Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

At a Glance

Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

20 Nov 2014

In the Roundup this week we examine Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi's recent audio-tape as well as the importance of political candidates and religious leaders in ensuring peaceful elections in Nigeria. We also highlight rising tensions in Jerusalem after recent brutal attacks, sectarian violence in Pakistan, and the Institute for Economics and Peace's new Global Terrorism Index released this week.

Top Stories

ISIS: On Thursday 13 November an audio recording of ISIS leader Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi was released by the group on social media networks. The Centre on Religion & Geopolitics identifies nine points that reveal the strategy and objectives of ISIS, including subtext, religious significance of the language and the effect that Muslim scholarly criticisms are having.

Nigeria: As  Nigeria's national election cycle gets into full swing, Emily Mellgard argues that the rhetoric and actions of candidates and religious leaders will influence whether the elections are peaceful. Boko Haram's growing control of territory in the northeast and capacity to disrupt elections will also have an impact on the legitimacy of the results.

Middle East & North Africa

Libya: In a video report, VICE News meets members and supporters of Fajr Libya and Ansar al-Sharia, the largest rebel militia associations in Libya, examining the motivations and objectives of the groups that now control large swathes of the country. 

Iraq/Syria: Paul Wood's investigation into ISIS' kidnapping operations demonstrates how many actions of the so-called 'Islamic State' are driven more by greed, profiteering and opportunistic criminality than by religion.

Lebanon: Internal divisions have led to a postponement of elections, due to have been held last week, for another two and a half years over security fears, says Hussein Kalout. But unless deadlock among the parties and alliances is broken, Lebanon is at serious risk of anarchy and already the political turmoil is allowing the country to be used as a breeding ground for Islamist groups.

Jerusalem: This week's attack on worshippers at a synagogue in Jerusalem has brought condemnation from around the world. It is particularly disturbing, at a time of rising tension in Jerusalem, for its religious setting. Israeli and Palestinian leaders must act to prevent the conflict becoming a holy war, writes the Guardian. For a background on the current tensions, see this Centre on Religion & Geopolitics Briefing Note.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Nigeria: The new emir of Kano, Muhammad Sanusi has broken the tradition of elite religious leaders remaining above politics in his most recent Friday sermon to warn Nigerians not to rely on the Nigerian military to protect them, but to "acquire what they need" to protect themselves. Will Ross analyses the continuing violence and Sanusi's history of opposition to the government. 

Somalia: After the fall of Barawe in Somalia, the last coastal al-Shabaab stronghold,  Simon Ostrovsky discusses in a video the advances of AMISOM forces against al-Shabaab, and the militant group's changing tactics in the face of their losses of territory. 

South & Central Asia

Pakistan: Two new reports from USIP highlight the rising sectarian violence in Pakistan and analyse the unique position religious leaders are in to promote tolerance and peace between communities. The Centre on Religion & Geopolitics draws out the key findings and recommendations.

Pakistan: A new report from Steve Coll looks at the difficult history of drone use in the ongoing war against militants in North Waziristan, analysing civilian casualties and presenting the drone as a symbol of the trickiness of US / Pakistan relations over counter-terrorism activities in the region.

Russia/Central Asia: Two recently released reports by Chatham House examine the concept of Islamic 'revival' in post-Soviet states, looking at the validity of common perceptions of the role of transnational Islamist movements in the changing dynamics of religious observance in Central Asia, as well as the impact of the recent crisis in Crimea. The Centre on Religion & Geopolitics draws out the key findings.

East & South East Asia

Myanmar: After a week which saw President Obama meeting leaders in Myanmar and doubt cast on the chances of Aung San Suu Kyi being able to run for president, David Burrowes MP reports back from a country where he sees hope, but also scepticism and fear. The fear being the plight of the Rohingya Muslims who are in a dire humanitarian situation and the risk of further anti-Muslim hatred and extremist Buddhist nationalism.

Philippines: Ever since the peace agreement between the government in the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, there has been silence, but Dara McLeod reports from Zamboanga on the one year anniversary since fighting broke out between the Moro National Liberation Front and the Philippine army. McLeod draws attention to the number still displaced because of the conflict, particularly the minority Muslims, and calls for more to be done by international humanitarian organisations.


World: There have been multiple warnings from high-profile figures including the Prince of Wales in recent weeks of the growing threat of religious persecution across the world. Caroline Wyatt examines why religious persecution seems to be growing.

Global Terrorism: In the second edition of their Index on the impact of terrorism worldwide, the Institute for Economics and Peace finds an increase in terrorist attacks in 2013, dominated by ISIS, Boko Haram, al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The Centre on Religion & Geopolitics draws out the key findings. 


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