Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

At a Glance

Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

08 Jan 2015

After Wednesday's appalling assault on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, this week's Roundup draws together analysis on the Salafi-jihadi current behind it, and the need to build effective counter-narratives.

Emily Mellgard examines the influence of religious leaders in Nigeria's forthcoming elections, and Carrie Gracie reports on the Uighur minority in China. We also look at the ghar wapsi (reconversion to Hinduism) phenomenon in India.

Top Stories

France: Following a horrific assault by jihadi gunmen on the offices of French magazine Charlie Hebdo, the Centre on Religion & Geopolitics examines the wider Salafi-jihadi ideological current.

France: The Paris murderers are blind to the compassion shown by the Prophet, and assaulted the very freedoms that allow Muslims to prosper in the West, writes Ed Husain.

Middle East and North Africa

Syria: This time last year, some Syrians were optimistic about the prospects of the Geneva II peace talks, but 2014 proved to be the bloodiest year in the conflict so far. Now, although further negotiations are planned to take place in Moscow this January, few Syrians have any hope that a solution will be found in 2015, writes Lina Sinjab.

Syria: A new report from Amnesty International details the refugee crisis in Syria, particularly highlighting the failures of the international response. The Centre on Religion & Geopolitics draws out the key findings.

Iraq/Syria: There is no silver bullet strategy that the  US can implement to destroy ISIS, argue Robert A. Pape, Keven Ruby, and Vincent Bauer. The strategy spectrum ranges from deploying ground troops to vastly expanding airstrikes and hoping for a grassroots Sunni, anti-ISIS campaign – but a successful strategy should employ airstrikes to impede the expansion of ISIS' territory, while local ground troops will be needed to prevent ISIS from consolidating control over territory it already holds: a 'hammer-and-anvil' approach.

Yemen: As the Houthi movement expands its influence in Yemen, clashing with other groups including al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Centre on Religion & Geopolitics looks at its origins, ideology and ambitions.

Orthodox Christians: Communities across the Middle East celebrated Orthodox Christmas this week, with festivities taking place across the region. However, as the Middle East Eye reports, violence has marred religious co-existence, and this year there is palpable increased tension in Christian communities across the region.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Kenya: On 2 January 2015, Kenya's high court suspended parts of a security bill that was passed and signed into law in December 2014,  reports IRIN. There has been international humanitarian outcry over the new law which many fear will cause the forced repatriation of Somali refugees.

Nigeria: As Nigeria's presidential elections approach in early 2015 and the candidates are chosen, religious leaders and elder statesmen weigh in to the debate, writes Emily Mellgard.

Central African Republic: Religious leaders are working alongside politicians and former rebel leaders to encourage peace and reconciliation in the CAR,  writes IRIN. A number of sporting events have taken place in religiously divided neighbourhoods in the capital Bangui, and the archbishop, the leader of the Evangelical Alliance, and head of the CAR's Muslim community also continue to organise an inter-faith forum. 

East and South East Asia

China: After a year in which violence in Xinjiang appears to have intensified, Carrie Gracie reports from the region, finding that religious oppression by the government on the Muslim Uighur community is targeting the general population, rather than the few militants reportedly behind the attacks.

China: It has been well documented that economic growth in China is in part the result of market mechanisms and modern technology, but Brian J. Grim reviews evidence suggesting that the people of China, their "Confucian culture" and particularly the growth of Christianity makes them "ambitious and hardworking...", linking these factors to economic development. 

Myanmar: As the build up to 2015 election begins, Oren Samet reviews the possible outcomes, finding that due to incumbency, the National League for Democracy party may not win such a commanding victory, and Aung San Suu Kyi has been left in an awkward position over the plight of the Rohingya Muslims. Meanwhile, Jonah Fisher interviews Aung San Suu Kyi about her prospects for the presidency.

Thailand: Seven months on from the May 2014 coup, the International Crisis Group examine the prospects for stability in Thailand. The Centre on Religion & Geopolitics draws out the key findings.

South and Central Asia

Pakistan: Three weeks on from the appalling attack by the Pakistani Taliban on a school in Peshawar,  Shairee Malhotra makes the case for this event to act as a wake up call for ordinary Pakistani's attitudes towards their armed forces. 

Afghanistan: After an upsurge of Taliban violence, and the group's declaration that international forces had been 'defeated' on the conclusion of their combat role in Afghanistan, James Stavridis writes optimistically about preserving tangible gains in the country; even in areas where Taliban influence is growing, there has been nothing like the collapse of security forces seen last year in Iraq.

India: The debate goes on about the ghar wapsi (homecoming or reconversion) ceremonies occurring around India, which claim to be converting Buddhist, Christian and Muslim communities 'back' to Hinduism. Saurav Datta argues, however, that the BJP's newly proposed anti-conversion laws give the government too much control over people's freedom of religion, amid an increased nationwide fear of communal violence. 


Islam: The vision of a Muslim 'Martin Luther' to reform Islam is not realistic or appropriate,  argues Nick Danforth. The Reformation that ultimately produced the seperation of church and state in Europe was a long process steeped in bloodshed. Muslims should not necessarily seek to repeat the Reformation, but rather draw lessons from it and find another way.

Displacement: Displacement can often make communities particularly vulnerable to radicalisation,  writes Khalid Koser, but a number of measures can help them to build resilience against extremist voices.

Displacement: As the plight of refugees around the world continues to make headlines, the UN Refugee Agency releases a report which notes that conflict in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere displaced over five million people during the first half of 2014.