor, the disabled and those unable to work, protection of water, plants and animals, prohibition of environmentally unfriendly technologies, nationalisation of resources that belong to everyone (water, gold, oil and other natural resources etc.), and other (comp. El-Qaradawi, 1997a: 331).
Other principles of Islamic law regulate the fields of politics, education, media, culture, family life etc., all of which directly or indirectly influence (successful) marketing communication. Megatrends in global marketing are increasingly based on special marketing programmes, which require detailed knowledge of the targeted market segment and consumer group. In order to be successful, the countries that cooperate with the Islamic world must therefore be familiar with the relevant market and with the codes of conduct that apply to any sphere of social life.
From the theoretical point of view this article is based on some important works written by authors who have dealt with issues of Islamic law, communicology, marketing, economics, political anthropology, phychosociology and politology. Therefore the central methods applied in this article include interdisciplinary comparison and generalisation with an emphasis on findings in Islamic law and communicology.
Islam and Marketing Communication
The article analyses communication strategies in the Islamic world and their influence on business cooperation and communication with Western and other cultures. It is based on the mental pattern of a member of the Islamic community that defines the conduct of a Muslim as a religious person and affects marketing communication. It presupposes that the cultural patterns of behaviour arising from Islamic law determine the manner in which marketing communication is carried out in this part of the world.
In the research process special emphasis was placed on the notion of fatwa, which lays down the rules regarding how Muslims should behave in unclear or questionable situations and that often relate to business activities and other fields of work and life (e.g. trade and communication with non-Muslims). Fatwa is a solution or answer to a concrete problem based on Islamic law that is issued by the mufti on a case-by-case basis. It represents an important institution in Islamic law, its role being to bring Sharia closer to the people in terms of the present time (everyday life) and place. Various public relations techniques must be applied in order to present a fatwa to the general or religious public. Those who issue fatwa must be well familiar with its mission, its aims and goals, relations with the media, writing texts for the public, preparation of public speeches and many other details. Inevitably the media plays an important role in this process. The aim of the person issuing fatwa is to create public opinion among a social community that would reflect the spirit of Sharia law. Since fatwa is issued in spoken and written form, public relations techniques regarding the written text also play an important role. Although the institution of fatwa means one-way communication within the Islamic community and society, such opinions must be unconditionally implemented. Fatwa is based on the teachings of the Koran (Qur’an), and God’s will is irrevocable.
Note should also be taken of the social exchange process, which has been a constant feature of civilised societies and their inherent mechanisms. Exchange occurs due to the unequal distribution of the necessary resources among people and is indented to address and eliminate the lack of appropriate means of satisfying individual needs and desires. Exchange methods have developed continuously throughout the evolution of civilisations and actually enabled them to evolve in many respects. Therefore it may reasonably be suggested that “the exchange process is the most important mechanism that enables the functioning of society” (Jančič, 1996: 45).
Without knowing the specificities of the Islamic world and all the dimensions of its social system it is impossible or at least very difficult to establish and carry on any successful business activity. It requires two-way communication between the Eastern and Western ways of thinking, and accepting the differences between those societies. Despite all of the differences between Islamic and Western institutions and economic systems, there is intensive cooperation between the two worlds.
The aim of Islamic law is to regulate all areas of human activity, not only those that may entail legal consequences. According to Islamic theory Sharia represents the body of criteria that enables one to differentiate between law and non-law. Sharia is a complete moral and legal system that directs the regulation of all areas of human behaviour with the aim of achieving harmony with divine law. Islamic lawyers believe that adherence to Sharia rules and principles not only brings an individual closer to God but also ensures development of a just society in which each individual has the opportunity to realise his or her capabilities, which in turn enables and gives rise to progress that benefits everyone. In other words: religion as a set of values and beliefs establishes goals and ideals to be implemented by society, while Islamic law lays down the code of conduct to be followed by Muslims if they wish to realise those goals.
Generally, Islam places a strong emphasis on communication. The Qur’an contains certain ayahs that point to the differences between people and the need to get to know one another. A very good example is the following ayah: “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another.” (Al-Hujurat: 13). The Qur’an also lays stress on trade and commerce, such as the following ayah: “O you who have believed, do not consume one another’s wealth unjustly but only [in lawful] business by mutual consent. And do not kill yourselves [or one another].” (Al-Nisa: 29).
Sharia is a literal understanding of everything that Allah has prescribed in order to regulate human life. It is manifested in the fundamental postulates of religious belief as well as in the basic principles of power, morality, everyday behaviour, science etc. (Kutb, 1996: 90). Islamic attitude to law and Islamic law (in the modern European sense) are notions that are often misunderstood or only partly understood in Europe. In order to understand Islamic law in its core sense one should start by dealing with theological rather than legal issues (Nielsen, 1986).
From the Sharia point of view it is understandable that in Islam it is not possible to separate different spheres of human life as is possible in the modern West where – as Max Weber has taught us in considerable detail – the value fields of ethics, science, religion and art are separated and governed by the law of non-interference and intrinsic autonomy (Weber, 1956). In Islam the language of morality constantly borrows from the metaphoric language of art, while religious prayer may easily turn into a political pamphlet without triggering any feelings of inner inconsistency or violation of formal taboos. This results in the very complex nature of Islamic language and a direct existential experience. Any simplification of that language would seriously undermine such experience. In order to understand jihad, for instance, one should have a look at the root of the concept. In Islam the root is the Qur’an itself (Debeljak, 1994:14).
Knowledge and understanding of Islamic codes and rules is a precondition for successful marketing and business communication both for Muslims communicating with the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds and for non-Muslims communicating with the Muslim world.
In Islamic law the principles of economy are based on supporting and developing all activities that are intended for the people and are favourable for the state. Those principles include:
– trade in goods that are not harmful to people,
– free market and free pricing except in cases when state intervention is required,
– appropriate compensation of the labourer “before his sweat dries up” (the hadith),
– prevention of fraud,
– protection of (private, social and state) property and means of production,
– caring for the poor, the disabled and those unable to work (zakat, sadaqah),
– protection of water, plants and animals,
– nationalisation of resources that belong to everyone (water, gold, oil, mines and other natural resources etc.) (El-Qaradawi, 1997a: 331).
According to the classic methodology of Islamic law the basic goal of any individual activity in society is to create benefit and eliminate disorder (Sušić, 1996: 26-53). Other principles of Islamic law regulate the fields of politics, education, media, culture, family life etc., which in one way or another directly or indirectly affect successful marketing and business communication and any business activity.
Communication plays an important role in human history. We could say that the history of mankind is actually the history of communication, especially in modern societies. Communication is something that is with us at birth, and follows us through life until death. The communication process is based on information transfer.
EnciklopedijaSlovenije(1999: 390-391) describes marketing communication as the public presentation of organisations and the offer of products, services and ideas with the aim to improve their market position under competitive circumstances. Expressions of advertising and (economic) propaganda are also used to denote marketing communication. The term marketing communication is generally accepted as an expression denoting various forms of communication between organisations and their environment. Traditional forms of marketing communication (the so-called promotional mix) include personal sales, advertising, sales promotion, publicity and public relations. The central form of marketing communication is advertising, i.e. ordered, paid and signed creative mass communication. Media by which advertising messages are communicated include newspaper, radio, television, Internet, posters, banners, brochures, catalogues, display windows etc. The goal of advertising is to generate consumption of products or services as well as to enhance the reputation of organisations. Moreover, advertising is also used for non-commercial, public interest issues. The level of creativity employed and achieved often approaches the level of art. Advertising often uses exaggeration in order to achieve certain effects, sometimes even as it flirts on the border of the ethically acceptable. Some countries limit advertising freedoms with regard to certain products (tobacco, alcohol, medicines, weapons) as well as content and means of advertising via legal restrictions and regulations as well as advertising codes and practices.
Marketing communication is a special form of communication process where the company is usually the message sender and the consumer is the message receiver, the whole process being targeted at the consumer. The aim of all marketing communication activities is to establish a connection between suppliers and consumers. Communication is an exchange rather than a one-way flow of information. Speaking to someone does not necessarily mean communicating with that person. Communication occurs the moment the recipient actually receives the message that the sender intended to convey to him/her, and reacts to it. Rejection of the message, misinterpretation and/or misunderstanding of it etc. are examples of ineffective communication (Ule, Kline, 1996: 53).
Most authors regard communication as an exchange of information. This article is focused on the exchange of information related to marketing and business communication of modern companies and companies that are fully or partly based on Islamic law.
Although exchange as the basis of marketing was familiar to numerous early theoreticians the pioneering work in this field was carried out by McInnes (1964). The latter pointed to the role of market as the focal point of (economic) exchanges between suppliers and buyers. According to McInnes markets result from the social intercourse between people, when the makers and users of economic goods and services seek to satisfy needs and desires through exchanges. He defined marketing as “any ‘motion’ or activity that actualises the potential relation of the producers and consumers. Thus marketing is basically related to the market. The work of marketing always begins with the discovery of market potential. The concept of marketing in its widest sense, therefore, is any activity which actualises the potential market relationship between the makers and users of economic goods and services.” (Jančič, 1996: 47).
Communication occurs in a social context and is determined by it. Messages are given their meaning within certain social contexts, e.g. within a group, institution etc. Communication is based on the common social knowledge of its participants as well as their history and their expectations, plans and anticipation for the future (Ule, Kline, 1996: 29).
FATWA AS A FORM OF COMMUNICATION
As an institution of Islamic law fatwa may significantly affect communication in certain societies. Certain fatwas may result in the limiting or prevention of communication, especially when they concern the prohibition of trade between Muslims and Jews. This may also cause other forms of cooperation to be discontinued. Nevertheless, the basic aim of fatwa is to regulate relations in a society by eliminating disorder, establishing a spiritually healthy society and creating social welfare. This is based on the principle that Islam is there to help people and not make their lives difficult.
The institution of fatwa has developed as an expression of the cautelar nature of Sharia law that is reflected in efforts to prevent any form of behaviour that might jeopardise the ideal social order. In the Qur’an the term fatwa and its synonyms refer to the clarification of ambiguous or disputable issues. Giving such clarifications was one of the tasks of the Prophet Mohammad. However, in terms of Sharia law the above terms do not carry the usual technical legal meaning. In the former case clarifications embody the norms of the Qur’an, while in the latter case they carry the normative custom of God’s Prophet (Karčić, 1997b: 64).
There are some similarities between fatwa and the institution of responsa in Roman law, but also significant differences that reveal the specific Islamic character of fatwa. Roman law uses the institution of responsa which comprises a body of opinions given by lawyers on disputable issues that arise during or in relation to court proceedings or when they are theoretically justified (Stojčević, 1978: 37). In the beginning responsa were given by lawyers who enjoyed their students’ trust. From the reign of Octavian Augustus onwards this function was performed only by select lawyers with whom the princeps vested certain powers in order to ensure uniformity and control of justice. Formally responsa did not have any legal force, although usually an ordinary judge could not reject the opinion of an authoritative lawyer. In the 5th century all legal acts were given legal force and the function of reponsa lost its significance with the introduction of the extraordinary procedure.
The institution of fatwa is an important communicological element of the Islamic provenience. Unlike responsa which only deals with legal issues within the system that separates law from religion, fatwa embodies both legal and religious norms with ethical features. In Islamic law the lawyer’s creative role can only be expressed in areas that are not regulated by obligatory texts, while in Roman law there are no such situations. The change in Islamic law occurred with the introduction of the notion of “closing of the door of ijtihad”, which reflected on the legal character of fatwa, and for which there is no comparable component in Roman law. So the institution of responsa evolved along another path (comp. Đozo, 1996).
Muslim countries did not have the same control over the development of legal doctrine as is known in Roman law, where the function of respondere was vested as a privilege only in certain lawyers. Besides being issued by official and private muftis, fatwa’s authority depended primarily on the power of the argument on which it was based.
Ijtihad is an Islamic discipline that aims to clarify the fundamentals of Islamic law. It is one of the most important specifics and features of Islamic culture, as it proves the general relevance and contemporary applicability of Islamic law regardless of time and place, while at the same time ensuring its existence and perfection. Ijtihad is a means of finding direction and applying Sharia rules to all cases and life situations. It confirms the specific nature of Sharia as the conclusion and final testament to all previous divine laws. Since the Muslims believe it is the last revelation from God and that there will be no new divine revelations, it contains all the features and capacities to cover all human needs.
Ijtihad is closely related to the institution of issuing fatwas. A mujtahid is an Islamic scholar who is competent to independently offer opinions and solutions in Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh). In order to issue a fatwa one must have a very good knowledge of the situation for which fatwa is required, especially an understanding of the mental state of the person requesting fatwa and the general understanding of the time and place in which such a person lives.
Fatwas are issued by muftis who are not fully comparable to mujtahids in all aspects. Mujtahids have their own methodology for resolving legal questions and are independent of other legal schools and political power, while the same does not hold for muftis. Truly a mufti can be a mujtahid, but the history of Islam has shown that his function is mainly to defend the constitutionality of the order that is based on the legal solutions laid down by a certain school of law (Džananović, 1999: 14).
In Islamic law, which regulates and sanctions the behaviour of individuals within an Islamic community, fatwa is a special form of communication of religious leaders with their followers and various publics (business people, men, women, members of other religious communities etc.).
Fatwa is a form of order, provision, instruction, interpretation, call for action or motivation that is issued under certain social, political, economic, cultural, religious, demographic and other conditions. It is issued by Islamic religious leaders who belong to the so called ulamas, i.e. the senior or highest religious scholars whose lowest title is mufti.
In judicial circles no one but a capable scholar who correctly and thoroughly understands the religion is allowed to form and offer the Sharia opinion. Otherwise he may declare something allowed which is prohibited, and something prohibited which is allowed, abolish certain obligations and oblige people to do what Allah does not oblige them to do, approve or introduce novelties, declare believers to be non-believers and forgive non-believers for not believing. Each and all of these acts are potentially dangerous since they arise out of a lack of knowledge or fiqh by people who dare issue fatwas and do as they please. We witness this today, when religion has become a place where the flock grazes as it pleases. Everyone who has a tongue or a pen speaks or writes about religion, although the Qur’an and Sunnah as well as the good predecessors of Islamic ummah seriously threatened those who dare enter this dangerous zone of religion without fulfilling the necessary conditions and proving readiness. And it is difficult to fulfil and prove such conditions and readiness (El-Qaradawi, 2000: 55).
Fatwa is therefore a publicly issued, declared, verbally or otherwise issued order, provision, instruction, information, interpretation, final decision, legal opinion etc., which is, in the Islamic world and unlike in Roman law, an expression of God’s will and as such poses no other sanctions except for the moral ones which the religion interprets as punishment in this and other (posthumous) worlds. Unlike the obligatory nature of orders in other cultures and civilisations, fatwa is a constituent element of Islamic law that is based on the teachings of the Qur’an and is binding for all Muslims in relations both within the Muslim environment and within internal and external non-Muslim environments.
Thus fatwa can be understood as a constituent institution of Sharia law that uses the holy Muslim book the Qur’an to explain what is not prescribed in detail or not sufficiently understood due to the time of occurrence, complexity and multiple dimensions of everyday life under modern conditions. Fatwa is a supplementary interpretation that points to obligatory behaviour in concrete circumstances of everyday life and daily political, economic and cultural situations. In order to understand the notion of fatwa it is important to know that fatwa emerge in times of crisis, under extraordinary circumstances and in spiritual moments of the Islamic community. When everything follows the settled or determined path there is no need for regulation through fatwa. Punishment for breach of fatwa is usually of a moral-religious nature and expressed through contempt and excommunication from the social community, which is regarded as a very severe sanction in the Islamic world, where the traditional feeling of belonging is very strongly present.
FATWA AND PUBLIC RELATIONS
In order to evaluate fatwa as a form of largely public (and often also mass) communication within the categorial and conceptual structure of modern aspects of public relations, we should examine the basic principles of this increasingly important form of social (functional) public communication from the point of view of religious marketing, multiculturalism, ecumenism, sociology of religion, history of civilisations, ethnology, social anthropology, psychosocial aspects of geography etc.
The first aspect is the informative component of public relations and fatwa. Fatwa is both an instruction and a legal opinion, representing information per se as well as the subject or object of information. Its intentional logic a priori means it contains information within and on the content of fatwa. Fatwa thus fulfils this component of public relations.
The ontogenesis of the category of public relations is already contained in fatwa as an institution, notion and category. In its essence fatwa is thus a series of precisely selected public relations between the Islamic community (institution) and the public (religious believers). Fatwa is public communication that creates and counts on created public relations (based on the Qur’an and Sharia law) with the Islamic community, religious believers inter se and with external subjects (in the political, economic, religious, social, cultural and other spheres). As such fatwa belongs to what is regarded as classical public relations activities.
If viewed from the aspect of the persuasive and binding component of public relations, fatwa (by informing, instructing and drawing attention to a concrete problem) always convinces the public (religious believers) of something and persuades them to certain behaviour, adapting the presupposed (through marketing research) value systems of Muslim customs and behaviour as regulated by the norms of the Qur’an, Sharia law, the hadith etc. In this connection fatwa represents an essential and constituent part of public relations. Its goal is not to provide neutral information but information pro domo sua, which triggers (re)active behaviour according to given instructions.
The media play a special role in presenting fatwa to the public. It is a channel through which to reach the public. It includes largely special interest-based media such as professional and scientific publications targeting certain publics. Despite the key importance of media for public relations many PR practitioners are so busy with media coverage that they forget why contacts with the media are so important. They see the media as the publicity channel for their activity and thus believe that media coverage as such means that they address and influence several publics – none of which is far from the truth. Media includes both personal communication and specialised publications. The truth is that mass media is probably the main channel for reaching the public and as such is closest to public relations practitioners (Hunt, Grunig, 1995: 43-44). One should not forget the special role of religious media, which provides a detailed explanation of fatwa. Religious media is particularly important in non-Muslim countries where no such explanation is provided in the general media.
Fatwa is issued in spoken or written form by the religious leader. It contains all the dimensions of promotion which unlike advertising (which pushes the object of the advertisement towards the consumer) pulls the consumer (religious believer) towards the object of promotion. Fatwa usually does not represent classical business communication. There is no negotiation or agreement – an authoritative decision is made in advance determining who is entitled to say, instruct, teach, search, write and declare and who should listen, be instructed and unconditionally respect what is prescribed or regulated with fatwa.
In this respect fatwa does not enjoy or embody the two-way nature and equality principle typical of communication in the framework of public relations. Nevertheless, it does retain the co-orientational aspect, since respect for the Qur’an, Sharia law and hadith norms have been placed in advance on the (forced and voluntarily accepted) pedestal of perfection.
This gives fatwa – as opposed to the basic philosophy of communication in public relations – an autocratic and metaphysical dimension. As such it can represent communication only in the case of prior acceptance and respect for Islam as religion, Allah as the almighty creator and master of this world and heaven, Mohammad as God’s last Prophet, and Islamic law as the conclusion of all prior findings.
This certainly is the case in most of Islamic world, especially in those parts where religion has not been attributed a lay character through secularisation. There fatwa means two-way communication in which the teacher and the student roles are determined and assigned in advance, all wrapped in the divine holiness of Allah, who is personified as the great imam (religious and community leader) or ulama (with mufti the lowest title in terms of issuing fatwas).
Public relations are a mild form of informative propaganda and communication activity whose aim is (unlike in advertising) to cultivate a long-term positive psychosocial attitude towards or opinion of a certain economic, political or religious issue. We are not what we think we are but as others see us. It is up to us to make a series of communicational activities to determine how others will see us.
The concept of interaction covers all processes taking place between two or more persons as well as between an individual and a group of people or between groups of people. The most important process of social interaction is communication, i.e. the exchange of information. Social interaction and communication are important aspects of social psychology and other social sciences. However, social sciences evaluate social interaction and communication from the point of view of social and cultural systems rather from the point of view of individuals who are involved in interaction. The essential aspect of social interaction is that its participants constantly react to each other, trying to adapt their behaviour to their own intentions and to the expected or perceived intentions of their partners (Ule, 1997: 198-199).
In the case of fatwa this two-way communication does not exist in the public arena. Instead it is a one-way order and those to whom it is directed must unconditionally respect it. The sanction for not following or executing a fatwa is of a moral character.
In principle fatwa represents one-way communication, although it contains some elements of two-way asymmetrical communication (scientifically supported persuasiveness, established feedback relationship and examination of opinions), being a form of scientific persuasion based on the teachings of the Qur’an. Moreover fatwa also contains some elements of two-way symmetrical communication (mutual understanding, dialogue, balance and valuation of understanding), its goal being to overcome eventual conflicts within a society or religious community and to establish good relations with strategic publics. Fatwa is therefore a complex concept when it comes to public relations. It is actually based on the Qur’an, which requires unconditional respect and affords little or no chance for polemicising.
The religious community should be responsible towards its publics in order to establish and maintain good relations with them. In general it should be responsible towards society as a whole. However, society is a large and ambiguous community. It is far easier to recognise the publics as groups on which the religious community can exert an effect. In order to be responsible, the religious community should answer to its public for the consequences of its actions. Responsibility means symmetrical (mutual) communication with its publics. Such communication creates productive relations that are (well) suited to the religious community. Consequently, public relations and public responsibility have become almost synonymous terms. The religious community can not enjoy good public relations if it does not act responsibly toward its publics.
This article discusses Islamic communicational elements stemming from the Qur’an as the specific and basic conditions for understanding Islamic people (due to the complexity of this subject and the limitations of the size of this article a certain level of generalization was applied). It stems from the hypothesis that it is the lack of knowledge of the above discussed rules and practices that renders it very difficult to carry out successful marketing communication with and in Islamic environments. Hadiths as communicological norms enable a Muslim to establish better communication in relation to God, the Prophet Muhammad, fellow people and everyday life as regards religious and secular issues, as well as general communication within Islamic society and beyond. The substance of hadiths is testament to the readiness of Islamic people to respect divinity, to follow the life and work of the Prophet Muhammad, and apply hadiths to regulate life in the Islamic community as well as relations with other communities.
The basic principle of Islam is that all secular activities, including those of an economic nature, are lawful and permitted except for those that are explicitly prohibited in the Qur’an. Islamic law enables Muslims to discover and know what is good for them, to enter freely into transactions, to conclude agreements and carry out secular activities fairly and impartially. Islamic law leads Muslims through their lives. Thus they are guided by Sharia also in communication. Companies intending to operate on a market that is partly or entirely based on Islamic law should take into account these principles in all dimensions of their activities on that market. Understanding the basic principles of Islamic religion, Islamic law, its sources, Sharia rules, ijtihad and religious-law schools is a precondition for successful marketing and business communication on Islamic markets. An important fact to bear in mind is that Islamic law adapts to the spirit of time and place. This is supported by ijtihad, which updates and harmonises Sharia rules to suit contemporary life. However, adaptation and application of Islamic law to modern societies requires a thorough knowledge of Islam. If such knowledge is lacking adaptation will not be appropriate, and market and business communication will be based on false foundations.
In order to understand Islamic people it is essential to understand that according to the doctrine of Islamic religion Muslims submit entirely to God, and are ready to give up pleasures in this world so that they will enjoy them in the next world. For Muslims, life in this world is only a transitional phase in which they try to achieve heaven in the other, next world. Against this background marketing and business communication should be very sensitive, taking well into account Islamic teachings. Failure to respect those principles may cause serious damage to companies hoping to operate on Islamic markets, even prevent them from entering such markets. Marketing and business communication represent the first public steps of companies entering the market. If they make a mistake at this stage it will be hard to achieve success in subsequent stages.
As regards various recently emerging situations and issues, the concept of ijtihad as a special institution of Islamic law provides answers to all of today’s questions that concern Muslims. Ijtihad establishes communication between an Islamic scholar (mujtahid) and the Islamic religious community, and represents a perfect case of two-way symmetrical communication. On the other hand the institution of fatwa represents, in principle, one-way communication, although it contains, as a form of scientific persuasion based on the teachings of the Qur’an, some elements of two-way asymmetrical communication. Moreover fatwa also contains some elements of two-way symmetrical communication, as it aims to overcome eventual conflicts within a society and/or to establish good relations with strategic publics. Fatwa is therefore a complex concept when it comes to public relations. It is based on the Qur’an, which demands unconditional respect and affords little or no room for polemicising.
Although at first sight it may seem that marketing communication in the Islamic world is a one-way process and that Islamic societies are based on one-way communication, detailed analysis of Islamic law paints a different picture. This is borne out by the institution of fatwa, which contains some elements of two-way asymmetrical and symmetrical communication. Having in mind the above presented and discussed, it is our opinion that this article has proved on a general level the validity of our hypothesis. However, for a detailed and comprehensive analysis an additional and more extended research would be necessary.
Marketing and business communication in Arab-Islamic societies is a mix of Western concepts and the rules of Islamic law within an individual’s traditional environment. The specific mix of elements in this equation depends on the environment or the country where marketing and business communication is carried out. The typical Islamic person is sensitive, traditional and reserved towards the West. Against such a background marketing and business communication has to be employed in the most appropriate manner, and should be adapted to the specific environment if it is not to fail, either in part or entirely.
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A legal opinion based on Sharia law issued by a mufti or mujtahid (an Islamic scholar who is entitled to issue fatwas).
 A verse or statement in Qur’an.
 An Islamic scholar who is entitled to independently give opinions and solutions regarding Islamic law.
 For example, the renowned mujtahid El-Qaradawi (1997b: 141-142) in his book Modern Fatwas laid out some of the most important fatwas that relate to the life of Muslims.
Economic Warfare and Cognitive Warfare
Until not long ago, the Western world lived in the conviction that Liberalism was an end in itself, however, the new context of globalization suggests that political economics once again makes more sense, given that power relations in the economic sphere can no longer be ignored and the idea that world trade is structured on supply and demand appears obsolete.
The world is changing. Situations change, and events and the ways of understanding politics change with them. Instruments change as well: if the aphorism of Clausewitz that war is politics conducted by other means once seemed valid, today we might say that politics (and economics) is war conducted by the means of information.
The threat is no longer limited to what we once thought and conceived in the geographical terms of one superpower attacking another. The threat today is asymmetrical, different, and changes continuously. It travels through the Internet, it is immediate, and above all, it threatens the entire system. It is not aimed at military or political targets but commercial, industrial, scientific, technological, and financial interests instead. This requires intelligence to structure itself around new duties: protect not only the entire system but also the weakest links in the chain of production.
All this requires changes in mentality and in operational processes, as well as continuous updating, especially at a business culture level. Most of all, it requires close interaction between intelligence and the private sector, despite the difficulties this entails.
The crisis we are currently undergoing, together with the industrial and commercial physiognomy characteristic of our era, requires us to consider the idea of “economic warfare” very closely.
It is essentially since the end of the Cold War that the balance of powers has been developed around economic issues: most governments today are no longer interested in occupying territory or dominating other peoples but rather building up technological, industrial and commercial power capable of bringing money and jobs to their own land.
Globalization has transformed competition from “gentle” and “limited” into authentic “economic warfare”.
Although this economic challenge reduces the areas available for military warfare, its ultimate goal of accumulating power and well-being is the same.
The national economic intelligence strategies recently adopted by numerous governments assign their private operatives central roles in maintaining security by providing them with information technology infrastructure and the primary asset in the digital age: data.
The step between protecting private economic activities and protecting national economic interests is a short one indeed.
Economic intelligence consists in coordinating a series of activities: collecting and processing information, monitoring competitors, keeping strategic information secret, and capitalizing knowledge for the purpose of controlling and influencing world economic environment. All this makes it a powerful weapon at the nation’s disposal.
The main players in economic warfare are:
First and foremost, the world’s nations, which remain the most influential regulators on the economic chessboard despite their relative decline in the life of nations and the various restrictions placed over them, such as those imposed by international organizations like the European Union. One important recent change is that now nations must take numerous stakeholders (NGO, international bodies, companies, mass media) into account. At any rate, they uphold the role of arbiter that all the other players only continue to emphasize by regularly imploring their intervention.
The world’s companies, which address the new hyper-competitive geo-economic scenario by using strategic information control as a weapon of competitiveness and economic security.
Civil society: the expansion of discussions on social issues regarding company activities (nutrition and well-being, technological progress and risks to public health industry, and the environment, transport and passenger safety, information technology and individual freedom), the mass use and democratization of Internet, and the growing involvement of the legal system in monitoring business operations, all increase the risks of hacking attacks against companies by hackers from civil society. Including in the public discussion topics such as risks to the environment, sustainable development, socially responsible investment, and corporate social responsibility brings greater importance to the legitimacy of social questions.
The infosphere, which is not a category of physical persons or legal entities but instead a dynamic, that is the aggregate of interventions and messages spread through media and the worldwide web. The infosphere is a particularly insidious instrument similar to an amplifier that continuously jumbles and blends ideas, emotions, and impulses emitted by an infinite number of people without any real dominant subject and exerts a determinant influence – positive or negative as occurs – on individuals and organizations. When launched in the infosphere, a simple statement has the power to trigger ferocious argument, harsh political reaction, media crises, and damage to company reputations. The infosphere can become a particularly effective weapon of destabilization. We must never forget that a brand’s image and reputation are strategic components of the capital of a company that can affect its commercial and financial activities.
Which forms does economic warfare take?
Economic warfare is often confused with economic espionage, which despite being used as one of economic warfare’s weapons is hard to define both because the companies victimized are reluctant to publicize its incursion and because it is hard to circumscribe in juridical terms and therefore difficult to report.
A more commonly practiced form of economic warfare is the purchasing of companies. This may lead to authentic forms of surrounding the industries in any given territory through operations that reflect motivations of financial, economic and technological nature all at the same time.
Yet another form of economic warfare, which is both particularly widespread and insidious, is lobbying; in other words, an influencing strategy aimed directly at public decision-makers assigned to the drafting of regulations. Our nations are particularly plagued by the proliferation of regulations and one strategically important aspect of lobbying is attending and altering the process of creating, interpreting and/or applying regulations and legislative measures and directly or indirectly influencing public powers in every intervention or decision. International trade is largely based on influence, and therefore gaining closer access to decision-making centers has become an obligatory part of commercial competition.
All the practices above are included in influence strategy: influential communication is also the hardest to identify and oppose because it is perfectly legal. “Information war” is based on the following few simple principles that can wreck havoc when marshaled together:
- moral argument, that is the possibility to induce a crisis on the basis of an ethical reasoning;
- offending political correctness by disrupting the day’s cultural and psychological patterns;
- choosing targets, in the sense that the weaker the legitimacy of the adversary’s capital, the more the information attack will provoke escalation in the media;
- the degree of celebrity of the players;
- the criterion of appropriateness or resonance of the environment.
The upheaval of the Western economies’ competitive system is not just a passing thing. A growing number of powers (China, India, Brazil, Turkey, Iran, Russia) is conditioning the rapid shift in international competition. More often than not, the choice of winning dominance in foreign markets prevails over restructuring the nation’s own domestic markets. This demonstrates the extent to which a power strategy can make a decisive difference in the context of economic competition. These new players in international competition hold a different view of the dialectic between power and market, the latter being seen as the primary means to the increment of power. This vision revives the basic principles of political economics, according to which the market is the only path to power and not the other way around that has been demonstrated in numerous cases (such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin’s use of energy resources for coercive bargaining and blackmail in 2009) and illustrates the limits of the interpretative models of liberal economists whose analyses were focused on the effects of deregulation, mergers, or financial speculation involving gas prices, but fell short of the possible use of gas trade as a weapon.
The process of globalization is irreversible and fairly independent of what governments do. Globalization is one thing, but the ideology of a global free market that may produce a higher growth rate than any other system but gives no importance to how such growth is distributed is another. The argument that the highest capitalistic growth distributes resources in the best possible way, in fact, was never very convincing. Even Adam Smith thought that there were certain things the market could not do and should not do.
Historically speaking, the balanced evolution of world industry was created not by liberalism but by its opposite. The United States and Germany both became industrial powers in the 19th century because they protected their industries until they were able to compete against the dominant economy of the day: Great Britain. Neo-classical economic theories are now in disfavor because the system has come to be disrupted by scarce control over international financial flows and investment procedures.
Now more than ever, we are witnessing a struggle between the forces of capitalism, which tend to overcome every obstacle, and political forces that operate through nation states and are obliged to regulate these procedures. The laws of capitalist development are simple: maximize expansion, profit, and increase in capital. Governments by nature have different priorities instead, and this generates conflict. Furthermore, the dynamic of the global economy is one that does not ensure the stability of its protagonists.
The nation-state system and the economy system coexist in constant tension and must adapt, but if there were no relative stability among states, the instability of a world organized along the lines of transnational economy would only increase. The real problem is not whether governments can control the international corporations operating inside their borders, but whether they are able to exert global control: when companies and governments clash, the latter must negotiate as if there were another nation seated before them.
Like religions and cultures, globalization is only a simplified answer to today’s conflicts and the challenges to security. Globalization has most certainly reduced the importance of military power since the end of the 20th century, whereas security – internal security in particular – has become a global public asset. In the age of information technology, interdependence, and ”smart goods over heavy goods”, the military force offers less and costs more. Economic, technological, and especially communicative competition is more important and determinant than military strength.
The globalization of information has contributed to changing the nature of warfare by making public opinion decisive. In the short term, geo-information has become more important than geo-economy because its effects are immediate and not always governable. This is also a post-Cold War phenomenon.
In this context, the economy is no longer the mechanism of security as it was during Cold War, but on the contrary, security now serves the economy in creating better conditions for the expansion and protection of globalization. The nature of security depends on the situation prevailing in each nation and varies from one region to another, according to the respective level of globalization.
Consequently, it is the process of globalization that has restored political economics to importance and re-sparked a discussion formerly considered closed, according to which the market is the path to power and not the other way around, as it becomes an instrument of power politics in the globalization of exchange. The accumulation of power through economic expansion is the driving force behind the new emerging nations.
Yet today’s economic context must come to terms with new offensive strategies that undermine the industrial basis of the market economy and draw attention to the predatory policies of what may be defined as authentic economic warfare.
It is in this context that all companies, regardless of size, can be said to suffer damage from the absence of an economic security culture that only the use of intelligence, as a tool in analyzing predatory completion, can provide.
Interpreting the notion of national security including also the safeguarding of national interests requires information and security services to be ready to protect big companies or those of strategic significance, which the French refer to as “companies of national strategic importance” or “national champions”. These companies often – but not always – have their own information or security organizations that help them survive fiercer and fiercer competition.
In any case, in the field of economic intelligence the rules between the services of the various nations are more flexible, and it is easier to refer to others merely as competitors, neither friend nor enemy. This field is currently in the process of development, and European economic intelligence is still in embryonic phase.
The evolution of the information society has profoundly modified the frame of conflict. In the opinion of American analysts like John Arquilla and David Runfeldt, experts in netwar at Rand Corporation, the nation that wins tomorrow’s conflicts will not be the one with the biggest bomb, but the one that tells the best story.
In this sense, Americans have been referring to the key concept of information dominance since 1997. Defined as the control of anything that may be deemed information, this doctrine aspires at the moulding of the world by standardizing international practices and regulations to the American model, with the objective of placing decision-making bodies under control.
These experts note that it is sufficient to observe how American public opinion was mobilized during the invasion of Kuwait by a disinformation process planned at military level, or more precisely, at the level of psychological warfare. Information manipulation processes allow certain facts to be marginalized, and for this reason the domination of information has become a top priority in defining American strategy.
We may consider how the war in Iraq demonstrated the importance that manipulating information has assumed in international relations. The accusations made by G. W. Bush against Saddam Hussein regarding the existence of weapons of mass destruction represent a textbook case in the history of disinformation.
On the other hand, we must be careful of jumping to conclusions about how cognitive warfare is waged: disinformation, or even worse, the manipulation and authentic distortion of information for the purpose of deceiving your adversary or ally is often mistakenly confused with the production of knowledge conceived to orient the rules of conduct.
In this regard, Harbulot emphasized the profoundly innovative role of information war in terms of strategy and its implications for companies.
It was naturally Harbulot’s intention to use cognitive warfare to protect the economic interests of French companies against their American competitors. If, in fact, conflicts ranging from the Gulf War to the War in Kosovo have demonstrated the overwhelming superiority of American military intelligence overseas, what room for maneuver remains open today for the managers of the intelligence service in Western Europe, who are responsible for defending the geo-economic interests of their nations against American interests? Harbulot’s answer is clear: this room for maneuver is constantly eroding, and a situation of near total paralysis has been reached in certain cases.
Closing this gap means modernizing the thought of Sun-Tzu, the Comintern, and Mao Zedong, and especially that of Winston Churchill, the first Western statesman to have orchestrated a plan for information warfare against Nazi Germany (Plan Jaël). In terms of disinformation, he represents British genius in deceiving the enemy on the dates and locations of invasion landings.
Naturally, the lack of legal provisions regarding the manipulation of knowledge raises serious concern for the economic security of European companies, which must consequently arm themselves with techniques capable of strategically managing economic information.
It is precisely in light of American political-military choices that French strategy discerned the need to define just what information war really is in the strictest terms. The expression used in French strategic context is “cognitive warfare”, which is defined as the capacity to utilize knowledge in circumstances of conflict.
In particular, the French School of Economic Warfare acknowledges in cognitive warfare the conflict between different capacities of obtaining, producing, and/or obstructing determined types of knowledge implicit in power relations that can be defined “weak against weak” or inversely, “weak against strong”.
Numerous examples that come from the world of industry testify that innovation in this field is not always necessarily made by the strongest. Naturally, the United States is the primary artifice of “strong against weak” cognitive thinking, such as, for example, in defense of its position as superpower at both military and informational level. This nation’s way of orienting its own and the other nation’s conduct implies its complete acquisition of the importance of cognitive warfare as the ability to have the images of single powers perceived by the world public opinion, a strong argument in the search for legitimacy that every democracy must acquire in national and international context. The United States has always – but especially after September 11 – stoked the legitimacy of its policies by emphasizing the defense of democracy and the need for global security as reasons to combat anti-democratic forces.
In today’s context of intense competition, destabilization plays a fundamental role. Harbulot suggests considering the example, that has become common practice in economic warfare, of a multinational company that decides to stop a competitor from developing a project in an emerging nation.
A cognitive warfare operation might take the following form:
Identification of the competitor’s weak points in the area in question (weaknesses may vary in nature: bribes paid to authorities, environmental pollution, failures to respect human rights). All the information collected must be verifiable and not give rise to fallacious interpretation.
The choice of the information attack procedure: if the cognitive aspect is considered, the following scenario may be imagined. The director assigned orders funds to be paid into a private foundation supported by the company. A trusted person at such foundation then channels this money to a NGO that has posed itself the objective of protecting the environment. The maneuver consists in then making the NGO aware of this dossier by indirectly providing it with verifiable (and therefore non-manipulated) information on the misdeeds of the competitor multinational. Through its Internet site, the NGO then sends negative messages against the competitor’s project. This is how the chain of knowledge is created. The next step required is knowing how to consciously activate it for the purpose of destabilizing the target.
The chief strength of the information attack lies not in deceiving or misinforming but instead in fomenting a pertinent dispute that has been demonstrated by objective facts. The level of conspiracy is limited to setting up and activating the information chain. The more “grounded” the diatribe is, the harder it will be for the adversary to demonstrate conspiracy, even if only in theory.
It is clear that the spread of new information technologies has brought competition exasperated levels and facilitated cognitive warfare, in such way triggering an unprecedented conflict that, in the opinion of the French analysts, exceeds even that of the Cold War.
Information has become another weapon in the art of war capable of making the difference between winning and losing, regardless of whether the conflict is military or economic.
Changes of such degree impose cultural revolution.
Then there is psychological warfare, one of the principal forms of information war. It is the most sophisticated because it relies essentially on human intelligence, in its capacity to understand possible actions for success by controlling the means of communication.
Little known and scarcely practiced in France, psychological warfare has never received much attention from the military establishment, which has often succumbed to the pressure of events or adversaries, as happened in Indochina and Algeria.
Psychological warfare employs every means available, from disinformation to deceit, from propaganda to interdiction, in clashes of various nature (from the battle against terrorism to conventional warfare and the subsidization of peace) and is moreover directed to public opinion for the purpose of conditioning or manipulating it.
The use of psychological weapons cannot be improvised and is based on an organized operative structure and conducted by specialized personnel and organizations.
Civil communication systems have by now reached levels of performance previously attained only by armed forces and governments. This has led to the accumulation of a critical mass such to enable a lowering of costs. For this reason, even if the conservation of certain autonomous military capacities is foreseen, the development of information systems for defense and intervention depends more and more on civil systems. This creates a vulnerability that might be underestimated in times of crisis or conflict.
The infosphere’s framework has become highly conflictual; information war has become inevitable and is waged with the function of appropriation (intelligence), interdiction (limitation of access to information) and manipulation (intoxication).
Economic intelligence provides a necessary response to a world with no more borders of time or space, where information is immediate and reaction time is zero. A re-organization of structures around the new dimension assumed by the relationship between information and intelligence leads to changes in both the decision-making system and the management of human resources. First and foremost of all, the revolution must be cultural in nature: perceiving information as a weapon to be incorporated into national defense strategy.
“Made-in-Russia”: Securing Russia’s economic interests
Squeezed between the United States and European Union sanctions, Russia has been exploring effective ways to increase exports of its industrial products under “Made-in-Russia” program to traditional markets in Latin America, Asia and Africa. The primary strategic goal is to secure Russia’s economic interests abroad while at the same time support Russian industries in raising revenue to modernize Soviet-era industries. But increasing exports especially to African markets, Russia has to confront market competition from western players and Asian countries such as China, India and the Gulf states.
In a recent interview, Peter Fradkov, general director of the Russian Export Center (REC), has explained that Russia has been making every effort to avoid the “raw-materials” export model and focus on developing export-oriented industries and the launch of the Russian Export Center was a key step towards the development of a full-fledged national export support system.
The Soviet Union made a significant contribution to the social and economic development of African countries by building large industrial and infrastructure facilities and helping to establish national education and health care systems. However, in the 1990s the Russian-African relations came virtually to a standstill. At present, Russia’s foreign trade turnover with Africa is about 12 billion US dollars, which is a rather modest achievement. Nevertheless, the African continent remains a rather promising market for Russian industrial goods.
Admittedly, the Government authorities, and both Inter-Governmental Commissions and the REC, are primarily concerned with removing barriers for Russian exporters and opening up foreign markets for them in Africa. Reinforcement of positions of Russian exporters in Africa requires creation of certain conditions and the key task is penetration into the global market. For this purpose, the Russian Export Center has launched a program to promote Russian goods and services under a single country brand “Made in Russia” and in this context, Africa is a very important partner for us, though not an easy one.
He underscored the fact that “Russian manufacturers have a number of specific competitive advantages. Let’s take, for example, agricultural machinery. The main advantage of Russian products as compared to the counterparts by major foreign manufacturers is a lower price and almost the same level of capacity, quality and useful life.”
On the other hand, there are some difficulties still inherent in the Russia-African business partnership. According to Fradkov there are still insufficient awareness of the real economic opportunities, market conditions and specific counterparts in African markets by Russian businesses and poor awareness of capabilities of Russian partners for Africans.
“We are often faced with discriminatory barriers, which are there not because we are from Russia, but because we have just not thought about how to remove these barriers. Our primary task is to gradually change the thinking of Russian entrepreneurs, who are often skceptical about entering foreign markets, including Africa. Secondly, we strive to promote the image of Russia as a producer of diverse and high-quality products,” he underlined in the interview.
With new trends and directions in global business, African countries have to look to the Eurasian region as a huge market for exports as well as make efforts to consolidate and strengthen economic cooperation, says Tatiana Cheremnaya, the president of ANO “Center for Effective Development of Territories” and head of the working group on public-private partnership “Business Union of Eurasia” based in Moscow.
Cheremnaya discussed here three main points and are as follows: The problems of effective cooperation between Russia and Africa are political in nature. Thus, the strengthening of Russia’s position leads to the strengthening of its influence in the world, including in Africa and vice versa, sectional policy has significantly reduced Russian exports.
The second problem for the development of Russian-African business is the lack of competitiveness of Russia which allows working only in the low-budget segment. This is due to structural problems in the Russian economy, the need for modernization, the bulk of the products produced during the Soviet Union.
The third problem is competition from the United States, China and India as more developed countries with more advanced technological solutions, and from the European countries as the former “patrons” of African countries.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, taking part in a congress during the 11th Russian Business Week organized by the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RUIE) early February, discussed how innovative technology is reshaping the global business landscape. He, however, encouraged Russian industrialists and businesses participating in the forum to improve their business approaches in order have competitive advantages in the global market.
“This is the most important thing. And fundamentally fresh markets for goods and services will become available, and new leaders will appear as well. Naturally, competition will exacerbate. Clearly, in a situation like that, no one will be playing fair with their competitors, including in the global business environment,” Putin said.
Russia has trade centers established in Africa. But these Russian trade centers must necessarily embark on a “Doing Business in Africa” campaign to encourage Russian businesses to take advantage of growing trade and investment opportunities, to promote trade fairs and business-to-business matchmaking in key spheres in Africa.
Maxim Matusevich, an associate professor and director, Russian and East European Studies Program, at the Seton Hall University, told me in an interview that “in the past decade there was some revival of economic ties between Africa and Russia – mostly limited to arms trade and oil/gas exploration and extraction. Russia’s presence in Africa and within African markets continues to be marginal and I think that Russia has often failed to capitalize on the historical connection between Moscow and those African elites who had been educated in the Soviet Union.”
“It is possible that the ongoing crisis in the relations between Russia and the West will stimulate Russia’s leadership to look for new markets for new sources of agricultural produce. Many African nations possess abundant natural resources and have little interest in Russia’s gas and oil. As it was during the Soviet times, Russia can only offer few manufactured goods that would successfully compete with Western-made products. African nations will probably continue to acquire Russian-made arms, but otherwise, I see only few prospects for a diversification of cooperation in the near future,” added Maxim Matusevich.
Former Ethiopian ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary to the Russian Federation, professor Teketel Forssido has also explained that Russian businessmen think that business can be done from government to government levels (at the state levels) but in many countries business at the state levels has been complimented by private participation. Using government as an umbrella could be alright, countries such as India, China and others run businesses without government in Africa. The government, of course, has to clear the way for smooth business transactions.
“Russians are counting on the authorities to do business, but if they always rely on the state, business can be ineffective. That’s why Russians businessmen are slow as we have seen it,” he said.
According to Forssido Russia has to open its market for Africa and there are various ways to this. One surest way is to use the existing rules and regulations. The preferential treatments for agricultural products exist but Africans don’t use them. Then, individual countries have to negotiate with Russian government for their products to enter the market.
Further, the African regional economic blocs can be useful instruments because these blocs are very important and can work with their counterparts to facilitate trade between Africa and Russia. For instance, in COMESA and SADC zones in Africa, goods and services move freely, and now I think these blocs should look into the line of working as regional economic blocs with Russia.
“At the moment, China has done a lot in Africa despite worldwide criticisms. China is not the only player on the continent, but also India, Turkey and other serious players. But, when we talk about Russia, I think it’s not comparable. China has largely involved in Africa, practically in all sectors as we can see. We expect that Russia can do more if they want to, looking at their huge potential capability. They still have their own priorities, anyway,” he pointed out assertively.
As already known, Moscow’s long term goals include developing investment cooperation with African countries, widening the presence of Russian companies in the African markets through increased deliveries of industrial and food products, and enhancing Russian participation in driving the economic development of Africa. At the same time, Russia needs to look at simplifying access to its market for African countries.
In one of his speeches posted to the official website, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov noted frankly in remarks: “it is evident that the significant potential of our economic cooperation is far from being exhausted and much remains to be done so that Russian and African partners know more about each other’s capacities and needs. The creation of a mechanism for the provision of public support to business interaction between Russian companies and the African continent is on the agenda.”
Information as an offensive tool of economic warfare
In his “Warfare and counter-warfare of economic information” initially published by Revue Echanges in 1994, P.J. Gustave wrote about the information warfare, or info-war, maintaining that at this stage it is more important to find solutions not to lose the economic war, rather than discussing whether or not to engage in it. Increasing competition and geostrategic balance contribute to develop the offensive use of economic practices. On the one hand the most competitive economic powers managed to use information as a strategic tool; on the other hand, economic warfare intelligence operations replaced the Cold War methods and accompanied the transition from geopolitics to geo-economics.
In this new warfare framework, the role of information is twofold. Firstly, it is a fundamental resource for the enterprise, as it allows access to all kinds of goods and services; secondly, information is the main tool for economic warfare, since it works both as offensive and defensive weapon at the same time. The radicalization of economic competition triggers a radicalization of information, disinformation and counter-information mechanisms, in which the importance of intelligence techniques is growing significantly.
Disinformation is one of the most ancient combat techniques and dates back to primitive times, when it was used for hunting. It was particularly for primitive men to make their opponent fall right into the trap without risking self-exposure. There is a trace of the use of disinformation tools even in Chinese warfare writings (2000 B.C.) and in the Bible. In contrast to what is commonly believed, these techniques were not born in the former Soviet Bloc. At the beginning of 20th century, disinformation was already used even by the British to gain advantages on the battle field and to perform important financial hits. At the present moment, there are a number of different forms of deception techniques. Technological disinformation, for example, provides wrong information on plausible projects – that are consistent with a global strategy – through filing unusable patents.
Disinformation can be extremely helpful to protect the secrecy of sensitive information while playing with space and time. Since the rising of physical barriers is a clear indicator of the presence of hidden sensitive material, more and more enterprises are adopting a different approach that consists in giving contradictory signals. This practice allows shadowing the company’s strategy while presenting a false but clear and transparent image to the opponent; this increases security since it consists in the combination of defense-offense techniques. Nonetheless, every company is vulnerable to information attacks that are difficult to neutralize, especially when the victims are not familiar with the offensive methods used and with the necessary countermeasures. Information attacks are even more dangerous when conducted while trade negotiations are taking place.
This disinformation technique is usually adopted in “grey” or “black” operations, whose destructive potential is enhanced only through the mass media diffusion. It basically consists in provoking an event or a harmful accident for the targeted company and spread the news on media outlets. This actually causes more damages than the accident itself. Besides, since there are no geographical boundaries containing the spreading of the news, these attacks can very rapidly achieve a catastrophic scale. Their main characteristic is the invisibility of the attacker and the extraordinary cost-effectiveness.
Most times, disinformation consists in a wanton and purely informative attack aimed at distorting or destroying the competitors’ image: while the news is based on real facts, the consequences are always misrepresented and usually transmitted through media outlets that amplify it. The case of the traces of benzene found in French company Perrier’s bottles of gas water is an interesting example of how a leak in the information security can turn into significant losses for a healthy firm and how an effective communication system can partially neutralize the attack. This episode originated from a human error in sanitary procedures in the Vergèze factory, where the late replacement of the filters caused an increase in the benzene level in the bottles of water to be shipped to the United States. Although this error could have been easily corrected through filter substitution, the presence of a competitor ‘agent’ in the factory increased the echo of what happened.
At the end of 1989 Perrier was a healthy company, whose financial stability was severely threatened by this attack. After the competitor ‘agent’ had informed the United States about the presence of benzene in the bottles of water, the Food and Drug Administration conducted further analyses that confirmed the suspect. In the following days, Perrier was obliged to withdraw thousands of crates of water from the U.S. and Japanese markets and eventually suspend the sales in many other countries with significant incurring losses. Nevertheless, Perrier managed to quickly react to the attack using information tools. Gustave Leven, Perrier’s CeO, adopted a successful counter-information strategy and admitted the human error had taken place. Despite the tests conducted on the sources of water came out clean, Leven announced the worldwide withdrawal of all Perrier bottles and that Perrier took public responsibility of the cost of 160 million bottles. Within a couple of days, the rating of Perrier stocks rose again and all other attacks from Perrier’s competitor were neutralized.
This example shows the power of information attacks and its implementation through the rapidity of the circulation of information and event orchestration. The attack on Perrier costed the company several hundred million Francs and was more effective than a financial speculative attack. This gives room for reflection about the need of protecting information and about the power of counter-information. As scholars like Marc Ehlias and Laurent Nodinot remarked, counter-information is a subversive concept that Renato Curcio and Toni Negri invented in Italy at the beginning of the ‘70s. At that time, the leaders of terrorist organization Brigate Rosse and political movement Autonomia Operaia were trying to find common ground on how to “break the siege of the bourgeois press”. They decided to establish a new magazine called Counter-Information, whose editorial mission was providing fact-checking on the ‘biased information published on the bourgeois press’ through fairly “offensive” articles and investigations.
The subversive balance of Counter-Information is based on the following points: search for information for strategic and tactic goals; systematic attack on the opponent’s contradictions; operative continuity between those who collect the information and those who exploit it; supporting the information through field work; providing evidence for the facts presented; spotting the audience niches that could spontaneously spread and amplify the information. In contrast to manipulative operations, this case is about exploiting the open-access information that has not been adjusted to a given purpose. There are very few companies that have proven able to push the potential of information beyond the commercial and financial purposes.
While Perrier carried out a defensive counter-information, the advertising campaign launched in the spring 1993 by the Union of French Textile Industries (UIT) can be considered as an innovative use of information for offensive purposes. This focus of this campaign was the employment and the slogans used were supported by sensational facts able to engage public opinion; the overall aims were Brussels and the Blair- House pre-agreement. Famous and opinion-leading businessmen contributed to this campaign by delivering harsh speeches on this subject. The subtlety consisted in using French people as testimonials opposing the EU negotiators without attacking the French government, which was the real target of the campaign, given its role in conducting trade negotiations.
The success of the UIT campaign (encouraging the dialogue with Brussels, Longuet’s favorable reaction, reconsideration of the EU positions, and relative success of Marrakech Agreement) was due to the use of the propaganda techniques mentioned above with regard to the Counter-Information subversive approach. In particular, the UIT campaign focused on the main contradictory aspect of the issue concerning the European textile industry: 11 out of 12 representatives opposed the proposal of the EU Commission that was supposed to represent their interests. Counter-information is therefore an indirect strategy that aims at using misinformed and manipulated public opinion to surround the target and influence opinion leaders. In order to launch the information at the right time and place, it is necessary to have a perfect understanding of the media and opinion leaders. In practice, counter-information uses the same channels of disinformation. However, as far as its defensive aspect is concerned, it needs a permanent intelligence of the above-mentioned system in order to be reactive and effective.
The idea of using information in economic competition as a disinformation or counter-information weapon shows that the info-war has now become a real issue that needs to be tackled. Sustainable solutions should consist in observing practices through non-ideological lenses and through integrating knowledge that do not strictly relate to the economic field. In particular, since offensive and defensive economic competition techniques are increasingly looking at military methods, it is necessary to combine economic and military knowledge in a legal framework. While some countries have a traditional approach to economic intelligence that allows a natural integration, some others do not. These latter can no longer postpone a broad reflection on the role of information in the economic warfare, since it is ultimately based on information and knowledge.
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