Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

At a Glance

Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

16 Oct 2014

This week's Roundup discusses a number of perspectives on ISIS, including religious counter-arguments, and historical and political trends in the region, which have led to the current situation. We also look at positive counter-narratives to division and oppression in the Indian sub-continent and Lebanon, and the importance of education for security.

Top Stories

Iraq/Syria: As ISIS dominates the world media and foreign fighters flock to join their fight, Peter Welby examines four publications by Muslim scholars that attack the religious authority ISIS claims for itself.

Middle East: The upheaval rocking the Middle East has two tendencies at its core, writes Eric Brown. First, to retrench into narrow communities and groups, and second to seek security in larger movements, including Islamism and regional rivalry.

Middle East and North Africa

Syria: The civil war in Syria, now characterised by brutal sectarianism, is being fought in a country once known for pluralism and tolerance. David Lesch explains how Syria's rich religious background and colonial history paved the way to the current conflict.

Iraq: Two recently published reports from Amnesty International and the Institute for the Study of War reveal the depth of Iraq's sectarian problems beyond the battle between ISIS and regime forces. The reports examine the range of Shia and Sunni militias engaging in sectarian conflict and undermining the prospects of peace. The  Centre on Religion & Geopolitics reviews the key findings.

Turkey: The government's Syria policy – in particular its inaction over the ISIS siege of Kobane – risks derailing Turkey's peace talks with the Kurdish PKK, writes Sinan Ülgen. Viewing the Assad regime as the root of all Syria's problems is preventing Turkey's leadership from responding effectively to the combined threat of ISIS, Kurdish separatists, and a burgeoning refugee population. 

Lebanon: The restoration of a synagogue in Beirut has brought hope to some Lebanese that the decline of the Jewish community in the country – now numbering about 200, but still one of Lebanon's official sects – can be reversed, writes Adam Rasmi. But relations between Israel and Lebanon make a resurgence of the community unlikely.

Yemen: Peter Salisbury relates the remarkable evolution of the Houthi movement homegrown Shia militia to Yemen's current most powerful paramilitary force. Its seizure of the levers of government in September was a coup so stealthy that the world hardly noticed, says Charles Schmitz.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Mali: The world ignores the Islamist-nationalist insurgency in Mali at their peril, argues Colum Lynch. The country is the deadliest place for UN peacekeepers who are unprepared for the resurgence of Islamist activity. IRIN reports on abuses suffered by Malians, particularly minority communities in the north.

Nigeria: On the six month anniversary of the kidnap of over two hundred schoolgirls from Chibok in  NigeriaThe Independent publishes an open letter from a range of public figures to the UN, calling for Commonwealth-led military and intelligece assistance to Nigeria and an inquiry into international financiers of Boko Haram. 

Nigeria: The National Security Advisor, Col. Mohammed Sambo Dasuki, is altering the national education curriculum and setting up programmes in prisons and communities in an attempt to mitigate radicalisation in Africa's largest country, writes Adebiyi Adedapo. Dasuki's work is timely as this week marked the six month anniversary . 

Central and South Asia

India: A number of overlapping geopolitical factors are behind India's reticence to intervene in the face of crises in the Middle East despite its strategic interest in the region,  argues Shashank Joshi. This isolationism partly arises from an institutional wariness that associates Western intervention with the growth and spread of radical Islam, alongside a desire to preserve the regional status quo. 

South Asia: This week a Hindu and a Muslim activist from either side of the India/ Pakistan border were recognised by the Nobel Peace Prize committee for their "common struggle for education and against extremism". David Rothkopf makes the case that empowering Muslim women is key to degrading jihadi narratives around the world.

Afghanistan: In a new report, the  International Crisis Group examines the politics surrounding the deeply contested 2014 presidential election in Afghanistan. The report's recommendations for the new unity government, include meaningful political engagement with insurgents.

South East Asia

Myanmar: Bertil Lintner takes a detailed look at why the leader of al-Qaeda was so wrong when he came out in support of the Rohingya Muslims in the country. Meanwhile, Emanuel Stoakes continues the debate around the proposed government action plan and the Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State.

Cambodia: As reports emerge of a small group of ISIS sympathisers in Cambodia, Milton Osborne examines the history of the country's Islamic minority, a group about which little is known, but where there are suggestions that the more orthodox community has become less integrated, making them more exposed to extremist actions.


Response to Extremism: ISIS and its fellow jihadi groups require a global, holistic and long-term response that offers a new and compelling narrative, writes Justin Welby. Religious and ideological justifications for conflict must be tackled ideologically, in a winnable struggle for the heart and the spirit.

Education & Security: Unless the underlying narrative supporting radical Islamist groups like ISIS, al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, and al-Qaeda are addressed, the chimera of jihadi groups will never be defeated argues Tony Blair.

Al-Qaeda: With the global battle for control of the jihadi movement continuing between ISIS and al-Qaeda, Clint Watts looks at the groups' relative strengths across the world, finding that Yemen is the key to al-Qaeda remaining a potent force. 


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