Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

At a Glance

Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

02 Oct 2014

The threat posed by ISIS is determining government policy across the Middle East; we look at some of the complex issues this raises. Elsewhere, we examine the growing power of militant groups in Yemen and Nigeria and growing threats to religious freedom in South East Asia.

Top Stories

Nigeria:  Atta Barkindo examines the cultural and ethnic ties of Boko Haram, arguing that the group's ideology is religiously focused, but draws on deep ethnic and cultural roots to recruit members and sustain its momentum.

Yemen: As the Shia Houthi movement consolidates recent gains in the Yemeni capital Sana'a, Thanos Petouris explains the broader context by answering five questions on religion and conflict in Yemen.

Middle East and North Africa

Iraq: A new  United Nations report details  ISIS' human rights abuses and the increasing sectarian nature of the violence from July to September 2014 in Iraq. Over 24,000 civilians have been killed or injured in the country this year. This is  expanded on by Erin Evers, who argues that Shia militias, operating with government backing, have also committed atrocities against Sunni civilians.

Turkey: Tulin Daloglu discusses cultural and educational forces in Turkey that might influence approval for ISIS. Meanwhile,  Dominique Soguel examines potential Turkish military action against ISIS and Alexander Christie-Miller considers the impact on Kurdish populations. 

Syria: While the world's attention remains on ISIS, the bitter civil war in Syria continues. Vice News embeds with the rebel fighters in Aleppo, where the Islamic Front, an Islamist umbrella group, has been battling regime forces. 

Middle East:  Siobhan O'Grady takes a look at the gallows humour undermining the ISIS narrative across the region. However, airstrikes on ISIS, which have been joined by Arab countries including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, are proving unpopular on the Middle Eastern street, where they are seen as supporting Assad's regime, writes Hassan Hassan.

Middle East: Nicholas Kristof looks at Middle East educational programmes, which receive a fraction of the resources that international governments give to military intervention, despite evidence that education, particularly girls' education, is one of the biggest threats to extremist groups' existence.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Somalia: Christopher Anzalone examines former al-Shabaab commander Ahmed Godane's rise to power in Somalia, his tenure as leader of the group, and his demise at the hands of a US airstrike on 1 September 2014.  Meanwhile, Hassan M. Abukar profiles al-Shabaab's new leader Ahmed Diriye 'Abu Ubaidah' and looks ahead to the challenges he faces. 

Nigeria: Boko Haram is closing in on Maiduguri, the state capital where the group was founded. The Economist looks at the current situation on the ground, and some of the consequences should Maiduguri fall. 

Nigeria: As  Nigeria's 2015 election cycle begins, Ian Linden considers the violence that accompanied the 2011 elections, looking at the role religious leaders can play in mitigating violence and promoting national unity.

Central and South Asia

India: Before his election as Prime Minister, Narendra Modi was banned from travel to the US due to "severe violations of religious freedom" when violence in his governorship of Gujarat left 790 Muslims and 253 Hindus dead. At the conclusion of Modi's state visit to the US, C. Christine Fair looks at the Gujarat riots, considered by many to be an anti-Muslim pogrom, in their wider religious context.

Afghanistan:  Sune Engel Rasmussen outlines the weak condition of Afghanistan's governmental institutions that newly appointed president Ashraf Ghani has inherited and speculates how he might best make use of his expertise in reconstructing post-conflict societies.

Pakistan:  Ammara Ahmad reports on the trend of growing violence against Sikhs in Pakistan, whose small community faces the threat of vicious attacks and kidnappings amid a national discourse marked by intolerance towards religious minorities. 

East and South East Asia

Myanmar: As the UN Secretary General calls on Myanmar to address the exclusion of the Rohingya Muslims from the latest census, Myanmar officials announced a plan this week to offer Rohingya Muslims citizenship, if they change their ethnicity. Meanwhile,  Philip Heijmans reports from Mandalay on the effects of recent sectarian violence and its impact on the local economy.

Indonesia: As Indonesia gears up for the inauguration of President-elect Joko Widodo, Aria Danaparamita examines the fallout from the announcement that local leaders will no longer be directly elected. In other news, a provincial parliament in Aceh has approved bylaws which extend Sharia law to non-Muslims. Human Rights Watch urges the new President to review these laws in a country where freedom of religion is central to the national philosophy.

China:  Scott Devary reviews the complex history of the tensions between the Chinese authorities and the minority Uighurs, looking at the difficultly Chinese leaders face in their 'war on terror'. Michael Clarke also looks at the recent internationalisation of the issues in Xinjiang which he says has largely arisen from China's own policies.


Religion & Conflict: In a review of Karen Armstrong's new book on religion and conflict, John Gray finds that the Western assumption that religion is fading away is being replaced in conventional wisdom by the notion that religion lies behind most of the world's conflicts.

UN General Assembly: Benjamin Netanyahu's address to the UN General Assembly on 29 September 2014 was an illogical attempt to muddy the waters by equating Hamas with ISIS, argues Shlomi Eldar, writing that extremist groups can only be tackled effectively by understanding their individual demands, characteristics and behaviour. 

ASEAN: As foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) issue a statement expressing their concern over violence in Iraq and Syria from extremist groups, Luke Hunt sums up the member states' stances on ISIS.

Sign up to receive the Roundup

Sign up to our Religion & Geopolitics Roundup to receive weekly updates with the latest commentary, analysis and news on the role of religion in conflict zones. Sign up here.