Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

At a Glance

Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

23 Oct 2014

The Roundup this week features several articles analysing the religious ideology underpinning ISIS propaganda. We also look at the alleged ceasefire between Nigerian authorities and Boko Haram, the increasing use of blasphemy laws in Pakistan and the challenges of inter-religious discord in the pluralistic societies of Indonesia and Myanmar.

Top Stories

ISIS: The ISIS claim to a caliphate has been rejected by Muslim scholars all over the world. But ISIS does not depend on traditional Islamic authority; instead, it believes that its conquests give support to its claims, writes Adam Hoffman

ISIS: Following the publication of the latest issue of the ISIS magazine Dabiq, the  Centre on Religion & Geopolitics examines how it aims to boost the organisation's religious legitimacy and rally support, and how its claims fail to stand up to scrutiny. 

Middle East and North Africa

Saudi Arabia: The Saudis have declared ISIS a terrorist group, and have committed to joining the fight against it. Yet there are also commonalities between the religious foundations of ISIS and the Saudi state, and the group does not lack sympathisers within the country. Glen Carey looks at this increasingly complex relationship. 

Iraq/Syria: While countries around the world consider the security threat posed by ISIS, Alice Su looks at the humanitarian impact of the crisis, meeting internally displaced people inside Iraq and examining ISIS' brutal treatment of those under its control, particularly religious minorities. 

Saudi Arabia: Amid the growing sectarian discord in Saudi Arabia and allegations of discrimination and abuse against the Shia minority,  Human Rights Watch reports on the death sentence given to a prominent Shia cleric in the country.  

Iran: The Supreme Leader of Iran Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is now 75 and suffering from poor health. Bozorgmehr Sharafedin explains the centrality of Khamenei to Iranian politics and asks, 'Who will be Iran's next Supreme Leader?'.

Israel/Palestine: Israel's new President Reuven Rivlin, both conservative and outspoken on the rights of Palestinians, defies simple categorisation in a conflict often categorised by binary narratives, writes David Remnick.

Jordan: In response to the threat from ISIS, Jordan is clamping down on who can preach and what can be said in the country's Friday prayers, report William Booth and Taylor Luck.

Turkey: With jihadi recruitment often linked to disenfranchisement and alienation, Gunes Murat Tezcur and Sabri Ciftci examine why so many well-integrated Turks are going to fight in Syria.

Yemen: The promise of national dialogue and reconciliation in Yemen has dissolved into a dangerous sectarian mix, write Fouad Siniora and Amr Moussa, proposing a joint Arab defence body as one measure that could support stability.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Central African Republic: Despite the presence of UN Peacekeepers in the CAR, violence and insecurity remain endemic. Illia Djadi discusses the recent kidnapping of Polish Catholic Priest Father Mateusz Dziedzic from Baboua in western CAR. Rebels from the Democratic Front of the Central African People group are demanding the release of their leader Abdoulaye Miskine from Cameroon in return for Father Dziedzic. 

Nigeria: Late last week the government of Nigeria announced the imminent release of the schoolgirls kidnapped from Chibok six months ago. Andrew Noakes argues that this claim is almost certainly, tragically, untrue. The language of the 'representatives of Boko Haram' is divergent from their normal rhetoric and there are pressing short-term political reasons to announce a ceasefire and release. 

Democratic Republic of the Congo: A little-known guerrilla group operating in the border region of the DRC and Uganda is accused of atrocities carried out last week in Beni town in the DRC's North Kivu province. The group follows a strict Islamist ideology,  writes Melodie Bouchaud, and may have links to al-Shabaab in Somalia. 

South and Central Asia

Afghanistan: After months of political deadlock, Afghanistan has completed the most peaceful handover of power in its history. However, according to a new International Crisis Group report, many challenges still lie ahead. The  Centre on Religion & Geopolitics draws out the key religious aspects of the conflict and the political transition from the report's findings and recommendations.

Pakistan: In Pakistan, Christian farmer Asia Bibi is facing execution for allegedly blaspheming against Islam. At least 16 others face the same fate on similar charges and two politicians who defended Bibi have been assassinated. Erasmus looks into the rationale behind blasphemy laws, which exist in the legislation of 46 countries including Ireland.

India: This week has seen controversy around the screening of a speech by the leader of the right-wing Hindu nationalist organisation, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), reports Rajesh Joshi. Prime Minister Modi, who was once a RSS worker, has not commented, but critics suggest the group still has militant tendencies, and the government has been accused of being under its influence.

East and South East Asia

China: The recent publication of a magazine by a so-called propaganda arm of al-Qaeda, appears to show that al-Qaeda has joined ISIS in condemning China for its handing of the Uighur Muslim population in the Xinjiang region, says Zachary Keck.

Indonesia: In the week of his inauguration, new president Joko Widodo speaks to Foreign Affairs in a wide ranging interview. Among other topics, he discusses the Islamist threat in Indonesia, saying that in dealing with extremism the country needs to address socio-economic inequality and do more to empower the people of Indonesia.

Myanmar: As it is announced that elections will be held in late 2015,   International Crisis Group release a report looking at the politics of Rakhine State in Myanmar and its complex mix of inter-communal and inter-religious tensions. The report finds that as well as the need for the rights of the Muslim Rohingya to be recognised, the diversity of opinions of the Rakhine Buddhists must also be addressed.

Thailand: As the Muslim Rohingya continue to seek refuge in Thailand, Jonathan Head reports from the Andaman coast where Thai authorities have been accused of selling Rohingyas to human traffickers, which, following the discovery of other captives from Bangladesh, is now seen as an organised slave trade.


Peace and Religion: The Institute for Economics and Peace publishes a substantial new report, which suggests there is no general causal link between religion and conflict. Their research finds that others factors such as corruption and political instability have a greater impact on possible country conflicts, with only 14 percent of conflicts in 2013 being motivated by religion alone.

UK: Richard Dart was convicted of preparing acts of terrorism in April 2013. Having previously made the film 'My Brother the Islamist' about Dart, his stepbrother Robb Leech reflects on the social factors that led his brother to extremism, and discusses potential solutions to radicalisation. 


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