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Why religious tourism is important and here to stay

Why post my dissertation on religious tourism now, or at all?

This week sees two coincident events that prompt me to post my postgraduate dissertation here. First, it’s the anniversary week of finishing it. Second, this week in 2020 is the feast of Eid al-Adha. 

I acknowledge my dissertation is competent but not excellent. By this late stage of the course I was bored and desperate to finish and return to the fresh air of the ‘real’ world away from claustrophobic academic parlour games. I was also marked down for my attempts to get the atheist academics at my university (inculcated in their tradition of ‘critical theory’) to take seriously not just the fact that religious belief exists, but that religious belief is a major element of many people’s lives and behaviour. Needless to say, the academics didn’t really understand that secularism is not widely embedded around the world. I’m not religious personally, but I recognise when other people genuinely are. 

So, if you’re brave, I present 3000 words that will take you about half an hour to read or 5 minutes to scan though. If you have any constructive or friendly comments please get in touch. 

Photo by ‏🌸🙌 فی عین الله on Unsplash

Does religious tourism increase or decrease security in Saudi Arabia and Iraq?


  1. Introduction
  2. Literature Survey
  3. Methodology
  4. Quantitative or Qualitative Analysis?
  5. Independent Variable: Religious Tourism
  6. Dependent Variable: Security
  7. Level of Analysis & Approach
  8. The Case Studies: Karbala and Mecca
  9. Security Sectors: Religion, Economics, Society
  10. Conclusion
  11. Appendix B
  12. Bibliography


The notion of pilgrimage seems quaint in our era: few in the ‘West’ know of anyone who has undertaken such a peripheral activity. Even writing within sight of Canterbury Cathedral, its pilgrims seem confined to the antique pages of Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’. Yet pilgrims still do visit Canterbury Cathedral (Sayburn, 2009), and in sufficient numbers for the Cathedral to use special security documentation such as ‘pilgrims’ passports’ (Canterbury Cathedral, 2012).

So in our modern secular society these ancient forms of behaviour remain relevant. Large-scale pilgrimage persists in Europe to the extent that the 6,094,215 Lourdes pilgrims during 2010 yielded €30m for the shrines there (La République des Pyrénées, 2011). In fact, pilgrimage is a fact of life in many regions outside Protestant Northern Europe and North America, yet it is striking how little scholarly work deals with any aspect of religious tourism, a matter I expand upon in my Literature Survey. Luttwak noted that ‘policymakers, diplomats, journalists and scholars who scrutinise economic causality; social differentiations and political affiliations still disregard the role of religion’ (1995 cited in Marshall, 1998, p14). 

This paper aims to partially compensate for the omission by dealing with two studies of Islamic religious tourism: Sunni/Shia to Mecca and Shia to Karbala. These fulfil a number of Gerring’s suggestions for strong case studies, such as internal comparability, propositional depth and insight into mechanisms rather than effects (2004, p352). However, my aim is not to assess religious tourism but rather to investigate its impact on security in these places. This dissertation is not normative in the sense of judging religious tourism as a phenomenon. I do not dwell on its history or nature except where these relate to security. Two key aspects upon which I do dwell, however, are the nature of security and the treatment of religion.

Here I am critical of traditional Western International Relations and Security Studies (IR and SS henceforth), especially the realist approaches, and I support the case made by Halliday (2006) and others for a rigorous sociological approach, IPS or historical, to the ME. Serious scholars such as Fawcett have tried to normalise the Middle East within area studies and IR and she rightly decries the ‘exceptionalism’ often attributed to it that makes it seem awkward and incomprehensible (2009, p2). Yet this paper seeks to remind readers that the region is home to major religious centres beyond Jerusalem, and this matters. To millions of believers, it is a landscape of spiritual grandeur and awe, laden with myth and history, and conceived by them in ways that Europe and the Americas generally are not. I argue that this matters in two ways: first in an empirical and practical way; and second in a theoretical way. 

Empirically, religious tourism forms a perennial structural feature of the regional and global landscape. While Park could write ‘The annual pilgrimage of Muslims to Mecca… is a remarkable movement of people in the Middle East’, (1994, p263, emphasis added) this has actually become a global migration. The author recalls an Iraqi TV crew interviewing visitors arriving at the airport for Ashura 2009, and their reaction when two burka-clad women could only speak in broad London English. Cheap travel has made what Durkheim called the ‘collective effervescence’ (Bellah, 2005, p184) of pilgrimage achievable for many more Muslims who live in many more countries than just the Middle East, and the numbers are growing. Religious tourism to Karbala and Mecca also binds together three states who have little love for one another: Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia (KSA hereafter). The phenomenon turns the schism between Sunni and Shia Islam into a moral, physical and economic fact to which these states cannot seal their borders. The location of sacred places beyond the states’ borders and control creates profound and perennial problems of trust that go to the heart of Sunni/Shia geo-religious rivalry, sponsored by KSA and Iran respectively. Viewing with this extra, religious dimension inverts the classic ‘core-periphery’ political economy image of the world that emanates from Galtung’s Structural Theory of Imperialism (1971). In fact it replaces ‘political economy’ with a ‘religious economy’. 

The theoretical significance of religious tourism, I contend, stems from its challenge to the secular nature of Western social science, IR, SS and even Critical Theory. For example, does emancipation actually mean political or economic emancipation or transcendent emancipation through shared spiritual experiences? There is a very clear egalitarian aspect here, for when the religious tourists are in their ritual garb, ‘Everyone looks the same. The cardiologist from Los Angeles was sitting next to the street sweeper from Bangladesh (really!), and nobody could tell one from the other. This was a powerful moment, saying goodbye to the worldly station you have worked so hard to achieve.’ (Poonawalla, 2009) 

With the growth in our modern era of conscious belief, particularly but not just Islamic, and with people choosing to act on that belief, this paper seeks to make a case for social science to take religion seriously as a variable in its own right. I view Durkheim’s sociological division of the sacred from the profane as the right place to begin this reappraisal (Bellah, 2005, p184). I agree with Halliday that, ‘it’s the job of social science to predict’, and moreover, ‘… the task of social science, IR included, is … to explain what has occurred and identify what constitute significant contemporary trends’ (2006, pp4-6). Religion is a trend that remains significant and contemporary in every era, and I discuss later why pilgrimage plays a part in this.

One of my disappointments in writing this dissertation has been the dearth of reliable quantitative data for even basic statistics such as the number of religious tourists. Until such data becomes available – and the relevant states are slowly improving in terms of both administration and transparency – there can only be a qualitative approach to this subject. While I favour a sociological approach to it, I also take seriously arguments that transgressing the traditional military definitions of security can threaten the academic coherence of such work. In this regard, Buzan and Waever’s Security: A New Framework for Analysis (1998) was a significant intervention that responded to such arguments. It disaggregated the monolithic ‘state’ into five themed security ‘sectors’. 

This paper takes Buzan’s sectors as a useful structure that, with certain modifications, provides valuable insight: horizontally in its breadth of thematic analysis and vertically in its level of analysis. My first modification is to introduce a religious sector. I do this because, by his own criteria and by the demands of this paper’s case studies, it can be justified as having its own ecology of referent objects and actors. To retain a parsimonious five sectors, I subsume his environmental sector into the economic. My second modification is to rename the remaining sectors as nouns rather than adjectives, and to substitute ‘Sovereignty’ for his ‘Military’ sector. Thirdly, I shift the focus away from Buzan’s conception of a constructivist ‘speech act’, ie where an actor securitises a referent object. While not abandoning it altogether, the religious tourism flows analysed here are regular, structural, physical realities: some degree of threat exists irrespective of a speech act. 

My contention is that religious tourism creates a locus of incessant instability within a broadly stable society and that, seen in purely mechanical terms, such a situation must inevitably create friction. The state cannot ignore the flows: it must always react to them, either by policing them, controlling them at source (ie from wherever the tourist embarks) or in region. Hence religious tourism has a symbiotic relationship with state security and that necessarily leads to a double hypothesis. First religious tourism actually decreases overall security (increases insecurity) in the target regions. This is the hypothesis I concentrate on in this dissertation. However the balancing hypothesis, that states respond by increasing security to cope, cannot be wholly ignored and I do make reference to it through the paper. Furthermore, I argue without oil revenue neither Iraq nor Saudi Arabia could have established the security institutions necessary to control concentrated flows of millions of tourists. These states are ‘secure’ because of oil, not religious tourism.

Following this introduction, I survey such literature as surrounds the subject, then cover the methodology in more detail, including defining the variables and assessing how causality might be established. There then follow the five empirical chapters, beginning with Religion, and for each one I introduce the particular referent object. While I acknowledge there is some overlap in the themes covered in the sectors, I argue this is the most coherent way to cover such a diverse subject. Although they might cover similar substance, they offer useful differences of emphasis and perspective. Finally I draw together my findings in the conclusion. This is followed by appendices showing quantities of religious tourists in the target regions, although despite diligent research these remain incomplete. I also provide a brief glossary and orthography, and a full bibliography.

Literature Survey

The term ‘religious tourism’ came into use in the Middle East as a distant consequence of the 9/11/2001 attacks and is thus a new coinage for an old currency. Practically the sole academic work on this comes from al-Harmarneh (2004) and, although it sources narrowly from the (then) new trade magazine Islamic Tourism, it gives a useful overview of the industry’s early development. Western tourism to the ME collapsed following 9/11 and ‘for Arabs and Muslims, the feeling of being misunderstood and unwelcome in non-Muslim countries… increased’ (p176). Hamarneh shows how Arab tourists holidayed in their own region in 2001-2 and, as a result, ‘saved the regional tourism industry’ (p173). This trend, combined with tentative developments begun by the [OIC] in 2000 and accelerated after 9/11, was deliberately adopted by KSA and numerous other Muslim countries. Hamarneh cites a 2002 report that makes this explicit, ‘A special place in this concept is held by the new ‘touristic’ interpretations of pilgrimage and the efforts to merge religious and leisure tourism in joint programs. Saudi Arabia is developing a new strategy for tourism that is based on an updated interpretation of pilgrimage that includes leisure activities in addition to the traditional pilgrim visits to the holy sites’. (p180, emphasis added)

In some ways this reconfiguration is helpful as it enables me to tap into literature that is directly associated with tourism. However Middle East scholars do not seem to have embraced it and there is no real academic work in this area. Much of what exists on the phenomenon is rooted in traditionalist Western treatment of the Middle East, or traditional Muslim treatment of the acts of piety and devotion that occur during pilgrimages and visits. Helpful also have been the assiduous efforts of scholars to bridge the gap between IR and ME area studies. They have shared their puzzlement about the historic poor fit between the disciplines and enabled me to position this paper more accurately in supporting certain approaches and questioning others. 

Central to this is what Halliday rather acerbically calls ‘an introspective US academic narcissism’ (2006, p9) whose presence in institutional IR for some decades has resulted in an overly rigid modelling of the world. Fawcett is less strident but nevertheless echoes Halliday, ‘The early language and vocabulary of IR were designed to fit and explain the experience of the US and its allies’ but she notes it has become more ‘globalised’ in recent years (2009, pp6-7). However Nye could still write in 1997 that the pattern of conflict in the ME was ‘consonant with the realist model’ of state survival and self-help (1997 cited in Fawcett, 2009, p6). The literature on security has suffered from similar rigidity for similar reasons, but since the end of the Cold War and the emergence of other security challenges, has sought to struggle free of the straightjacket of the realist paradigm, and the work of Buzan (1998) and others provide robust alternative approaches to it. Finally, the role of religion is downplayed or omitted altogether in IR so I have brought in elements of sociology, beginning with Durkheim (Alexander et al, 2005), that support its rehabilitation as a serious variable. From this I move to some more empirical work on Islam and ME states. 

The wail from Middle East scholars that their area has been misrepresented has been long and loud. Said complained that, in Western media, ‘foreign societies end up being covered more than elucidated or understood’ (1997, p170) One way in which scholars have tried to understand the region is to be more flexible with its actors and issues than just having the ‘state’ as the sole unit of analysis. Hinnebusch and Ehtashami’s work on ME foreign policies assumes (2002, p1) these fuse three levels: the domestic; regional systemic; and global (international) levels. It also draws attention to the ‘pervasive incongruence of identity and territory in the ME’ (2009, p169), a point central to the subject of religious tourism. Diamond argues, ‘Answering the riddle of the Arab democracy deficit does involve political economy – as well as geopolitics. And it demands analysis of the internal political structures of Arab states.’ (2010, p94). Korany created his own composite word ‘intermestics’ to fuse international relations and domestic politics as a ‘conceptual lens’, although it has not caught on (2009, pp62-4). Writing about terrorism, Dalacoura suggested that, ‘Greater focus on history, context and local knowledge can help to overcome mono-causal explanations of terrorism such as ‘religious terrorism’” (2009, pXXX). Halliday settles on historical international sociology to give a rounded approach that ‘looks at the core components of a political and social order, the state, ideology and society’ (2006, p36). Notwithstanding Fawcett’s caution that ‘The transnational or subnational case, while important, should not be overstated’ (2009, p5) it seems, in short, there is a scholarly consensus that the Middle East cannot be understood just by reference to states. What seems to have happened after de-centring the state however is that Western attention has – somewhat understandably – focussed on urgent IR issues that link the ME region with the West: particularly oil, Islamist terrorism and Israel/Palestine. So other phenomena have been considered intra- rather than an inter-regional issues (eg, Park) and remain unstudied.

Religious tourism shares certain characteristics with human activities like tourism and migration that can assist functional analysis. Tourism’s political economy has in recent years formed a strand of investigation, especially how it affects its target location and how it can aid economic development policies there; and a motivation for such investigation has been a serious attempt to formalise research in the field. Sinclair and Stabler (2002) are significant with their multi-facetted approach to tourism analysis, drawing attention to demand, supply and international context. For example they introduce the concept of ‘revenue leakage’ and match tourism to the Ricardian theory of comparative advantage between countries. Similarly Dieke (2000) takes an analytical 3-stage approach and aims it at tourism development in Africa. He focusses on which competing interest groups participate in the decision-making processes and the potential for corruption. Even lower levels of industry analysis (eg Murphy (2004) can still contain useful typologies, for example using Canadian classifications of businesses as tourist or non-tourist. The political economy of Arab states has been subject of research, but particularly in relation to oil and the rentier states first proposed by Mahdavy (1970) and subsequently by Luciani among others (1987, 2009). I develop some of these points in the Economics chapter.

It is also useful to conceptualise religious tourism as a type of migration, although of course it lacks the duration and enforced nature of much migration. In this regard, Adamson (2006) is helpful in making explicit links between international migration, state sovereignty and international security because, ‘The management of international migration flows is one area in which policymakers are having to weigh the costs and benefits of particular policies with an eye to their overall implications for international security, in addition to their implications for other policy areas, such as social welfare and economic growth’ (p167). I return to these points in the Sovereignty chapter.

However motivation, the ritualised nature of the activity and the times of the year it is undertaken all differentiate religious tourism from ordinary tourism and migration in important ways. While the Hajj and Ashura are performed at the same dates each year, the lunar year is 11 days shorter than the solar so they gradually move through the seasons. The effects of heat or cold on temperament and the infrastructure required both have security ramifications. However, the main difference is the religious motivation of the pilgrims, and social science has found this difficult to accommodate within its approaches and theories. Mandaville provides a good starting-point when he asks, ‘… by what criteria might we decide the content of a particular policy is “Islamic”?’ (2009, p182). He also notes Dawisha’s objection that ‘the “Islamic factor” cannot be discerned as an “independent variable”’ (1983 cited in Mandaville, 2009, p184). In response to this I argue that Durkheim’s work provides important insights, for two reasons. First, he wrote in almost the last period in European history when religion was being entertained as a serious factor, and this influenced the ways in which he formulated his sociological theories. Second, he was writing in order to locate religion in relation to society and the state: the French 3rd Republic. In this sense, he was not dealing with religion as confined to the private sphere, what Thomas termed the ‘Westphalian presumption’ (2005 cited in Hurd, 2008, p13), but as an intrinsic part of human society. My point is that the context within which Durkheim operated may no longer pertain in Western societies, but it retains its immediate relevance elsewhere, including in both this paper’s target regions. 

Futhermore, the secular nature of Western social science has been questioned, as when Marshall wrote ‘Much political analysis has an introverted focus on the Enlightenment, as though this constituted the common opinion of … reasonable humankind’ (1998, p14). Hurd has taken this much further with her persuasive treatise on Secularism & IR Theory (2008) that charts how a boundary was engineered between ‘secular’ and ‘religious’ spaces. Moving from how religion was marginalised to its enduring hold over the imagination, works such as Wheeler’s outstanding compendium of Meccan legends (2006) provide important background. I do not argue that today’s pilgrims have such legends at the forefront of their minds any more than, say, their Facebook password or passport number; just that the legends continue to form a part of Mecca’s overall sacred sensation. Indeed, Wheeler’s work falls directly into the canon of what Said termed ‘orientalism’ (2003) inasmuch as it fails to relate in any meaningful way with current or historic Mecca or Muslim societies. I analyse these themes in more detail when I define religious tourism as a variable in the Methodology chapter.

As a subject in its own right, that is as an act of religious devotion, there is a clear divide between Muslim and non-Muslim work. Non-Muslims have always been forbidden from entering Mecca, which has historically added much to the mystique surrounding the city and the activity itself. Famously Richard Burton was sufficiently proficient to perform the pilgrimage in 1853 (Lovell, 1998). For Muslims the experience remains extraordinary but is more routinely integrated in their lives and numerous Arab scholars and travellers have written of their experiences through the centuries, such as Ibn Battuta’s Journey of 1354 (2002).

Muslim works favour the practical, too, such as guides to performing the rituals during the allotted time sequence, guides to the places themselves and, more recently, the whole panoply of personal guides and advice on the internet, from and to religious websites and chatrooms. These include numerous official websites such as Iraq’s National Investment Commission or the KSA Ministry of Hajj & Umra. Some of this relates to security, such as in rating accommodation or safety issues. Youtube also serves as an archive of TV news reports about various aspects of religious tourism, and many of these relate to security, such as interviews with senior security officers, pilgrims and visitors, tours of the sites themselves to show the facilities, tours of security control rooms and checkpoints to show how well-prepared the security forces are for the event. Among them are CNN and Jazeera English reports, conducted by Western Muslim reporters and intended for broadcast to the West. Many reports are public relations items posing as news, with an emphasis on human interest stories and soft questioning by news reporters who fear loss of access in subsequent years if their reports are too negative. However, taken as a whole they provide a rich archive illustrating the evolution of security measures over the past decade. The websites of companies, trade magazines such as Construction Weekly and regional newspapers in English and Arabic such as the Iraq Daily Times, Niqash, Gulf News and Arab News also provide fairly reliable sources of factual data and news. 

As I have come to favour the sociological approaches that stem, in different traditions, from Durkheim and Halliday, Buzan’s Security: A New Framework for Analysis (1998) is an obvious choice to deal with the concept of security and I explain my reasoning in more detail in the Methodology chapter. I have also found useful Bigo’s International Political Sociology approach to security (2008) and Williams’ volume on Security Studies (2008).


In this chapter I address the basic formula of my research question. In essence I have designed this to be as simple as possible: ‘Does x cause y?’ accompanied by the hypothesis ‘Religious tourism decreases security’. I start by defining each element of the formula: religious tourism is the independent variable (IV); security is the dependent variable (DV); and causality is inferred by the verb ‘decrease’. There are a number of different approaches I could use to help me answer the question, and I briefly assess their practicality before introducing the approach I am actually using and my reasons for doing so. 

Quantitative or Qualitative Analysis?

It is certainly possible to attempt a quantitative analysis of the question. If reality is an open system in contrast to a closed (modelled) system yet only the modelled system has predictive powers (Sanghera, 2012), it is tempting to try to create a model in order to predict. After all, I stated earlier my twin goals are to predict and explain. Both the IV and DV in a modelled quantitative approach would require measurable, countable quantities of various types, and I outline two notional approaches at Appendix B.

It is useful to start the methodological chapter with such quantitative approaches for two reasons. First, because the necessary quantitative data does not yet exist in any comprehensive, reliable form they point the way for future studies in this field. There is no firm data for the numbers of security personnel deployed nationally or locally; nor for accurate GDP proportions for religious tourism or defence spending. The state of the data is perhaps best illustrated by the Karbala’s Governor’s extraordinary comments in January 2012 that, ‘We will send an invitation to the Guinness Book of Records to visit Karbala during the next Arbaeen to… make a census of the pilgrims.’ (France24, 2012). Some representative data for Mecca is at Appendix A.

Second, and more critically, these two approaches reveal the impoverished nature of quantitative work in this field. They give no insight into the field beyond the mechanistic and, in that sense, they react to what already exists: they might predict but do not explain. 

For some, quantitative surveys provide evidence in a way that qualitative surveys do not. Hence Brinner observed, “The plural of anecdote is not evidence” (Bearcastle, 2005). Put another way, how can qualitative methodology predict as well as explain? How can the research question be operationalised in a qualitative way that still yields a substantial evidence-based conclusion? The answer is that it is imperative to be honest about the subject under scrutiny; to have a coherent theoretical framework for analysis; and a broad – not narrow – basis for such analysis. This forms the basis of my qualitative approach. In the next section, I will go through each of these three elements in turn. 

Independent Variable: Religious Tourism

I refer to religious tourism throughout as a temporary visit undertaken for religious purposes, ie the pilgrimage itself, but that also takes into account the visit’s wider impacts on the target location such as transport, retail and accommodation. This composite term has the added benefit of vaulting over other labelling difficulties. The Hajj to Mecca during the month of Ramadan is the pre-eminent and mandated pilgrimage for all Muslims, if they are able. The Umra pilgrimage can be done at any time. The ziyarat to Karbala and Najaf at the festivals of Ashura, Arbainiya 40 days later and Shabaniya are the pre-eminent visits for Shia Muslims, who can also do the Hajj to Mecca. For the purposes of this paper, these are two case studies of religious tourism. 

Honesty about the subject and the world as it is dictates recognition of religion. As I noted in the Introduction this is a problem because, being a human activity, it is doubly ignored by current theories. IR, for example realism and liberalism, has traditionally used the state as its unit of analysis, and there is a marked reluctance to incorporate substate or human levels into an analysis that seeks to model the ‘international system’, its dilemmas and interdependencies. Secondly, IR theory ignores religion, or glosses it as an issue. It is arguable (eg Williams, 2008) that in Security Studies the process of de-centring the state as a unit of analysis is farther advanced than in IR, but religion is still relegated to one issue among many. 

At the outset it is imperative to deconstruct the role of secularism within Western political science. Only then can I reconstruct and centre the role of religion in human society. Hurd traces the dawn of the secular to the European Enlightenment and uses the term laicism to describe one of its forms. The 1648 Treaty of Westphalia began the process of pushing religion into the private sphere (Hurd, 2008, p5). Alongside has been the legacy of Kant’s ‘rational religion… a template for a generic form of Christianity that was intended to supersede sectarian faith’ (p6), and which has succeeded as a liberal moral framework. Hurd demonstrates how laicism has tended ‘to represent itself as the natural order that emerges when there is no ideology present’ (p23); and that secularism has come to be associated with ‘reason, objectivity, deliberation and justice’ whereas ‘religion is assigned to the domain of the violent, the irrational, the undemocratic, the other’ (p24). Thus the boundary between politics, society and religion has been set and policed by the secularists. Moreover modernisation has been an exercise in Westphalian-state building (p16), a process that saw sovereignty transferred from sovereign to state and religion eclipsed. 

Although I am irreligious I, like Connolly (1999), am not a secularist. There is no reason why religion cannot be associated with ‘public authority, common sense, rational argument, justice, tolerance and the public interest’ (Hurd, 2008, p23). In fact, I do not believe social science can truly make progress beyond the West unless it changes its view that, as Esposito put it, ‘the mixing of religion and politics is regarded as necessarily abnormal…, irrational, dangerous and extremist’ (2000 cited in Hurd, 2008, p11). Finally, I agree that ‘realist and liberal approaches to international relations are part of a tradition in social theory that operates on the assumption that religion has been confined to the private sphere or has diminished altogether’ (Hurd, 2008, p13). The problem is that such confinement and shrinkage has simply not occurred in large areas outside the West, certainly not in this paper’s two target regions, and this inconvenient fact effectively rules out the use of these approaches here. I assert the role of the state, as they do, but it is not a Westphalian state. 

One can argue that religion is simply one issue of many and point out, as Diehl has done (1992) that IR has ignored all issues to justify its focus on a paradigmatic level of analysis at state level. Having above made the negative case against the intrinsic secularism of IR/SS, I now turn to the positive case for religion and religious tourism to be taken seriously as variables in their own right. I contend that the correct starting point is not with religion as an issue or a ‘structural modifier’  in the international system (Snyder, 1996 cited in Burchill, 2009, p45), and certainly not with religious tourism as merely another form of migration or tourism, but as an ‘elementary form’ (Jones, 2005, p92). Durkheim is unfashionable nowadays, and his empirical work on native Australians is of its time, yet his work on the sociology of religion is the key to understanding this particular phenomenon: it is a ritual that strengthens both the individual and the collectivity to which he or she belongs. As Collins explained, ‘Since all of social life consists of strings of such ritual interactions, then ritual becomes the most fundamental category for the understanding of human action’ (1998 cited in Bellah, 2005, p186). For religion in general, and for the Karbala and Mecca target regions in particular, religious tourism is an affirmative ritual in three ways that, crucially, take place in the sacred. Hence it is useful to revisit Durkheim who ‘makes his critical distinction between profane time, which is “monotonous, slack and humdrum” and sacred time, which he characterizes as “collective effervescence”. Sacred time is devoted primarily to ritual’ (Bellah, 2005, p184). 

The first of the three types of affirmation is its importance to individuals insofar as ‘The believer who feels in harmony with his god… “draws from this belief a new strength and faces the difficulties of life with greater energy.” This activité vivifiante occurs where the group has a particularly strong sense of its own existence’. (Jones, 2005, pp92-3) and I note that many Muslims have such a sense, at least in their core values. Second, it is important that it is extant, as Giddens notes ‘… the dualism of the sacred and profane alone is not sufficient to characterise religion. Religion consists not only in beliefs, but in practices, or rituals and ceremonials’ (1978, p86). Third, it is an important source of renewal: ‘In everyday activities of social life… the hold of the collectivity over individuals becomes weakened; religious ceremonial revives and sustains collective ideals’ and ‘is thus fundamental to sustaining the continuity of the group’ (Giddens, 1978, p93).

The periodic personal and institutional renewal it offers is critical to how religious tourism operates in time and space. Esposito noted, ‘Major religious events are reinterpreted to demonstrate their relevance to modern conditions’ (1998, p20). It also fits Hay’s notion of a punctuated equilibrium and evolution of institutions through time (Marsh, 2010, p225). In space it conforms to Buzan’s view that ‘international security is a relational matter’ meaning that ‘little of interest can be said about the security of an isolated object’ (1998, p11). By this logic, as religious tourism is the main reason Karbala and Mecca are not isolated, one should expect there to be something of interest to say about their security.

Split in this tripartite way between individuals, groups and other collectivities, and with an emphasis on renewal, the complex relationship between religious identity and other identities, such as nationality, becomes clearer. The sacred rituals, through their ‘collective effervescence’ and ‘collective ideals’, offer transcendental and egalitarian emancipation that the secular, profane cannot. Meanwhile the unremitting secularism of IR and SS roots them firmly in the profane with no conception of the sacred. In another sense, the tripartite split poses problems in identifying an appropriate level of analysis to avoid any ‘ecological fallacy’ (Coppedge, 2012, p19). Where does a ‘collectivity’ stand in relation to an individual, or to a state, or to a notional aggregation such as the ‘umma’. Is it actually possible to disentangle these groupings so as to maintain intellectual coherence and avoid an ecological fallacy? The answer is yes, as this paper will show.

Moreover the people involved in this activity are not just tourists but religious tourists and, for them, the element of movement is itself significant. Some scholars have noted the ‘special’ nature of the journey itself, such as Shair (1979 cited in Park, 1994, p259) parsing it as ‘a particular rite of passage which involves separation (leaving home), transition (travel to the sacred place) and incorporation (arrival).’ In both Karbala and Mecca journeys these are formalised (ritualised) stages and done alongside multitudes of others. Furthermore, Tuan (1984 cited in Park, 1994, p260) adds an important spiritual dimension that runs to the heart of the process. He argues that by detaching themselves from place (their provenance) during pilgrimage, they see place for what it really is: ‘a temporary abode, not an enduring city.’ So in addition to the renewal and ‘collective effervescence’ the journey itself is analogous to the post-mortal journey anticipated by the pilgrim. The fact that death during this time is not something to be feared may be a key factor in explaining the resilience of the pilgrim flows even in times of pandemic and terrorist threats. 

I have dwelt on this because it matters absolutely to the question of security. Both Karbala and Mecca are cities with all that implies, but they are not just cities for within them lies this conception of the sacred, and the latter has fundamental implications for the legitimising power it bestows and for the way in which the places are secured.

Dependent Variable: Security

Aman, the Arabic word for security through reassurance, is related etymologically to the prayer word Amen found in Judaism, Christianity and Islam (Hans Wehr, 1976).

As multiple insurgencies took hold in Iraq after 2003, public political/security discourse became dominated by six key terms: unf (violence); fawda (chaos) and fitna (religious anarchy) that were balanced by ijma (consensus, with religious connotations); aman (security) and istiqrar (stability). The last two became a widely-used part of the prevailing state- and society-building discourse to imply the minimum Iraq needed to make progress.  These six terms frequently recur in discussions about security during media discourse and so form a good starting point to frame what Arab/Muslim society believes are the boundaries of security and insecurity. From these I infer that security is more than simply a law and order problem; more than just a state issue and, without a secular space, it necessarily involves religion and religious concepts.

Williams enjoins researchers to ask three basic questions: ‘What is security?’; ‘Whose security?’ and ‘What is a security issue?’ (2008, pp4-5). In this section I address these questions to this paper’s hypothesis: Religious tourism decreases security. Here, ‘security’ carries an abstract sense of (in)stability that can exist – really and imaginatively – at various levels from the individual to the city; state and religion. In the secondary hypothesis, ie that the state increases security to cope, ‘security’ conveys a more palpable sense of physical coercion. Both senses illustrate Booth’s point that security is a ‘derivative concept’ deriving from one’s political and philosophical viewpoint (1997 cited in Bilgin, 2008, p90). In the two examples, the difference lies with the perspective and level of analysis: I suggest the first ‘security’ is more of a societal and personal nature, cognate with stability and safety respectively, whereas the second is more state-centric. Both senses also raise questions of how much a threat to security, stability and safety is real; how much is it a speech act; and what level of threat can be tolerated (and by whom). Consequently when this argument is brought to bear on this paper’s hypothesis it becomes, ‘Religious tourism decreases (societal) stability and (individual) safety’, which is what this paper seeks to examine. The secondary hypothesis becomes ‘The state increases (force) coercion to cope’ and I will introduce elements of this in subsequent chapters. 

This point about the meaning of security exceeds semantics, as it goes to the heart of a longstanding debate within institutional Security Studies about the centrality of the state, encapsulated by Buzan’s point that ‘two views of security studies are now on the table, the new one of the wideners and the old military and state-centred view of the traditionalists’ (1998, p1). Two decades hence the wideners (and critical theorists) form an established part of the institutional landscape. This paper is located by its subject matter and its approach on the side of the ‘wideners’ and explicitly rejects Walt’s narrow view that ‘Security Studies is the study of the threat, use and control of military force’ (1991 cited in Buzan, 1998, p3). 

Level of Analysis & Approach

In the same way as I try to retain horizontal coherence by using Buzan’s sectoral approach, I also try to retain some of his vertical coherence. I use the ‘referent object’ in the same way as he does, namely being ‘things that are seen to be existentially threatened and that have a legitimate claim to survival’ (1998, p36). He consciously disaggregates the state into thematic sectors, but I find it is impossible to dispense with the notion of the state altogether: hence I argue it is necessary to link my empirical work back to a more traditional hierarchy of levels of analysis. This begins at the individual and rises to society, state and interstate system. At the state level, I find useful Adamson’s division of state sovereignty into ‘core areas’ of maintenance and projection (2006, p168). From her analysis of migration, for which I substitute religious tourism, she describes the process of maintaining sovereignty as the ability of states to maintain control over their territory and national purpose. This covers ‘the effect of migration on border control and national identity’ (ibid). Next, she conceives the balance of power among states as ‘the influence of migration on states’ ability to exercise and project economic, military and diplomatic power’ (ibid). I prefer this approach to, say, Halliday’s view of the state operating on two levels: namely the internal state-society level and the external state-state level (2006, p36); because Adamson’s approach suggests how a state can operate at an external state-society level.

To sum up, this paper combines Buzan’s five horizontal sectors and a straightforward vertical hierarchy to create a robust framework within which the impact of religious tourism on security may be gauged. For each sector, I take a single referent object, locate it at the appropriate level of analysis and assess whether or how it contributes to decreasing security.

  1. Religion: The historic theological antagonism between Sunni and Shia Islam, particularly the existential threat of one to the other.
  2. Sovereignty: An existential threat to a state’s ability to maintain and project its sovereignty
  3. Politics: An existential threat to the organisational ability of a state.
  4. Economics: Existential threats to a region’s political economy; the security of supply and security of demand.
  5. Society: An existential threat to (national) identity.

The Case Studies: Karbala and Mecca.

The target regions are not randomly-selected: they are meaningful places. Mecca is the origin of civilisation, the ‘Mother of Villages’ where Adam and Eve lived after their fall from Eden. (Wheeler, 2006, p16). Because he fell to Earth in present day India, ‘God instructed Adam to make a pilgrimage to Mecca and establish the haram there as a substitute for the Garden of Eden’ (ibid, p86). From then through Noah, Abraham and the era of pagan gods, Mecca was established as a focus for pilgrimage, but the sacred and the profane often coexist uneasily, as shown by the two profound effects of Mohammed’s alteration of the direction of prayer (qibla) from Jerusalem to Mecca in 624 (Armstrong, 2000, p15). In the short term, he ensured the city continued to be a focus for pilgrimage and the prosperity it brought, both of which softened local opposition to his new religion. In the longer term, he added to the existing sacred nature of Mecca by centring upon it what has become a major world religion. 

To use Jackson’s typography (1983 cited in Park, 1994, p251), Mecca is a ‘mystico-religious site’ that has acquired connotations of an historical sacred site. On the other hand Karbala has always been an ‘historical sacred site’, that of the battle in 680 when Hussein was killed and the founding mythology of schismatic (shia) Islam established. Both sites predate the states that now incorporate them. While Jackson did not use his terms in any political sense, I view Mecca’s centripetal power within Islam as a function of its (divine) mystical origins, different from Karbala’s more ambiguous power, centifugal to orthodox (sunni) Islam and centripetal to Shia Islam, which is a function of its (human) historical origins. Whereas all Muslims revere Mecca, Sunnis must tolerate Karbala for sectarian peace to reign.

In this dissertation I focus on two large flows, to Mecca and to Karbala, that attract millions of people annually and take place in particular target regions within a larger sovereign state. The Mecca flow is focussed on the Haram Mosque with the Kaaba at its centre. The Karbala flow is focussed on the Imam Hussein Shrine. I use the terms ‘target region’ or ‘city region’ interchangeably to refer to the locations as follows. I take as the Mecca ‘city region’ the whole of Mecca Province in KSA. Mecca Province encompasses Mecca and the second holy city of Medina together with Jedda and Taif. I take the Karbala ‘city region’ to mean the Iraqi Governorates of Karbala and Najaf (Iraq’s second shrine city containing the Imam Ali Shrine). I do this because these areas are interconnected as far as religious tourism is concerned. Jeddah has historically been the port for the two holy cities, by sea and now by air. Its King Abdulaziz airport has a special terminal for Hajj flights and tourists (KAIA, 2012). Many of the security services for the region, including King Fahd Airbase and the National Guard, are based in Taif (Global Security, 2011). Similarly the history of Najaf, just 45 miles from Karbala, has been closely intertwined with that of its neighbour. Many tourists visit both, as well as shrines elsewhere in Iraq such as Baghdad and Samarra (Cole, 2002; Sawaf, 2012). 

Iran is a constant presence in these case studies, partially due to the intermingling of Shia populations in neighbouring states. Its expansionist Shia foreign policy in the years after the 1979 revolution drew foreign policies of at least containment (KSA) or at most outright war (Iraq), as parts of the longstanding geo-religious battle that infuses the region. This formed a major part of the violence in Iraq after 2003 and is currently being played out in Syria where Gulf Sunnis led by Qatar and KSA support Sunni insurgents against the Iran-backed Alawi (Shia) regime. 

Security Sectors

1: Religion

Buzan acknowledges that religion might be a referent object but says ‘in the modern world religion is often entangled with states or nations’ (1998, p53). The mutual antagonism between versions of Islam that regard each other as heretical amounts to an ‘existential threat’ of one to the other and crystallises in the pilgrimage sites. Of the many themes and issues that overlap his sectors, religion overlaps most deeply and broadly. Here I split it into a separate ‘sector’, but in doing so become the ‘secularist’ who picks an artificial boundary to isolate religion, and I do so at state level rather than sub-state/society level because there it is simpler to outline the existential threats from these non-Westphalian states. 

Halliday deplores ‘faultlines’ becoming ‘dominant global-analytical tropes’ (2006, p8) but it is impossible to ignore that which exists between Sunni and Shia Islam, the latter comprising roughly 15% of all Muslims and hence a minority in most places outside Iran, Iraq and Bahrain (France24, 2012). The Shia contestation of Muhammed’s three immediate successors (Armstrong, 2000, pp21-37) creates what Fearon describes as an ‘issue indivisibility’ (1995, p388), which is one of his three rational explanations for war (ibid). The insecurity emanating from the schism is further complicated because of the polarised nature of the Iranian and Saudi regimes as self-appointed guardians of their respective branches. For example KSA long fought to maintain Iraq in the Sunni sphere but the US invasion inadvertently pushed it into the Shia sphere. 

A common misconception about the Iranian and KSA regimes is that they are somehow mediaeval, but it is more accurate to describe them as modernist. When Cole (2002, p197) wrote ‘The Khomeneist project is not high modernism (characterised by a scientific ideology) but nativist modernism, in which the tropes of Western scientism have been subordinated in public to those of indigenous authenticity, here Shi’ite Islam’, he could easily have substituted ‘Wahhabi Sunni Islam’ and ‘the Saudi project’ to achieve the same effect. The key point is that ‘Khomeneist [/Saudi] Islam is not anti-modern, but rather anti-liberal’ (ibid). Religious as opposed to political hostilities are not a recent occurrence: the Wahhabis have long been known for their iconoclasm and hostility to what they perceive as idolatry. Saudi forces attacked and sacked Karbala and Najaf in 1801-2 to destroy the cities’ Shia shrines. Similarly they attacked Mecca and Medina, then under Ottoman Turkish control, in 1803-4 to destroy the historic shrines and tombs there (Bowen, 2008, p73). This has continued to be a feature of the integrative state-building undertaken by the Saudi state since 1924 and is a tendency I elaborate on in the Economics chapter. 

The Saudi view of Shia pilgrims as heretics runs deep within individuals as well as institutions, and may thus be a motivating factor when perceptions or incidents of ill-treatment by Saudi authorities of Shia pilgrims are reported. With religion (the Jurist’s Rule) playing a core role within the Iranian state  the reaction is often religious. Thus when KSA reduced Iran’s visa quota in 1988, Ayatollah Khomenei ‘affirmed that the Islamic Republic, as the representative of the Hidden Imam, had the authority temporarily to suspend pilgrimage to Mecca and to make other, similar demands on believers’ (Cole, 2002, p195). Iran indeed boycotted the Hajj for 3 years. In 2009, the Iranian Abna agency reported Ayatollah Makarem-Shirazi’s threat to ban the Umra in response to alleged abuses by the KSA religious police. It said, 

‘Reports of the Saudi morality force’s mistreatment of Shia pilgrims, particularly Iranians, increased in 2007 when Saudi police started fingerprinting Iranian citizens who entered the country for the Hajj rituals… Ayatollah Makarem-Shirazi’s warning came after Saudi security forces and religious police attacked a group of Shia female pilgrims from eastern Saudi Arabia in Medina, killing three of them and wounding several others’ (Abna, 2009). 

In short, the presence through religious devotion of Shia pilgrims in Saudi Arabia exacerbates existing antagonism. To use Galtung’s terminology (1969, p175), their presence creates a locus where violence moves from being latent to being manifest, and this decreases security in the target regions. 

Dogmatic incitement of violence against the Shia has also been an intrinsic part of al-Qaeda (AQ) ideology and was used by certain Salafist groups in Iraq, such as AQI. Riedel cities senior AQ theologian Abu Yahya al-Libi condemning the Saudi monarchy for allowing the ‘… Shia and Iranians to perform the Hajj, thus validating them as real Muslims. If the Saudis were real defenders of the holy mosques… they would not allow Shia to come to them’ (2008, p41).

2: Sovereignty

In Buzan’s classification, this sector is the ‘Military’ and forms the traditional core of security studies. It is certainly true that religious tourists and even the sacred sites themselves have always been subject to military attacks. The Shia Qarmatians’ rampage through Mecca in 930 and ransoming of the Black Stone is notorious (Karim, 2012, p392), and the attack on Burton’s caravan typical (Lovell, 1998, p130). 

However for this sector, the referent object is the existential threat to sovereignty as Buzan explains, ‘the fundamentally territorial nature of the state underpins the traditional primacy of its concern with the use of force’ (1998, p49). I wrote earlier that neither Iraq nor KSA are Westphalian states with discernible secular spaces. In this chapter I focus on the mechanical functions of the state as they relate to religious tourism and use Adamson’s functional split of sovereignty into maintenance and projection (op cit) to provide structure. Maintenance here is particularly security at and within the borders; while I characterise the use of visas as a projection of the state’s sovereignty beyond its physical borders into the tourist’s country of provenance. 

The key word here is control: a state should normally safeguard the flow of its own citizens and foreigners on its territory. Here however the additional numbers of tourists and high profile of the events requires the state not just to control but also to demonstrate its control in order to provide reassurance, what has been termed the ‘theatre of security’ (Barford, 2012). For the Hajj, pilgrims are subject to a number of checks before and during their journey, and these have tended to be added by Saudi authorities as a reaction to episodes of insecurity. In fact I argue the checks have successfully projected Saudi sovereignty beyond the borders of KSA and, in some ways, they conform to Saudi imposition of what Louise Amoore called the ‘biometric border’ that segregates ‘legitimate from illegitimate mobilities’ (2006, p343). She argues the state’s authority – its sovereignty – is considerably enhanced by choosing who or what is the exception to the law (ibid, p345) and this, I contend, is one point in the relationship between sovereignty and legitimacy. 

Some of these checks are hidden and difficult to prove, but there is a high probability they occur. These relate to normal name, passport and profiling checks between security agencies of different states when a visa application is made. As a hypothetical scenario, it may be the case that when UK passport holders visit Pakistan, especially if they visit particular madrassas there, and then apply for a Hajj visa, MI5 and the KSA Interior Ministry liaise about the applicant and his/her known associates. Other checks are more transparent, for example because disease has been a perennial threat during the Hajj, this has prompted KSA authorities to stipulate that all Hajj and Umra visa applicants prove they have received the multiple vaccinations stipulated before the visa is issued (FCO, 2012).

Control is maintained in setting quotas for countries too such as KSA’s manipulation of the Iranian quota. If reports by Iran’s Press TV that KSA has stopped issuing Iranians visas for this year’s Hajj are true, this remains a contentious issue (2012). Following the 3rd session of ICMT (Islamic Conference for Ministers of Tourism) in Riyadh in 2002, visa restrictions were eased for citizens of the signatory states (Hamarneh, 2004, p178) as a deliberate KSA policy for reasons of ‘religious economy’ to boost the numbers of religious tourists. Visa quotas average 1% of a country’s Muslim population and, for religious reasons, this rationing is accompanied by other controls such as favouring first time pilgrims and a five-year gap between pilgrimages (Crowcroft, 2011). Successful pilgrims are segregated from normal travellers as far as possible, for logistical and security convenience. They often travel on charter flights  and may only travel through Jeddah’s Hajj terminal or Medina Airport (Hajj Ministry, 2011b). Organised guided tours are encouraged and tour groups are handled collectively. For example the new Mecca Holy Rites Metro has triplicated stations at Mina 123, Arafat 123 and Muzdalifa 123 and access at each is restricted to pilgrims wearing the correct wristband: 1=blue; 2=yellow; 3=green (Islamic Bulletin, 2011).

The approaches to Mecca have historically been gated, partly to screen non-Muslims from gaining access to the city and these have in recent years been equipped with x-ray machines; cctv and other devices, as shown to CNN by Maj-Gen Mansour al-Turki in 2006. These gates are often the first ring of security encountered by the domestic pilgrims, the majority of whom are not Saudi citizens but third country nationals. As Mecca is located in a hilly desert location, KSA authorities have also started using satellite and thermal imaging to monitor and control access to the city via the desert tracks (Abugarra, 2009). The 2011 Hajj security plan announced by Governor Prince Khaled al-Faisal made these points explicitly, particularly stressing that security personnel would prevent unauthorised domestic pilgrims without the correct permits from entering Mecca (Abu al-Naja, 2011). The last part of the sequence is entering ihram, the inner sanctum of ritual purity (Sacred Sites, 2009).

Throughout the pilgrimage itself, rituals have been streamlined in recent years to accommodate the health and safety of millions of pilgrims. Thus holy water from the Zamzam Well now comes in state-of-the-art dispensers (ICC, nd). The Jamarat where pilgrims must stone the Devil, site of numerous fatal stampedes, has been expanded and redesigned (Murphy, 2006). In short, money and equipment have been spent on making the pilgrimage as safe and controlled as possible. Much of what I have written here shows the state’s gradual consolidation of its control over pilgrimage flows, both by maintenance inside and projection outside its borders and, as such, it seems to support this paper’s subsidiary hypothesis that the state increases (coercive) security to cope with the decreasing stability and safety brought by religious tourism. 

In contrast to KSA, Iraq’s ability to maintain and project its sovereignty is weak and has been so since the 2003 US-led invasion. Its disastrous consequences in provoking a total administrative collapse have been well-documented. Less well publicised were the consequences for Iraq’s borders: long, porous, desert and mountainous at the best of times, but which became effectively ‘open’ as the invasion occurred, and remained so for years afterwards. 

Space is too restricted to permit a rehearsal of the hundreds of attacks on religious tourists since 2003 in Iraq, and these have been well-documented elsewhere (eg, BBC). Here I would point out that religious tourism has continued unabated despite extreme violence often directed against the mass of religious tourists who constitute a ‘soft target’. Those coming from the north were forced to transit the so-called Sunni ‘Triangle of Death’ south of Baghdad. Sawaf pointed out, ‘Most of the pilgrims who come to Karbala [for Ashura and Arbainiya] do so on foot – this is seen as a more pious way of travelling – but as they do so, they also become easier targets for terrorists.’ He quoted a local as saying “Despite the cold weather and the terrorist bombings, there seem to be many more people than usual there”’ (Sawaf, 2012). Unable to stop the visitors, from the 2007 Baghdad Security Plan onwards the Iraqi Government has given priority to twin campaigns of physical and media reassurance for them. The policy provided senior military and police officers as accessible media spokesmen such as Maj-Gen Qasim Atta in Baghdad; named commanders prepared to give regular media briefings; and media access to visitor checkpoints and police training programmes. One of the most recent has been the June 2012 launch by Karbala Police Chief Maj-Gen Ahmed Zawani of the Shabaniya security plan (AIN, 2012). Sadly, security on this scale has not thwarted determined attacks, such as those on 3rd July 2012 in Karbala and Diwaniya. Reuters observed, ‘The Diwaniya blasts took place in a market near a Shia mosque where pilgrims were gathering to make the 130km  journey to Karbala for a religious festival’ (BBC, 2012).

The inability of the Iraqi Government to control a monopoly of force across its territory has been one of its most severe crises of legitimacy, and the mass of walking visitors creates a perennial source of insecurity during peak times of religious tourism such as Ashura, Arbainiya and Shabaniya. While KSA has been able not just to maintain but also to project its sovereignty into other states, for example in restricting religious tourist flows to just those with the correct paperwork, the Iraqi state only barely maintains its sovereignty and fails to project it strongly into other states. 

3: Politics

In this sector, Buzan’s referent object is the threat to the ‘organisational ability of the state’, particularly the state ‘pillars of stability’: its external recognition and internal legitimacy (1998, p142-5). I position the sector at Society-State level. In this chapter I focus generally on the relationship between the target regions and the states that envelope them but also assess the target regions’ latent irredentism, ie that they can be a source of political instability not just for their host nation but also for other countries because they provide a highly-visible platform for mass protests by compatriots and coreligionists that has been used to undermine stability in other countries, such as the Shah’s Iran. As such both regions form areas where recognition of regimes can be challenged externally and publicly. 

As elsewhere, the themes in this sector are not recent phenomena. When the emergent Safavid dynasty in Iran adopted Shia Islam as its sustaining ideology conversions and state patronage for Shia centres, including Karbala and Najaf, came in its wake. I develop points about the religious economy of the tourist flows in the next chapter, but as Cole put it, ‘Given the expensive gifts proffered by newly-Shi’ite Iranian notables, the pilgrim traffic and increased commerce, cities like Najaf and Karbala could in some eras become centers of wealth as well as law and theology.’ (Cole, 2002, p79).  

The rival Ottoman Empire viewed itself as the inheritor of the (Sunni) Caliphate. After a prolonged period of weakness, in the 1830s it embarked on a period of imperial integration that ultimately could not tolerate the extent of Iranian involvement in Karbala. Crudely put, the Iranians controlled Karbala and benefitted from its religious prestige and economic prosperity, which the Ottomans felt undermined the legitimacy and tax-base of their regional government in Baghdad, prompting them to re-assert their control over the city. This they did with a bloody assault in 1843 that was estimated to have killed 5000 people, 15% of Karbala’s population including many Iranians, and which was accompanied by widespread looting, destruction and deliberate desecration of sacred Shia spaces. The Ottomans forcibly regained ‘sovereign’, ‘political’ and even ‘economic’ control, but this did not amount to ‘moral’ control. Showing clearly the convergence between religion and politics, the contemporary writer Astarabadi ‘ blamed the Ottoman Sultan for ordering the invasion and the Iranian monarch for not coming to the aid of his fellow Shi’ites’ (ibid, p92).   

Both target regions have witnessed mass political activism, intensified by the 1979 Iranian Revolution. During Ashura and Arbainiya that year, Karbala became the site of demonstrations of increasing vigour and numbers that undermined both the legitimacy and recognition of the Shah’s regime, and which it was powerless to halt, in what became known as the ‘Karbala paradigm’ (Ruthven, 1984, p349).

The 1979 Hajj also witnessed the notorious 3-week siege of the Haram Mosque in Mecca led by Juhaiman al-Utaibi that is estimated to have left 450 rebels and 2700 KSA troops dead. Despite Utaibi’s ‘neo-Wahhabi’ rhetoric which clearly sought to undermine Saudi legitimacy, Ayubi noted that Islamic revival movements such as his ‘are more often movements of socio-political protest, in spite of their being clad in religious garb, and that as such they are often related to socio-economic contradictions, to cultural dislocation and to generational differences’ (Ayubi, 1998, p100-101). The shock of the Mecca siege prompted ‘a reinforcement of the moral and social authority of the ulama (religious scholars) in preserving the main Wahhabi characteristics of the Saudi regime’ (ibid, p104), most tangibly the appearance of government-authorised Friday sermons.

During the decade between the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the death of Ayatollah Khomenei, Iranian pilgrims tried to politicise the annual demonstrations (Sivan, 1990, p183). Although these were not armed demonstrations they became difficult for the authorities to deal with, especially after poor policing and incitement led to 400 Iranian pilgrims and Saudi policemen being killed in the July 1987 stampede. The incident stirred Saudi Shia political opposition from the Hijaz Scholars Gathering, part of Hizbollah al-Hijaz (Matthiesen, 2010). The authorities blamed the latter for two bomb attacks in Mecca in 1989 although ultimately 16 Kuwaiti Shia were executed for them. Attempts in this period to undermine Saudi internal legitimacy and external recognition prompted King Fahd in 1986 to ensure the monarchy adopted a more overtly religious posture by changing his honorific from ‘His Majesty’ to ‘Custodian of the Two Holy Sanctuaries’ (Ayubi, 1998, p104; Wood, 2005). 

The story since this period has been one of state assertion of power funded by massive oil revenue. Lacroix notes that Saudi produces 9 million barrels per day @$100/barrel, and is thought to possess $400 billion in cash reserves. He comments, ‘These extraordinary means not only serve to buy and keep society’s allegiance, but also to pay for a comprehensive security and intelligence apparatus, as well as a vast empire of both international and domestic media outlets’ (2011, p53). Similarly, regular stampedes that caused hundreds of deaths at Hajj bottlenecks like the ritual Jamarat ‘Stoning the Devil’ pillars from 1990-2006 (BBC, 2004) caused little political problem for the authorities but prompted them to undertake a massive increase in capacity that has expanded beyond the Hajj routes to the entire city of Mecca, something I discuss at greater length in the next chapter. Charting the quiescent nature of Saudi political opposition such as the Sahwa (Awakening) from the 1990s, Lacroix notes how activists have been successfully coopted. When incidents have occurred, such as the clashes between Shia and Sunni pilgrims and riot police in Medina in 2009 (Matthiesen, 2010, p197), these have not led to political insecurity, such that during the 2011-2 tumults in the Arab world, ‘At no point did the Saudi regime feel the need to respond to [the few] protests and petitions by announcing political reforms’ (Lacroix, 2011, p54).

So oil has enabled KSA to undertake an ambitious programme of control aimed precisely at safeguarding the sources of insecurity produced by religious tourism, namely societal stability and personal safety. Coupled with enhanced coercive power, that has served to neutralise any existential threat from religious tourism to the ‘organisational ability of the state’. 

With its recent history, the Iraqi state’s organisational ability lags behind that of KSA. Historically, due to their legitimising lustre, the shrine cities have served as rallying points for centripetal movements, such as the 1920 Revolution and the 1991 Uprising against the Saddam regime. More recently in 2004 and 2007, the state’s organisational ability was disrupted by the Sadrist Mahdi Army’s attempts to control Karbala and Najaf, a point I also mention in the ‘Society’ chapter. The Iraqi government has tried to use its large-scale security protection for religious tourists to bolster its own domestic legitimacy. So in contrast to the Mecca region, scope still exists in the Karbala region for the state’s organisational ability to be threatened by, for example, the death of quietist Grand Ayatollah Sistani (Rahim, 2005; Diamond, 2006, p83), or by Iranian or other foreign manipulation.

Finally, it is worth noting here however that both Iraq and KSA have substantial Shia populations and this has historically affected both countries’ approaches to state-building. From the policies pursued, Saddamist Iraq and Saudi Arabia were integrationist in Horowitz’s sense of creating a single state norm (Horowitz, 2002; Lijphart, 2002). This contrasts with the new accommodationist (consociationalist) Constitution introduced in Iraq after 2005 and intended to embed Iraq’s social pluralism into its political culture (McGarry, 2008). Despite oil money enabling Saudi Arabia to keep its own large Shia population relatively quiescent (Lacroix, 2011), their presence makes it impossible for KSA to move to a totally integrationist political culture and in practice the Wahhabi regime must always accommodate a community it views as heretics. While this is not a function of religious tourism by Shia pilgrims or Iran per se, it does illustrate a latent and permanent domestic threat to the Saudi regime’s ability to organise its state.  

4: Economics 

Rodinson’s exhaustive study showed no impediment to capitalism emerging from Muslim culture: quite the reverse, ‘Islam does not just permit trade and property, it positively enjoins it’. (1974, pp16-17). Sopher noted the significant economic impact, observing that the Mecca Hajj ‘promotes secondary flows of trade, cultural exchange, social mixing and political integration, as well as certain less desirable flows such as the spread of epidemic disease’ (1967 cited in Park, 1994, p260). For Buzan, the referent object of this sector is an existential threat to the security of supply (1998, p98). In this chapter I widen this to include demand threats, environmental threats and threats to the religious/political economy of the target regions themselves. I vary my approach somewhat, moving from a broadly sociological (IPS) to an IPE approach and also begin with a factor analysis (land, labour, capital) in order to map potential threats to economic security and locate (religious) tourism within economics theories.

A good start is Sinclair’s analysis of how tourism might fit the Ricardian theory of comparative advantage between countries. He concluded that countries with factor endowments and abundance in both land and labour should have a comparative advantage in tourism (1997, p128) Put in these simplified terms, both the Karbala and Mecca target regions should first have a considerable comparative advantage in tourism; and second threats to their security should be those that affect the supply of one of the factors of production; the demand for them; or a relative change between them. Let me review the factors. 

As I stated earlier Karbala and Mecca are not random locations: they are extraordinary cities that contain sacred sites; and this has two effects on land as a factor of production. First it makes the factor valuable in perpetuity. Second, although both Iraq and KSA are abundant in land, the focus of attention on immovable sacred sites – the Haram Mosque/Kaaba and the Imam Hussein Shrine – tends to create a scarcity – spatial concentration (ibid, p144) – within the regions’ hearts. For labour, both Iraq and Saudi Arabia have a factor abundance with rapidly increasing populations and young people entering the labour market which tends to keep labour costs low. In addition, both countries have a history of using imported labour that effectively creates a differentiated labour market, a trend more established in KSA. Due to its honourable associations, the religious tourism sector is potentially more attractive than other sectors as a source of jobs for Saudi or Iraqi nationals, and Flynn’s analysis of the KSA labour market (2011) seems to demonstrate this. Lastly, for capital factors Iraq and KSA are differentiated due to their recent histories. KSA’s average oil revenues of $1 billion per day create a factor abundance in capital (ibid, p575). There is no reason why Iraq’s oil reserves and consequent earnings potential should not track the same trajectory as KSA’s, but its history since 1979 means it does not yet have a particular abundance of capital. To some extent for the Karbala target region, domestic capital has been replaced by investment capital from another neighbour with an oil-based capital abundance: Iran. Because of the spatial concentration, I argue there is a special fusion between ownership of land and capital in the target regions that could ultimately destabilise them unless wealth distribution is shared equitably. 

Researchers have tried to predict the outcomes of relative factor endowments on a country’s economy by using the Hecksher-Ohlin model and from here it may be possible to analyse how religious tourism  – which is effectively an export – affects systemic security in the target regions’ political economies. There are four linked features: factor ownership; development stage; government policy and multipliers. Bussman examined the distributional theory of civil war and concluded that owners of a country’s abundant factor should favour free trade, whereas owners of the scarce factor push for protectionism (2007, p82). From this it is no surprise that policymakers and businesses (eg Iraq’s National Investment Commission) aim to attract inward investment into the target regions. Korany pointed out that true development requires economic growth 2% higher than population growth (2009, p72), yet sources such as the CIA and World Bank record population growth in both countries at just over 2% in 2010-11 and economic growth at below 4% per annum (CIA, 2012; World Bank, 2012). KSA needs to create over 160,000 jobs per annum to match demand (Ali, 2009). Both countries have embraced policies to facilitate growth in religious tourism to stimulate demand for jobs in the construction and hospitality sectors. However, both Iraq and KSA are at different development stages and here it is important to introduce another feature, namely how government policy is used to influence multipliers (Sinclair, 1997, p141), ie capital invested that multiplies returns elsewhere, such as state investment in infrastructure and utilities that leads to private investment in hotels. 


Iraq was deliberately re-orientated from a command to a free-market economy after the invasion (Sanford, 2003, p57), but was then ravaged by violence. The Iraqi authorities have invested in transport capacity such as roads, railways, Najaf Airport and Karbala Central Euphrates Airport (SkyscraperCity, 2010), but investment in basic utilities such as water and electricity, as well as in the cities themselves has lagged, thus depriving the target region of public sector multiplier funds. Meanwhile the openness of Iraq’s economy meant foreign companies took contracts at the expense of nascent Iraqi companies, causing leakage of capital that deprived Iraq of private sector multiplier funds. This kind of leakage is a tendency noted by Sinclair (1997, p141). For example the Iranian company Shamsa has an effective stranglehold on the entire Iranian visitor market inside Iraq: including transport and accommodation (Aziz, 2011), shutting Iraqis out of the business. 

While the Shia sacred sites attract visitors from India, Bahrain and elsewhere, Iran provides the largest foreign market, creating a dependency that leaves Karbala vulnerable to demand shocks. The last such came in January 2012, just after Ashura, when the international community imposed sanctions on Iran due to its nuclear programme, and this had the rapid effect of halving the value of the Iranian riyal (tuman) against the Iraqi dinar. With Ashura over, Iranian tourists could switch to domestic shrine cities like Qom or Mashad instead and officials in Najaf feared this would diminish the estimated 5000-6000 Iranians every day who undertook tours of Iraqi shrines, including Najaf and Karbala. (Iraq Daily Times, 2012). 

Local authorities in Karbala and Najaf cast aspirational eyes on the developments that have been proceeding apace in Mecca, Medina and Jeddah in recent years. Najaf Investment Commission contracted with TransGlobim (2010) to construct a monorail between the airport and city, at the same time as Mecca’s Holy Rites Metro was opening (see ‘Sovereignty’ chapter) yet nothing further has happened with the Najaf project.

Existential threats to supply and demand do exist in the Karbala and Najaf target region that, in addition to classic security concerns, include fragile infrastructure and over-dependence on tourists from a single foreign state. These could be remedied by better-targeted state spending and diversification of the visitor base to include the large Shia populations in India and, ironically, Saudi Arabia. Religious tourism in the Karbala target region has led to a concentration of factor ownership, which is complicated by much of all three factors being in Iranian hands. I would characterise this as a potential ‘horizontal’ source of grievance and systemic insecurity within the region and also between Shia and Sunni areas of Iraq. 


The contrast with the Mecca region could not be greater. Here the multiplier effect is apparent: for every riyal spent by a pilgrim, it is estimated another four are generated in associated sectors (Ali, 2009). The KSA state embraced the role of religious tourism in 2000 (Hamarneh, 2004, p178) and has invested in major capacity enhancements ever since. These include a high-speed railway to link Jeddah, Mecca and Medina, new roads and utilities (Carey, 2010). In contrast to Karbala/Najaf, of the 2.8million tourists to Mecca in 2010, 1.8million came from 181 countries (ibid), a diverse customer base that enables the city to avoid all but global demand shocks such as the 2009 Swine Flu alert (AvianFluTalk, 2009). As stated earlier, KSA is able to artificially restrict flows and thus attempt to match the colossal demand (from nearly a quarter of the world’s population) to supply. However here its Muslim religious duty combines with its Wahhabi modernism, its hatred of idolatry and simple economic imperative to drive supply upwards and thus permit more demand, and the upshot has been the razing and rebuilding of Mecca. KSA is working on projections of nearly 14million pilgrims per annum by 2019, quadrupling religious tourism jobs to 2million and increasing GDP share above its current 1½%, dwarfed by the oil sector (Carey, 2010).

However, the pilgrim capacity enhancements have meant the demolition of centuries-old mosques and shrines, as well as more modern districts, and their replacement by projects such as the controversial Mall of Mecca, that towers over the Kaaba and expanded Haram Mosque (Jazeera TV, 2011). 7000 city centre buildings are scheduled for compulsory purchase and demolition during 2012 alone (Construction Week, 2011). The scale might be huge but the status quo cannot be maintained without compromising the safety of individual pilgrims and citizens and possibly the stability of the region. The dispersal of the city’s existing population through compulsory purchase of their homes shows the state asserting control of the city, and thereby tends to support this paper’s secondary hypothesis that the state will increase coercion to cope with the insecurity brought by religious tourism. Investment on this scale through a state dominated by its ruling family and companies such as Kingdom Holding Co, controlled by billionaire Prince Alwaleed (Carey, 2010), could exacerbate feelings that gains from religious tourism are not being shared equitably within KSA. Religious tourism has led to a concentration of land and capital factor ownership in the hands of a small elite, mostly the Saudi royal family, and this could be a source of ‘vertical’ grievance and systemic insecurity within KSA, in contrast to the ‘horizontal’ insecurity in Iraq. As Lacroix notes, at some point the current type of royal succession must change (2011, p58) at which time this insecurity might prove critical. 

5: Society

For this sector, the referent object is formed of existential threats to ‘identity’, and in particular the identity of the nation, so I position this sector at a sub-state level. Buzan suggests four such threats (1998, p119), of which I shall look at three in relation to the two target regions and the identities that surround them, namely migration, ‘horizontal competition’ and ‘vertical competition’. His fourth, depopulation, is not a threat in these regions. As has been noted by many authors the Middle East is home to a variety of competing identities. Luciani points out, ‘Britain created the state system precisely to try and maintain control of oil resources through diversity and competition’ (2009, pp86-7). Hence the hold of these new states on the loyalties of their populations has come slowly, and state identities coexist with older conceptions of identity and nation. Kienle makes the useful distinction that Arab states are often ‘territorial states’ rather than nation states (1990 cited in Hinnebusch, 2002, p20). 

In my definition of religious tourism, I mentioned the significance of pilgrimage as an affirmative sacred ritual, particularly strong in reinforcing individual and collective identity, and also in the elements of renewal it provides. Mecca and Karbala provide the arenas in which these elements can be combined, uniquely in the world, yet this is not to say the rituals are free from interference. An insidious and under-researched area is the promotion of the particular Saudi/Wahhabi form of Islamic jurisprudence, the Hanbali rite. This goes to the heart of the non-Westphalian character of the KSA state, where in this case the state is responsible for projecting not sovereignty but doxa. The different schools of fiqh or Islamic jurisprudence underpin how Islamic law is made and interpreted and affect some of the most basic operations of Muslim societies, such as family law and sharia courts (Ruthven, 1984, pp152-8). This basic differentiation within Muslim societies, which I argue has very strong consequences for their ability to borrow and adapt concepts such as democracy from other cultures, gets even less attention in scholarship on the Middle East than does religion itself. The normal distinction made is between a somewhat generic ‘Islam’ and an anti-Western or ‘anti-hegemonic Islamism’ (Mandaville, 2009, p192). 

Religious tourism provides a passageway for the Hanbali rite that underpins the Saudi/Wahhabi state to influence Muslim identity in two ways. First, in a general way, the pilgrims experience life in Saudi Arabia during their visit and this might break down some of the negative stereotypes about the country (Islamic Bulletin, 2011). Second, more specifically, the Korans available to the pilgrims are the Saudi authorised version, of which Sardar says, ‘… the use of more puritanical and combative classical commentaries that saw the world largely in black and white terms, together with clever and selective deployment of the tradition of the Prophet, enables the authors to present the Qur’an as a rather aggressive, authoritarian and misogynous text in conformity with the Wahabi worldview’ (2011, p48). Religious tourism is thus an opportunity for the KSA/Hanbali state to proselytise, and this subtle association of the Saudi state with the ‘collective effervescence’ of pilgrimage might alter the behaviour of certain pilgrims when they return to their home country. For example they might decide to worship at a Hanbali mosque instead of their former mosque. In this way, KSA/Hanbali normative values can be transmitted by religious tourism beyond the state’s temporal/sovereign borders and I argue this embeds a long-term dogmatic insecurity within Muslim communities around the world. 

In the other direction, the segregation of religious tourists in KSA from the wider population during their visit that I noted in the ‘Sovereignty’ chapter also prevents the transmission of ‘foreign’ normative values into KSA’s wider society. In this sense, I contend that none of the threats suggested by Buzan apply to the Society sector of the Mecca target region. The state rigidly controls migration through visa and travel restrictions. Segregation means the scope for leakage or transmission of outside influences is limited so there is little horizontal competition. Mecca is a vital legitimising site, no less for the Saudi state since 1924 as for all its predecessors. It has been successfully integrated within the KSA state and the region’s historic name – the Hijaz – has been deliberately erased. 

The situation in Karbala is different because of the historic Iranian influence, but also due to the composition of the modern Iraqi state. In contrast to Mecca, I contend that all three of the threats suggested by Buzan apply to Karbala target region and this creates a perennial source of instability that ripples into the wider Iraqi state: particularly the Sunni areas. In effect, Najaf and Karbala form the epicentre of a longstanding vertical competition that dates from the early decades of Islam and they symbolise the difference of this (Shia) society from Sunni society. In this sense, migration of Shia correligionists, regardless of their ethnicity, is not a problem of horizontal competition within the target region, but forms a problem beyond it, particularly for the integration of the sovereign state of Iraq and its plural society, as these broadly identify as Arab or Kurdish but not Iranian. So migration in the form of Iranian religious tourism creates a perennial problem of horizontal competition for non-Shia Iraqi society, and this is not new. Cole put the number of ethnic Iranians in Karbala prior to the 1843 Ottoman assault as 6000, possibly one fifth of the city’s resident population, and suggested the integrating Ottoman leaders in Baghdad specifically viewed this Iranian population as a potential fifth column within their borders (2002, p92). 

A slightly different type of horizontal societal competition emanates from the struggle for control of Iraq’s Shia south between the Sadrists and Mahdi Army, and ISCI/Badr, both of which have broad-based support within southern Shia society. This has led to a number of incidents in the shrine cities, for example when the Mahdi Army took control briefly in Spring 2004, and the August 2007 clashes between the Mahdi Army and Badr forces during the Shabaniya visit to Karbala (BBC, 2007).

Finally, the Karbala region has historically also been a centre of vertical competition, of broad-based secession from centralising Baghdad-based governments, for example in the 1920 Revolution against the British and the 1991 Uprising against Saddam. The presence of a Shia government in Baghdad neutralises this threat, but is precisely what alarms Iraq’s Sunnis. 


I set out to research how religious tourism decreases security in two particular regions of the world: Mecca and Karbala. To do this I first had to investigate what religious tourism and security actually are; and then organise a robust method of establishing how one might affect the other. I also introduced a secondary hypothesis that the state increases security to cope with the insecurity wrought by religious tourism. Finding that security actually contained a number of complementary meanings, often according to the level of the actor, I found I could not restrict myself to the classic view of security as the (threat of) use of military force and so selected a sociological approach based on a modified version of Buzan’s five security sectors. Similarly, I found the available approaches all overlooked religion as a serious element in social science; something I could not do if I was to honestly analyse the phenomenon of pilgrimage. I therefore attempted to rehabilitate religion as a serious part of this dissertation. 

I argue the most salient aspect of the states and societies considered in this paper is that they are not Westphalian in the sense privatising religion. In the Religion sector, states form existential threats to the Sunni and Shia sects. However, there is an imbalance between the higher threat that Sunni states make to Shia religious tourists and sites and the lower threat that Shia states make to Sunni religious tourists and sites, because Mecca is revered equally by both sects. Therefore in the Religion sector, Shia religious tourism decreases security because (some) Sunnis consider the Shia schismatic at best and heretical at worst. 

Sovereignty is also best analysed at state level, but here I introduce an important caveat whereby a state can intervene directly in a foreign society. Other factors impose too, including history and oil, such that while Iraq can barely maintain its own sovereignty, KSA can maintain and indeed project its sovereignty, for example with its visa conditions.  In the Sovereignty sector, I do not find that religious tourism decreases security.

History and oil also affect Iraq and KSA’s different capabilities in the Politics sector. KSA has reacted to the myriad threats to its organisational abilities that it experienced between 1979 and 2006 by coopting opposition activists and increasing capacity and safety for pilgrims. That it had to do this bears out the hypothesis that religious tourism decreases security. In addition to this legitimising practice, it has also embarked on a legitimising discourse that aligns the monarchical state with orthodox Islam centred on the Two Holy Sanctuaries. The control exerted by the state makes it unlikely that religious tourism will decrease security in KSA unless the state itself is weakened. Iraq’s organisational ability is at a lower level than KSA’s and consequently it remains vulnerable to threats emanating from religious tourism in the target region.

Both countries are at different development stages too, but in the Economics sector there are some similarities. For example for reasons of spatial concentration, factor ownership of land and capital may converge, leaving a structural insecurity with labour. However, in practical terms, Karbala’s demand is dependent on a narrow customer base and is thus vulnerable to demand shocks whereas Mecca’s demand base is broad and deep and less vulnerable to such shocks. However the city is being razed and rebuilt to try and maintain supply. 

Finally the Society sector finds KSA towards the end of a successful process of segregating religious tourists from mainstream society, effectively eliminating any threats to national identity from them. I argue the situation is different in Iraq currently, where threats still exist or are perceived to exist by other communities outside the target region, if not in the region itself. For this reason I conclude religious tourism in this sector does decrease security, here spreading out beyond the target regions into minority areas such as Iraq’s Sunni or KSA’s Shia regions. 

In conclusion, I  there is ample evidence across all five sectors to support both primary and secondary hypotheses, and the two countries’ different development stages suggest Iraq will follow the path of KSA in using its oil wealth to establish control over religious tourism and thereby mitigate the existential threats it poses. While not wishing to add to the Middle East ‘exceptionalism’ queried by Fawcett (2009, p2), it is worth noting that the religious tourism flows investigated in this paper not only reify collective identities but, as they are growing not diminishing, they also entrench a number of structural challenges in Gulf and Levant countries during the 21st century that exist in few other places on earth. As such this is surely a subject worthy of more serious research.


I have chosen to simplify word and names in the text to suit standard English orthography, for example by using Shia inflexibly for noun and adjective (conventionally Shi’a and Shi’ite respectively) and Koran instead of Qur’an. Other terms are explained in text.

Appendix A

(Hajj Ministry, 2011a)


Appendix B

1: Numbers (human security approach)

IV1 = numbers of religious tourists visiting each target region by year. 

DV1 = numbers of security personnel, both nationally and in the target region, by year.


  • Are the numbers of security personnel at a higher national level than comparable countries that do not host religious tourism? 
  • Do the numbers of security personnel increase in the target region during periods of religious tourism or remain static? 
  • Do the crime or injury statistics increase in proportion to or faster than the numbers of religious tourists.

2: GDP (Political economy approach)

IV2 = religious tourism industry’s contribution to national GDP.

DV2 = general defence spending by government as a proportion of GDP or defence spending in the target region as a proportion of total defence spending or total GDP. 


  • Is the proportion of GDP spent on security personnel nationally and/or in the target region comparable to that of countries that do not host religious tourism. 
  • Has the proportion of GDP spent on security personnel  increased (or decreased) in line with growth in religious tourism?



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