Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

At a Glance

Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

18 Dec 2014

In the Roundup this week, after the horrific massacre of children in Pakistan provokes shock and outrage we analyse the emergence and ideology of the group responsible, the Pakistani Taliban.

Yezid Sayigh asks whether Assad's recent advances in the Syrian civil war show that victory for the regime is possible, and Cleophus Tres Thomas III examines the security challenges for Kenya in a context of a rise in sectarian violence in the country. We also look at China's delicate role in opposition to extremism.

Top Stories

Pakistan: After the devastating attack by the Pakistani Taliban on a school in Peshawar, Milo Comerford looks at the emergence and ideology of the group.

Pakistan: The international community must provide sustained engagement to help Pakistan escape a self-perpetuating cycle of religious discrimination and sectarian violence, writes Knox Thames.

Middle East & North Africa

Syria: The Syrian civil war has restored the fortunes of the country's branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, attracting many youth to its base. While recent elections to its leadership appointed a member of its old guard as Comptroller General, power may be shifting to the new generation, writes Raphaël Lefèvre.

Meanwhile, the regime's recent advances have encouraged it to believe that a military victory is possible, writes Yezid Sayigh. However, it is short on funds and manpower, and the longer the war goes on, the less support it will have even from its own constituencies. 

Iraq: It was hoped that Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi would be less of a polarising figure than his predecessor Nouri al-Maliki, says Gopal Ratnam. But Chuck Hagel's recent visit to Baghdad has raised fears that not much will change for Iraq's Sunni tribes. 

The Arab Uprisings: Four years on from the start of the so-called Arab Spring, much of the change that has taken place in the region has been for the worse, and radical groups have benefited more than liberal ones. The reason, suggests Jon B. Alterman, is that such groups learnt many lessons from the uprisings, taking advantage of its opportunities without the need to inspire a mass movement.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Kenya: As Kenya grapples with religious violence, rising radicalisation is exacerbated by challenges facing moderate religious leaders and the need for a new security strategy, writes Cleophus Tres Thomas III.

Somalia: Philipp Sandner considers the rise and trajectory of the militant group al-Shabaab, which has been responsible for much of Kenya's recent violence.

Central African Republic: Instability remains rife in the CAR. Peter Bouckaert speaks with Central Africans who have fled the violence and are now left with little or nothing from their former lives. Many are Muslim and fear that they now have no place to go back to in the CAR. 

Nigeria: Violence by Boko Haram in Nigeria has caused an increasing number of IDPs and refugees. IRIN looks into the developing food crisis in Niger's Diffa region where nearly 90,000 refugees have fled this year alone. 

East Asia, South East Asia & Oceania

Australia: Background information uncovered on the Sydney hostage taker Man Haron Monis reveals evidence of mental instability, a history of sexual violence, and rejection by Australian Muslim communities. BBC News gathers the evidence available on the man who appears to have been a 'lone wolf' violent extremist.

Meanwhile, only hours after the Sydney hostage crisis began, Australians began tweeting #Illridewithyou to show their support for Muslims concerned about their safety on public transport because of potential anti-Muslim reactions to the crisis. Amy Davidson looks at the background to the crisis and its impact on Australian society.

Myanmar: The narrative of the Buddhist identity of Myanmar being under threat from Islam is widespread in Burmese society. However, it must not become the dominant narrative in Buddhist Sunday school education, in order to help protect Burmese students against religious intolerance, argues Matthew J Walton. See our Myanmar situation report for more background.

China: China has been considering the possibility of taking part in military action against ISIS in recent months, and Chinese officials have reported that around 300 of their citizens are fighting with jihadis in Iraq and Syria. But the Chinese response to international extremism is inherently linked to their policies towards the restive Muslim Uigher minority in China, and because of this their rhetoric cannot be taken at face value, writes Massoud Hayyoun.

South & Central Asia

India: In a week in which India's Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj declared that the Hindu scripture Bhagavad-Gita should be considered a "national scripture",  Rama Lakshmi looks into allegations of widespread forced conversions of Muslim and Christian communities to Hinduism, claiming the situation on the ground is more complex than it might seem. 


Religious Extremism: In an increasingly nuanced policy context of countering violent extremism, Knox Thames outlines a strategy that recognises the importance of religion as an ideological motivator, while promoting religious freedom and pluralism to counter narratives of religious extremism.

Journalism: There was a time when jihadi groups treated journalists as mouthpieces rather than spies, recalls Jeffrey Goldberg, a Jewish reporter who encountered more curiosity than condemnation when discussing his faith with jihadis before 9/11.  

Global attitudes: Perceptions of socio-economic and religious issues can very often fall wide of the mark, finds a study by Ipsos Mori. A Centre on Religion & Geopolitics report looks at the key findings.

The Religion & Geopolitics Roundup will return on 8 January 2015.