Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

At a Glance

Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

04 Dec 2014

In this week's Roundup, we look at whether Friday's horrific bomb attack in Nigeria represents a change in the pattern of violence in the country. We also highlight how the recently released 2014 Global Terrorism Index can help to inform policy makers.

Karen Armstrong argues that ISIS draws its ideology from a relatively recent phenomenon, and a new report from the International Crisis Group looks at the prospects of peace in southern Thailand. Meanwhile, John Horgan and Charles Moore each examine the peculiar challenge of deradicalisation and security.

Top Stories

Global Terrorism: The 2014 Global Terrorism Index, recently added to the Centre on Religion & Geopolitics' online data section, is an important tool for better understanding changes in global terrorism, writes Anthony Measures.

Nigeria: A briefing note looks at the attack on Kano's Central Mosque on Friday 28 November 2014, suggesting that while vicious on a scale rarely seen previously, it is not necessarily a turning point in the ongoing battle to control Nigeria's religious narrative. 

Middle East and North Africa

ISIS: ISIS is neither typical of Islamic movements, nor mired in a medieval past, writes Karen Armstrong. Instead, its roots are in Wahhabism, the form of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, a new report from Brookings provides a historical analytical profile of the so-called 'Islamic State', looking deep into its origins, its objectives, and how the threat can be confronted. A report from the Centre on Religion & Geopolitics extracts the key points.

Israel/Palestine: The proposal to promote Israel's identity as a Jewish state above the principle of democracy is fundamentally flawed and harmful, declares the President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin. Meanwhile, Nathan Thrall looks at how entrenched attitudes in Jerusalem mirror the failure to make progress towards peace in Israel and Palestine.

Syria: Syria's Alawite community is divided, with discontent at the President's policies growing, especially outside his own clan. But this is not necessarily good news for the opposition: while many dislike Assad, they fear the rebels more, argues Oula Abdulhamid Alrifai.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Kenya: There has been a series of al-Shabaab attacks in recent weeks. The Economist analyses how these attacks are degrading public confidence in the security forces. Meanwhile, Jeremy Lind looks into wider Kenyan security issues and questions whether there is a nationwide security meltdown highlighted by the increase in religious violence but underpinned by security priorities set by the presidency that do not, as Patrick Gathara writes, address the issues of Kenyans under attack, but only the elites. 

Nigeria: Vigilantes are becoming increasingly important in the fight against Boko Haram. Will Ross finds that most are local to northern Nigeria and many are Muslim. While they are ill-equiped to fight insurgents who increasingly have sophisticated weaponry, they consider it their national duty to fight back especially as the humanitarian disaster around the insurgency escalates, as highlighted by IRIN and the UNHCR

Cameroon: While the Boko Haram insurgency is primarily directed against Nigeria, it does conduct cross border attacks. IRIN highlights the impact it has had on the Far North Region of Cameroon this year where it has forced nearly seventy schools to close, families to flee with their children and teachers to refuse to travel to certain towns due to insecurity. 

Central African Republic: Members of the loosely organised, mostly Christian and animist 'anti-balaka' militia plan to lay down their weapons and form a political party according to a Reuters report.

South and Central Asia

Afghanistan: As NATO troops prepare to depart from Afghanistan, China has made clear its interest in playing a greater role in supporting stability in the country. Ahmed Rashid looks at China's interests in the wider central Asia region and its potential advantages as a peacemaker. Meanwhile, Clár Ní Chonghaile considers the challenges faced by Afghanistan as it begins a new phase of development without the presence of foreign troops.

IndiaMichael Vurens van Es looks at the view from Kashmir on the resettlement of Hindu Pandits in the region, a question that is heavily influenced by concerns over sectarianism, security and demographics in relation to elections to the regional legislative assembly.

East and South East Asia

China: Following talks between President Obama and the Chinese President in November on joint efforts to counter terrorism,  Kevin Peters assesses how intently the two countries will be able to work together, particularly when the issue of the Muslim Uyghur community is still drawing international attention to China's religious and human rights practices.

Thailand: As the leaders of Thailand and Malaysia restart peace talks over the southern insurgency, the International Crisis Group publishes a report examining the causes of the coup in May 2014, warning of further violent conflict and looking at the prospects for dialogue with militant groups in the south.

Philippines: As the people of the Muslim autonomous region of Mindanao await the conclusion of public hearings to ratify a Basic Law for the area, Rodger Shanahan asks if this will finally bring peace to this part of the Philippines, after the signing of a peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in March 2014.

Myanmar: The plight of the Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar has been well documented, but Andrew R.C. Marshall investigates differing reports of the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO) who have reportedly carried out numerous attacks, with some saying the group could radicalise the Muslim community and others suggesting the militancy is a myth.


Catholic Church: One of the objectives of Pope Francis's recent visit to Turkey was to gain support in protecting Christian communties threatened by growing sectarianism in Iraq and Syria, but the Pope will have to contend with numerous geopolitical and diplomatic sensitivities relating to the Catholic Church's historical relationship with both Muslim-majority states and the Eastern Orthodox church, writes Victor Gaetan. Meanwhile The Economist analyses the highly successful use of diplomatic tools by the Pope and other religious leaders during his visit to Turkey.

Deradicalisation & Security: With foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq wishing to return to their home countries, assessing the way we approach deradicalisation is ever more vital. But with sparse data on how deradicalisation works, the risks are high, says John Horgan. There is also an urgent need for security services to understand the political and theological factors driving processes of radicalisation, argues Charles Moore, in addition to working to prevent individual acts of violent extremism from taking place.


Sign up to receive the Roundup

Sign up to the Centre on Religion & Geopolitics' Roundup to receive weekly updates with the latest commentary, analysis and news on the role of religion in conflict zones. Sign up here.