Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

At a Glance

Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

27 Mar 2014

Sometimes an article is written which has the potential to shift the ground of a debate and change the way people think. This week's Spectator cover story by Irshad Manji is just such a piece. The headline makes Ms Manji's mission more than plain: "It's time to reclaim Islam from the fanatics. Here's how."

She suggests, as a starting point, shifting the focus away from jihad towards the Islamic concept of "ijtihad" or reinterpretation. She goes on to argue that modern Islam could (and should) be compatible with post-enlightenment concepts such as freedom of expression. It is a brave piece, consistent with Ms Manji's work as founder of the Moral Courage Project at New York University, which brings together individuals who have made a stand for the greater good of society.

If you read nothing else this week, read this piece.

Top Stories

As the crisis in the Central African Republic continues, the African Union peacekeeping force has suffered a number of casualties. In an effort to bring peace, the anti-Balaka militias – initially set up to fight the Seleka, and largely targeting Muslims – have been designated 'enemies', the BBC reports.

In Egypt, as a court sentences 529 to death over the murder of a policeman in the aftermath of the clearance of the Rabaa Mosque sit-in, the BBC interviews the head of the country's appeals court who insists that the judiciary is independent of any political interference. On the same topic, writing for the Council on Foreign Relations, Ed Husain argues that treating non-violent Muslim activists and jihadists as if they are the same is dangerous for Egypt and for the international community.

Middle East and North Africa

Al-Monitor reports Robert Ford, the former US ambassador to Syria, arguing that the war in Syria will reach an intractable stalemate, due to the opposition's failure to unite around a single leadership. Meanwhile, the Telegraph has an account of a former senior regime ally who claims to have been present in meetings directing the shabiha, a ruthless Alawite militia that has been accused of warcrimes.

As Field Marshall Sisi resigns from the army in preparation for a run for Egypt's presidency, Robert Springborg presents an in-depth profile, noting that he was trusted by the Muslim Brotherhood because of his devout Islamic faith. However, Patrick Kingsley notes that much as he is seen as the puppet master, Field Marshall Sisi is not in total control of events, and argues that despite the repression there are signs that the gains of the revolution have not been completely reversed.

Prominent academic Omar Ashour is quoted by Al Jazeera as seeing the Arab world divided in to three coalitions, in view of this week's Arab League summit in Kuwait. And in light of the evolution of the Arab Spring and the changing fortunes of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mehdi Hasan discusses the nature of Islamism with Tariq Ramadan, joined by Anas Altikriti, Yasmin Alibhai Brown, and Professor Alan Johnson.

Nabeel Koury writes on US military assistance to Iraq, at a time of increased political conflict in the country (much of it on sectarian lines), and in the shadows of the Syrian Civil War, and the potential for closer cooperation with Iran.

Sub-Saharan Africa

In the wake of Sunday's Mombasa church attack, Al Jazeera's Inside Story explores the situation for Somali refugees in Kenya, as the government seeks to combat cross-border militants.

In Nigeria, Boko Haram has released a new video showing the group's attack on the Giwa Barracks in Maiduguri. John Campbell explains what can be learned. Meanwhile, the BBC's Will Ross has a shocking account of two women abducted by Boko Haram.

Central and South Asia

In the Indian Express, Christophe Jaffrelot says India's middle class is likely to vote for Narendra Modi as it views him as a 'super-CEO', but that ethno-religious connotations will also be a factor amongst a 'neo-middle class' imbued with forms of intense Hindu religiosity.

In Pakistan, as the government continues negotiations with the Pakistani Taliban, Dr Mohammad Taqi disputes prospects for lasting peace in the absence of a solution to the status of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Meanwhile, PBS Newshour followed up last week's New York Times revelation of officials' knowledge of Osama bin Laden's whereabouts with an interview with Dan Markey of the Council on Foreign Relations.

In the first of a monthly series on post-2014 scenarios for Afghanistan, Michael Kugelman assesses the possibilities of the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban formally joining forces.

South East Asia

With the ongoing democratic transition in Myanmar, leading South East Asian researcher Nehginpao Kipgen looks at challenges ahead in the run up to the 2015 election.

While much attention has been focussed on the the conflict in southern Thailand, an area in the north east of the country is also striving to maintain its own identity. The Guardian highlights this issue in an article by Bruno Philip.

After years of negotiations, the Philippine government signed a peace deal this week with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Europe

While the international community continues to debate the appropriate response to Russia's annexation of Crimea, Halya Coynash dissects Russia's claims that Ukraine is in the grip of rampant anti-Semitism – and that Jews who supported the government in Kiev were "bringing on a second Holocaust".

World

An organisation that supports Christians worldwide, Open Doors has released a report which finds that persecution of Christians has continued to increase and is becoming more intense in more countries.