Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

At a Glance

Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

29 Jan 2015

In the Roundup this week, we feature a commentary on the role of Kurdistan in combatting extremism, and a look at religious freedom in India over Prime Minister Modi's first eight months in office.

We also draw together analysis on the ISIS training regime for new recruits, the probability of election violence in Nigeria, the growing problem of foreign fighters in Central Asia, and threats to the Philippines peace deal.

Top Stories

Iraq: The increased focus on Kurdistan as a bulwark against jihadism has revealed a tolerant society that is a beacon for its neighbours; Gary Kent argues that the Kurdish model requires more international support.

India: As Prime Minister Narendra Modi completes eight months in office, Lisa Curtis assesses his commitment to religious freedom during a period of unease amongst religious minorities in India.

Middle East and North Africa

ISIS: While many opposed to ISIS agree that they must be tackled on ideological as well as military ground, very little is known about how the ideology of the organisation is passed on to new recruits and the population they control. Hassan Hassan examines the group's training regime. 

ISIS: Aaron Y. Zelin reviews how the ISIS and al-Qaeda models for expansion differ: ISIS have been seizing territory in the Middle East with a priority on building its caliphate, while al-Qaeda has a "franchise" strategy, attacking Western countries to force them to stop supporting "apostate" Arab regimes.

Syria: Foreign Affairs has published an interview with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, looking at the way in which the Syrian civil war has developed over the past four years, the current situation on the ground, and the potential for a negotiated political settlement.

Israel: Security in Israel depends on a good relationship with the President and people of the US, not least in finding a solution to the Iranian nuclear threat. So why does Netanyahu seem intent on alienating the the White House by siding with Obama's opponents, asks Jeffrey Goldberg.

Yemen: Most commentators did not identify the threat of the Houthi takeover of large areas of Yemen, including the capital Sanaa, until it was too late. Laura Kasinof looks at how the Houthis were able to exploit the mistakes made by Yemeni and international officials in order to build their current position of power.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Nigeria: National elections are just over two weeks away and, given the escalating Boko Haram violence, anxiety over political and religious violence in Nigeria is high. John Campbell examines the potential for religious and political violence regardless of the polls' results, and  Princeton Lyman counsels postponing the elections altogether and forming a government of national unity until security can be restored.

Cameroon: The Far North Region is at risk of famine due to insecurity resulting from  Boko Haram attacks and the influx of refugees from Nigeria putting pressure on dwindling food reserves in the region, reports IRIN News

Somalia: Islamist militant group al-Shabaab released a statement congratulating the attackers who carried out the 7 January attacks in Paris and offering religious justifications for the attacks. Tres Thomas considers al-Shabaab's continued support for al-Qaeda rather than ISIS, and the group's attempts to remain relevant as it struggles with a decline in its capacity to launch attacks in Somalia and abroad. 

Central and South Asia

Central Asia: ISIS has recruited many fighters from Central Asia, using religious rhetoric to attract a disaffected populace. This requires a coordinated response, according to a report from the International Crisis Group.  The Centre on Religion & Geopolitics draws out the key findings.

Afghanistan: A new interactive feature from the Council on Foreign Relations profiles the Taliban movement, examining the local and geopolitical causes behind its insurgency, and posing crucial policy questions for achieving a lasting peace in Afghanistan.

East and South East Asia

Myanmar: Hope and fear, freedom and hatred, peace and conflict are engaged in mortal combat for the future of Myanmar today, Benedict Rogers writes in his second dispatch from this divided nation for the Centre on Religion & Geopolitics.

Myanmar: U Wirathu, the Buddhist monk who last week made controversial remarks against a United Nations official, is profiled by BBC Burmese, examining his origins and rise to infamy and radical nationalism.

China: Gabe Collins analyses the findings of a revealing data study of the ongoing tensions in Xinjiang state, which shows over 900 recorded deaths related to violence in the region over the past seven years. The majority of violent attacks have taken place in the Uighur populated area around the city of Kashgar.

Philippines: Following a police raid on Islamist militants in Maguindanao which left over 40 police officers dead, Malcolm Cook assesses four elements of the incident that will affect the Philippines peace deal, including the negotiations around the creation of an autonomous regional government for the Moro Islamic community.


Foreign Fighters: The continent is facing a growing threat from returning foreign fighters, but disengagement from the Middle East and self-censorship will not save it from attack. Islamists seek a utopia in which their normative values are imposed; they are receiving support from some Muslim governments, writes Shiraz Maher


Islam: Modern-day violent extremism has become associated with Islamism, but we need to resist simplistic explanations of why this is the case, argues M. Steven Fish. It is impossible to consider the modern phenomenon of terrorism without taking into account the centuries of Christian-Muslim relations which have shaped the modern world.


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