Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

At a Glance

Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

28 Feb 2014

The events in Ukraine do not fit the mould of a conventional religious conflict (if, indeed, there is ever such a thing). But concerns have already been raised about the way Jews have become a convenient scapegoat. Timothy Snyder's New York Times piece below provides the degree of nuance necessary to a better understanding of the growing tensions in the region.

Also worthy of praise is African Arguments, the blog of the Royal African Society. This week there are some fine featured posts on the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Niger, Ethiopia and Rwanda. It is also worth looking at the latest on the Asia-Pacific region from The Diplomat.

In other news, Al Monitor – a website focused on the Middle East mentioned in last week's digest – has been awarded the International Press Institute's press freedom prize.

At times, we hope to draw attention to new bloggers and tweeters on subjects of interest or from within conflict zones themselves. This week we discovered this extraordinary piece by "Marwa", author of the Between a Veil and a Dark Place blog. This former Muslim writes with great humanity about growing up within Hezbollah culture. From inside Aleppo, Syria we have also been struck by the posts of another anonymous writer, Edward Dark, who tweets his thoughts on the conflict and also writes for Al-Monitor.

Top Stories

Lyse Doucet reports from the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Syria. Once the thriving home of 180 000 Palestinian refugees, it has been under siege since July 2012. Now, under a fragile agreement, the UN is bringing in aid.

Timothy Snyder assesses the nature of Ukraine's revolution, the opposing ideals of a democratic EU against an autocratic Putin-dominated union, and the strains of anti-Semitism running through both camps. Meanwhile, as tension grows in the Crimea, the Tatar minority feels threatened.

On IndiaSunny Hundal examines the political and cultural strength of the Hindu Nationalist movement, as Penguin's withdrawal of a book on Hinduism for fear of causing offence continues to draw comment. Meanwhile, Shivprasad Swaminathan writes that India's penal code obliges people to self-censor out of fear of prosecution.

Carnegie's Aron Lund wrote a fascinating two part piece on Syria, looking at Abu Khaled al-Suri: the leader of Ahrar al-Sham, killed by ISIS this week, and misleadingly reported in much of the press as the leader of al-Qaeda in Syria ( part two here).

With the growing number of revolutionary disturbances across the world, Simon Tisdall writing in the Guardian looks at what they all have in common. While every situation is different, the commonalities include misgovernance, weak institutions, a poor economy, falling social cohesion and more.

In other news, Mark Steel writes an amusing piece in the Independent about why Richard Dawkins is wasting his time.

Middle East and North Africa

Writing on EgyptLouisa Loveluck has a fascinating and horrific account of the Rabaa mosque clearance in the Global Post. Whilst valuable and largely balanced, it lacks much eyewitness or video evidence from observers among the residents or the security forces, which would have strengthened the piece.

Aymenn al-Tamimi reports on Syria that ISIS have imposed a 'dhimmi pact' on minorities in Raqqah province. Along with a good explanation of what that means, he provides a translation of the decree, which is fascinating reading in its own right.

In yet another deadly week in Iraq, the Washington Post reports on the Iraqi army's struggles against insurgents in Anbar.

Phillip Smyth argues in The National that increasing sectarianism in Syria will continue to have repercussions in Lebanon, noting escalating tensions between Shi'a and Sunni groups on both sides of the border and quoting jihadi expert Aaron Zelin as saying 'the conflict is viewed as existential by both sides'.

In the Wall Street Journal this week, Joshua Mitnick reports on Jerusalem on renewed disturbances at Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif and looks at the history behind this.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Matt Bryden assesses the reinvention of Al Shabaab in Somalia, including the purge in 2013 by its leader of his rivals and the shift towards a more unified and extremist ideology.

The United Nations Development Agency launched an initiative this week to promote peace-building and social cohesion in the Central African Republic (CAR). Meanwhile, religious leaders within the CAR have spoken out to say how the media is wrong to report it as a "religious war".

With yet another attack on a school in Nigeria by Boko Haram this week, John Campbell echoes the questions of a Muslim rights organisation: why does the government always appear to be on the defensive, while Boko Haram is attacking?

Central and South Asia

The Indian Express explores recent engagement between India and the GCC countries, with Narendra Modi's past reputation and the Hindu nationalist BJP's expected election victory among many factors that will affect the country's diplomatic relations.

After last week's peace talks in Pakistan with the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) appeared to collapse, the Washington Post expects a major military operation against the TTP and its allies in North Waziristan. Al Jazeera have produced an interactive guide to understanding the province.

Zahid Hussain reflects that the strikes in North Waziristan leaves Pakistan supporting the same forces in Syria as it is fighting at home and illustrates the government's failure to construct an adequate counter-terrorism narrative.

In Afghanistan President Karzai's refusal to sign the bilateral security agreement has left the US preparing for 'zero option': the total withdrawal of US troops in 2014. Matt Waldman and Michael Keating suggest the need for the US to remain engaged is underscored by recent violence, and propose giving support for the upcoming electoral the first priority.

South East Asia

In a new Lowy Institute report, David McRae looks at Indonesia's struggle to be a presence on the world stage, including how their foreign policy will take up Muslim concerns rather than be driven by Islamic principles.