Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

At a Glance

Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

27 Nov 2014

In the Roundup this week, Professor Philip Jenkins argues for an understanding of contemporary conflicts that draws from historical context and Ambassador John Campbell considers the multiple political challenges facing Nigeria.

We also bring reaction to the horrific al-Shabaab bus attack in Kenya and the changes to religious demography being wrought by the inflow of refugees to Lebanon. Meanwhile, new reports from Amnesty International and Oxfam examine blasphemy convictions in Indonesia and the role of women in negotiations with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Top Stories

Religious Extremism: To understand religious conflict, Professor Philip Jenkins argues that we need to take a long view of history and that failure to reflect internally and learn from our own experiences risks misunderstanding drivers of current conflicts.

Nigeria: As  Nigeria continues to be ravaged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram,  Ambassador John Campbell publishes a timely report on the plurality of issues facing the nation and offers US policy-makers practical short and long-term policy suggestions.

Middle East & North Africa

Israel: The bill approved by the Israeli cabinet last weekend to define Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people has raised significant controversy both within Israel and overseas. The Editorial Board of the New York Times argues that such a decision is dangerous for Israel and the rights of all its citizens.

Lebanon: More than a quarter of Lebanon's population is now made up of refugees from Syria, who are unlikely to be able to return home in the near future. The resulting changes to Lebanon's religious mosaic and internal security need to be recognised, writes Aron Lund.

Iraq: The rise of ISIS has raised the profile of Iraq's Kurdish minority, whose fighters represent one of the country's key lines of defence against the jihadis. This development may also help to bring Iraq and the Kurds closer to a resolution of a dispute over oil that has long affected their relationship, argues Keith Johnson.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Kenya: Following an attack on a bus in Mandera claimed by al-Shabaab,  Bosire Boniface lays out the events, reactions and implications of the attack. In its wake, President Uhuru Kenyatta released a public statement condemning the atrocity and calling on Muslims to support security operations.  

Central African Republic: The Catholic Archbishop of Bangui, Dieudonné Nzapalainga, Imam Omar Kabine Layama and Protestant Reverend Nicolas Guérékoyama spoke this week at the US Institute of Peace about their Interfaith Initiative and work in the CAR to bring peace. They argue that political motivations and the desire to control national resources are the roots of the nation's conflicts, rather than religion. 

Nigeria: In the wake of a series of suicide bombings carried out by women, Elizabeth Pearson contemplates whether this development is an act of desperation or intended as a diversion from Boko Haram's continued territorial seizures in the northeast and a propaganda tactic to increase fear and international media attention. 

Nigeria: A recent report from the International Crisis Group (ICG) examines the likely motivations for violence in Nigeria's upcoming elections. The Centre on Religion & Geopolitics draws out some key aspects.

South & Central Asia

Pakistan: The vigilante killing of a Pakistani Christian couple has brought the country's blasphemy laws back into the international spotlight, as well as Pakistan's wider problems of religious extremism and militancy.  Maham Javaid examines the changing legal status of communal violence in Pakistan's history and how the laws have been used as a tool of political power.

Afghanistan: A new report from Oxfam argues for the central importance of the role of women in negotiations between the Taliban and the new unity government. The report finds that religious elements are often some of the strongest voices for the reversal of the increasing rights of women, often held up as one of the most tangible gains of the international intervention in Afghanistan.

India: Constitutional secularism in India demands a clear separation of personal faith and the formation of state policies. C. Raja Mohan states that Indians would be right to be concerned if the Hindutva ideology associated with the ruling BJP were to begin to influence the nation's foreign policy, but there are no signs of that happening as yet.

South Asia: ISIS has made clear its ambition to take its fight to South Asia.  SK Chatterji makes the case that this threat should not be underestimated, looking closely at several countries in particularly vulnerable positions.

East & South East Asia

Indonesia: Amnesty International highlights a rise in the number of blasphemy convictions over the past decade in Indonesia. The report says they are encouraged by what new President Joko Widodo has said on tackling human rights but encourages more to be done to protect religious minorities in the country.

Myanmar: As the debate continues over a constitutional change in Myanmar to allow Aung San Suu Kyi to run for President and with a United Nations resolution passed calling for the protection of human rights and religious minorities in the country, Andrew Marshall reports from Rakhine state on the growing numbers of Rakhine Buddhists leaving the region, alongside the plight of the Rohingya Muslims.

Thailand: Ever since the coup in May 2014, peace talks aimed at the insurgency in the south of Thailand have stalled.  Tan Hui Yee reports from Betong in Pattani where the conflict between Buddhist nationalists and Malay Muslims has continued and has recently been stoked further by an increased military presence.


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