Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

At a Glance

Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

21 Aug 2014

Amid worldwide revulsion at the execution of journalist James Foley by ISIS, this week's Roundup examines the arguments raging about the sectarian drivers of the Middle East's conflict and the options for defeating groups like ISIS.

Top Stories

Lebanon: In the first of a two part profile,  Matt Levitt examines Hizbullah's motivations, and how they have got to where they are. In part two, he analyses the group's international influence.

Sectarianism: Abdul-Azim Ahmed writes for the Centre on Religion & Geopolitics on the myth that Islam's sectarian conflicts are part of an intractable war dating back to the religion's beginning.

Middle East and North Africa

Iraq/Syria: US actions against ISIS run the risk of expanding the group's appeal to like-minded jihadis, whilst inaction would allow ISIS to expand its territory. But it will only be a win-win situation for ISIS if US strikes remain limited and do not significantly degrade the group, states Barak Mendelsohn

Iraq/Syria: ISIS is not a classic terrorist group and defeating it will not be quick or easy, says David Ignatius. But nor will it collapse on its own. In fact, according to US intelligence sources, it is fast learning how to govern a state. 

Iraq: The breakup of Iraq is not a desirable prospect, argues Joel Rayburn; it would likely lead to casualties in the hundreds of thousands, with many more displaced. But it is a likely outcome of the current political crisis, if the new Prime Minister cannot overcome his party's sectarian tendency and force the apparatus of the state to work for the whole country. 

Egypt: As fighting is renewed between Israel and Hamas, Nathan Brown and Michele Dunne detail what the aborted truce negotiations, facilitated in Egypt, reveal of the country's foreign policy, finding that Sisi's government appears only to be opposed to jihadi groups if they threaten Egypt, or if they are allied to the Muslim Brotherhood. 

Israel/Palestine: Amid competing claims from Israel, Hamas and the UN over the proportion of civilian casualties in Operation Protective Edge, David Pollock examines the statistical evidence. While accurate figures may not be available for years, men of fighting age feature disproportionately in Gaza's casualty lists.

Middle East:  Paul Cobb argues that the clumsiness of the historical appeals of Baghdadi and his ilk in support of their actions is making that history irrelevant. Meanwhile,  Patrick Cockburn notes that Saudi Arabia's dual policy of supporting jihadis abroad and suppressing them at home fits into its broader sectarian narrative. 

Sub-Saharan Africa

Central African Republic: Although a ceasefire agreement was signed between the Seleka and Anti-Balaka movements in July, the likelihood of a permanent peace remains low, suggests Hanna Ucko Neill. The movements are fracturing into factions amid poor governance and no roadmap for the ceasefire's implementation. However, a growing UN force may be a light at the end of the tunnel.

Central and South Asia

Afghanistan: There has been progress on the Afghanistan election audit – both politically and technically – although this has mainly been achieved by delaying or isolating key discussion points and contentious decisions, according to Martine van Bijlert. Michael Waltz and Alyssa Kelly explain why widespread ethnic violence and a major Taliban resurgence is a near certainty if the election results remain unresolved. Meanwhile Zachary Keck reports that officials within the Karzai administration are considering a seizure of power if the election impasse is not resolved soon, echoing justifications of coups 'preserving democracy' in Egypt and Thailand.

Afghanistan: As the US offers $30m for information on the Haqqani network in Afghanistan, Fabrizio Foschini looks in greater depth at the jihadist fighters crossing the border in the wake of the Pakistani operation on their former refuge in North Waziristan, disrupting the lives of local communities and creating new spiralling cycles of conflict in a region with a decades-long history of sectarian division.

Pakistan/Afghanistan: Amid anti-government protests, Michael Kugelman explains why Afghanistan should be concerned about the political crisis sweeping Pakistan, particularly the effect it may have on the current military crackdown against insurgent groups harboured in the country's North Waziristan tribal region.

India/Pakistan: With the breakdown of planned high-level talks between India and Pakistan attributed to a meeting between senior Pakistani officials and Kashmiri separatists, Sanjay Kumar considers the chances of diplomatic rapprochement between the countries as India's BJP appeals to its Hindu nationalist base.

East and South East Asia

China: As the trial of several Church of the Almighty God members commences, Shannon Tiezzi analyses the state of a less radical Christian movement in China – the Catholic Church. China's relations with the Vatican are still tense, as Beijing refuses to allow any foreign influences within the country is increasingly pushing Catholic adherents underground.

Malaysia: Furore over a young boy's (apparently mistaken) "liking" of Israel on Facebook has refocused international attention on Malaysia's religious laws. The latest in a long run of blasphemy and sedition cases, this is unlikely to do any good for Malaysia's standing in the international community,  writes Luke Hunt.


Britain: The government estimates that around 500 British Muslims have gone to fight in Syria. James Brandon points out that when one discounts those parts of the British Muslim population unlikely to go and fight, this equates to 1 in 812 British Sunnis of fighting age. 


Anti-Semitism:  James Fletcher looks at the statistics behind the apparent rise in anti-Semitic incidents in Europe and the US, concluding that while incident trends prove hard to discern, the increased fear held by many Jewish people in the West is hard to argue with.


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