Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

At a Glance

Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

02 Jul 2015

In the Roundup this week, we look at recent attacks by Boko Haram in Chad, explore the ideological underpinning of ISIS, and analyse the roots of rising sectarian tensions in India.

We also highlight comment and analysis on who might replace the late leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as al-Qaeda's 'General Manager,' the prospects of Mali's recent peace agreement, the presence of Afghan fighters in Syria, and how sectarian violence has influence the latest Global Peace Index.

Top Stories

Chad: The recent attacks in Chad by Boko Haram are not surprising. Chad is at the centre of the campaign against the group and Boko Haram aims to undermine its legitimacy, says Emily Mellgard.

ISIS' Ideology: As consensus grows behind the need for an approach to ISIS that addresses its appeal as well as its military capability, Milo Comerford explores the group's ideological framework.

Middle East & North Africa

Syria: Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaeda, faces a dilemma over the replacement of Nasir al-Wuhayshi, its 'General Manager,' who was killed in an airstrike in June, writes Jennifer Cafarella. Traditionally, the position has been filled by someone who fought with Osama bin Laden. However, the leader of al-Qaeda's current most successful affiliate does not meet that requirement.

Lebanon: Although the majority of world faiths promote messages of tolerance and compassion, violence is often carried out with support from religious edicts or with the backing of religious groups. Michael T. Hoffman and Elizabeth R. Nugent look at Lebanon and how religion has influenced militancy in the country.

Iraq: Iraq's battles against insurgency are meant to be led by cross-sectarian national security forces, but in the current battle against ISIS, Iran-backed Shia militias has risen to prominence. Kirk H. Sowell discovers the implications of backing the Shia militias and its effect on sectarianism in Iraq.

Turkey: Kurds on both sides of Turkey's border with Syria have made great strides in their quest for autonomy. In Syria they have achieved military gains, while in Turkey their gains have been political. Micha'el Tanchum explores how these advances could benefit the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Part in its quest to unite the Middle East's 30 million Kurds.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Mali: Following the signing on 20 June of a peace agreement between the Malian government and Islamist and separatist rebels, there is relief that the parties have formalised their year-long negotiations, but Cyril Bensimon claims many doubt that the agreement will be implemented. 

Mali: A hostage video released on 22 June of a South African and a Swedish hostage held by militant groups in the Sahel highlights the dilemma faced by governments whose citizens are captured and held for ransom,  says Liesl Louw-Vaudran. Islamist groups in the Sahel, such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Boko Haram, finance themselves in part by the huge sums paid to free hostages. Groups have also demonstrated a willingness to kill hostages when governments will not pay for their release. 

Radicalisation: Several groups and individual women and girls from sub-Saharan Africa have, in recent months, travelled to join jihadi groups in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa, or attempted the journey. Irene Ndungu argues that social media and physical friendship and familial ties are equally important in the radicalisation process. 

South & Central Asia

India: India has a long history of religious pluralism and inter-communal harmony, in which conflict was rarely drawn on sectarian lines. However, a current of Hindu nationalism in the political sphere has left minorities feeling isolated, and world leaders have expressed concern about the country "splitting along religious lines," writes Zoya Hasan in our new India situation report.

India: In a wide-ranging study of India's Muslim community, the second largest in the world,  James Traub asks whether Hindu nationalism is jeapordising the security of the minority. He claims that India's political system is naturally geared towards protecting vocal minorities, but that this comes at the expense of an ability to forge political consensus around much needed reform.

Afghanistan: Speaking to two Afghans imprisoned by rebels near Aleppo in Syria,  Christoph Reuter claims that with the internationalisation of the war in Syria has turned the country into an odd meeting place for Afghans, as largely Shia Hazara mercenaries paid by Iran to fight for the Assad regime encounter Sunni jihadis who have joined ISIS and other Sunni rebel groups.

East & South East Asia

Myanmar: With world attention focused on resolving the plight of Rohingya Muslims, Elliot Brennan and Christopher O'Hara investigate the history of the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation, a group accused of having links with extremism. Evidence suggests that many of these accusations are a myth, and have helped to aid anti-Muslim sentiment against the Rohingya.

Thailand: As violence returns to the mostly Muslim southern provinces of the country, Zachary Abuza examines why the recent attacks, and why fears that the insurgency may be part of the extremist narrative being exploited by ISIS, are exaggerated.


UK: While sectarianism in the Middle East is often cited as the major cause of conflict in the region, there is a growing fear that it is creeping into Britain's Muslim community. The Economist explores how identity politics in the Middle East are affecting Muslims in the UK.

UK: While there has been plenty said about young British Muslims travelling to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS, little has been heard from the individuals themselves. Nina Arif documents her social media contact with one such individual, Abu Taubah, in an effort to understand the lure of ISIS. 


Peace and Conflict: The growing gap between the most and least peaceful countries has been driven by rising conflicts and terrorism. An acceptance of the rights of others is needed to tackle this, writes Murray Ackman.

State Pressures: Deepening instability in many countries across the world, particularly in the Middle East with rise of ISIS, dominate the Fund for Peace's Fragile States Index. The Centre on Religion & Geopolitics draws out the key points.


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