Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

At a Glance

Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

15 Jan 2015

In the Roundup this week, we look at the background to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, as well as the growing challenges of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism in Europe.

As the effects of last week's violent attacks in Paris continue to be felt around the world, we bring together analysis on the implications for French society; meanwhile, Ryan Cummings examines what is known about recent Boko Haram atrocities in Nigeria.

Top Stories

Yemen: The connection between the Charlie Hebdo gunmen and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has brought the group back into the international spotlight. Peter Welby examines its origins and ideology.

Pakistan: December's attack on a Peshawar school by the Pakistani Taliban has sparked a public backlash. But the fight will be undermined by ambivalence towards jihadi movements, writes Frederic Grare.

Middle East & North Africa

ISIS: The US cannot hope to beat ISIS in a propaganda war, and in trying to do so may even help ISIS to win recruits by conforming to the false narrative of "the West versus Islam", writes Manal Omar

Lebanon: Despite the raging violence in Syria and its effect on sectarian tensions in Lebanon, mainstream Lebanese Sunnis are turning their backs on ISIS and co-operating with Shia leaders to ensure that Lebanon remains stable and united, reports David Kenner.

Libya: In March 2011 there was optimism that Libya would soon enter a new future free of oppression and dictatorship. But four years on, the country's situation seems bleak, divided between numerous competing factions and militias, including jihadi groups. The Economist charts the country's descent from hope to near chaos, and asks what can be done. 


France: The attack on a Kosher supermarket in Paris last week demonstrated beyond any doubt that anti-Semitism remains a deadly feature in French society, as it has at many points throughout history. But France – and other European nations – needs to remember that anti-Semitism is always a sign of a wider societal illness affecting all citizens, writes David Remnick.

Germany: There has been an outpouring of solidarity between all religions since the Paris attacks, but 'anti-Islamisation' rallies by PEGIDA have grown. Anthony Measures looks at the background, appeal and spread of this new group.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Nigeria: Boko Haram overran the Multi-National Joint Task Force headquarters and destroyed the town of Baga in  Nigeria on 3 January. Ryan Cummings analyses the reported death toll, which ranges from 150 to 2,000, while Richard Dowden discusses the differing reactions to the recent attacks in Paris and in Nigeria.

Nigeria: As Nigeria's 14 February national elections approach, Chris Irekamba relates the opinions of some of Nigeria's prominent religious leaders on the role religion should – and should not – play in the electoral process. Meanwhile Elizabeth Donnelly considers how Boko Haram can be countered and the impact of the upcoming elections.

Central African Republic: Following a year of travelling through the CAR, Peter Bouckaert discusses the numerous connected conflicts in the country, their ever-changing dynamics, and the actors involved in the destruction of a nation. 

South & Central Asia

Sri Lanka: The narrow victory of Mahinda Rajapaksa in last week's presidential election represents a victory for democracy and a chance for meaningful change, argues Alyssa Ayres. Meanwhile, in the week of Sri Lanka's first papal visit,  Thomas Latschan examines the role of the Catholic Church in the reconciliation process between the country's ethnic and religious groups after years of civil war.  

Afghanistan: Reports have emerged of ISIS sending recruiters to southern Afghanistan, with the group even vying for influence with the Taliban.  Dan Lamothe profiles the former Guantanamo detainee leading this recruitment drive in Helmand, and examines what this development might mean for dynamics between militant groups in the region.

Pakistan: Policy experts have addressed an open letter to US Secretary of State John Kerry, expressing their deep concern about the persistent sectarian violence in Pakistan. They argue that an emphasis on religious freedom should comprise a major part of his foreign policy focus during his visit to the country this week.

Central Asia: As ISIS releases a video that allegedly shows a Kazakh child soldier executing two Russian spies,  Paolo Sorbello examines claims that Central Asia is becoming a major jihadi recruiting ground. He argues that while these trends require careful analysis, there is an increasing danger of a traditional haven for moderate Islam coming under siege.

East & South-East Asia

Malaysia: A warning this week from an ISIS recruiter not to use Malaysia as a transit or hideout shows that the harsh stance taken by the Malaysian authorities, including a forthcoming anti-terrorism act, appears to working, reports Prashanth Parameswaran

Myanmar: Following the UN General Assembly resolution of December 2014 calling on the Myanmar government to grant citizenship to the Rohingya Muslims, Human Rights Watch has written to President Thein Sein demanding that he act on the request. Meanwhile, during a visit to Rakhine state, the UN human rights envoy called on the authorities not to ignore the plight of the Rohingyas.

Philippines: With Pope Francis due to visit the Philippines this week, Ted Regencia reports from a remote part of Luzon Island, where the ancient Ifugao tribe still practices its religious and cultural traditions, in a country where Christianity has continued to grow.


Cyber Jihad: Social media is increasingly an essential tool for violent extremist groups. Jamie Bartlett argues that counter strategies must be innovative and appealing in order to combat extremist messages and their attraction to potential recruits. 


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