Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

At a Glance

Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

11 Sep 2014

As President Barack Obama gives his speech on the American strategy for responding to ISIS, we examine the evolving characteristics of jihadi movements, and escalating religious conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Nigeria, Afghanistan and India, as well as new developments in existing contentious religious situations in Pakistan, Myanmar, the Philippines and Indonesia.

Top Stories

ISIS: As President Obama sets out how the United States is responding to the threat from ISIS, stating that the "Islamic State" is neither Islamic nor a recognised state, the Centre on Religion & Geopolitics draws together two reports looking at the extent of the attacks by ISIS against ethnic and religious minority groups.

Pakistan: In the first of a new series of interviews with high profile commentators, the  Centre on Religion & Geopolitics talks to Ambassador Zamir Akram, the Pakistani Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, about the role that religion plays in Pakistan's current political and foreign policy tensions.

Middle East

Iraq/Syria: Appealing to early Islamic history, Dhruva Jaishankar argues that ISIS's failure to learn from the strategic successes of the early Caliphate, particularly the relative tolerance of the conquerors and their emphasis on reconciliation with former enemies, underlines the group's "intellectual bankruptcy" and "lack of strategic acumen".

Yemen: Following the escalation of tensions between Yemen's government and the Shia Houthi movement this week, the International Crisis Group provides an overview of the build up to the violence, stating that while the intentions of the Houthi's are unclear it is possible they are aiming to become more dominant in the north of the country, as well as more powerful at a national level.

Iran: The Iranians were one of the first countries to send support to the Iraqi government after the establishment of ISIS. Kate Brannen looks at how the country's backing of Shiite militias in Iraq and the Assad regime in Syria represent some shared tactical objectives between the United States and Iran, but vastly differing longer-term strategic goals.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Somalia: Stig Jarle Hansen explores the potential impact of this week's assassination of Ahmed Godane, the leader of al-Shabaab. Kathy Gilsinan wonders whether this "decapitation" will have any affect on the highly decentralised and fractious outfit in Somalia.

Nigeria: Reports from survivors claim that Boko Haram are beginning to regulate behaviour of people under their expanding control. These claims that areas the group controls are now being ruled by "Islamic law" do not constitute a declaration of an Islamic state says Omar Mahmood, though it is an indication of the group's increasing power, and the Nigerian state's decreasing capacity to counter it.

Central African Republic: As the ceasefire signed in July between the mainly Muslim former Seleka fighters and Christian anti-Balaka militias remains vulnerable, Rappler reports on the importance of the fifteen hundred UN troops due to arrive in the country next week, and how the challenges ahead for the peacekeepers and Central Africans are daunting.

South and Central Asia

Afghanistan/India: After last week's announcement of the formation of "al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent" (AQIS), Afghanistan's ambassador to India, Shaida M. Abdali, stresses the necessity for both countries to work together closely to address the threat of extremist groups operating out of Pakistan. Meanwhile, Asim Tanveer and Maria Golovnina profile the leader of AQ's newly established subcontinental wing. They find Asim Umar a figure with a reputation as an Islamist ideologue, intellectual and orator rather than a fighter.

Pakistan: The fracturing of Pakistani Taliban affiliated groups in Pakistan's tribal areas has had as much to do with the growing influence of ISIS rhetoric as ongoing Pakistani military operations, claims Daniele Grassi.

South East Asia

Myanmar: Following al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri's statement last week, alluding to the oppression of Muslims in Myanmar, Elliot Brennan asks what this means for Rohingya Muslims in the country, what the reaction will be from Buddhist extremists and why it is now time for the government and religious leaders to speak openly about interfaith dialogue and religious tolerance on this regional issue.

Philippines: After months of uncertainty since the peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), there is now real progress as the President of the Philippines pushes to enact a law to create a Muslim autonomous area in the south. Speaking with VICE News, Michael Kugelman says there is reason to be optimistic about this popular announcement, but that the reaction of militant group Abu Sayyaf must be watched.

Indonesia / Malaysia: As both Indonesia and Malaysia issue strongly worded statements condemning ISIS, Stefanie Kam and Robi Sugara analyse the role social media is playing in both countries as jihadi groups attract young people to their cause. They say the governments of both countries must adapt their counterterrorism responses by using a softer approach through the media, educational and religious forums to effectively counter the ISIS threat.


NATO: As NATO concluded their summit with a final declaration, there was a much greater emphasis than previous communiques on the role of religion and the persecution of religious minorities, with a particular condemnation of the attacks against religious groups in Iraq by ISIS.

Religion & Conflict: Drawing out key themes in the field of religion and conflict, Professor Miroslav Volf of Yale University says that perceptions of religion, once identified with politics, inevitably end up being an instrument in conflict, but globalisation and faith traditions and how they relate to each other are powerful forces shaping the world today.

Jihadi Developments: On the anniversary of 9/11, Clint Watts examines the evolving qualities of jihadi extremism, viewing today's threats as significantly more diverse and less predictable than thirteen years ago. 


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