Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

At a Glance

Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

19 Feb 2015

In the Roundup this week we highlight commentary on the centrality of religious belief to ISIS' strategy and explore the idealised vision communicated in their recent propaganda.

We also feature analysis on the religious dimensions of the political crisis engulfing Bangladesh, the continued fallout from the cancellation of the Nigerian elections, and the threat to girls' education posed by violent extremist groups.

Top Stories

ISIS: The religious beliefs of ISIS, and in particular their apocalyptic world view, are a driver for all their actions. A lack of understanding from world leaders of the centrality of ideology to ISIS strategy is likely to cause major problems when confronting the group, argues Graeme Wood

ISIS: A range of ISIS communications over the last two weeks was designed to goad leaders into military action whilst also glorifying life in the 'Islamic State'.  The Centre on Religion & Geopolitics looks at what can be learnt about the vision and strategy of ISIS from analysing their recent propaganda.

Middle East and North Africa

Libya: It will be much more difficult for ISIS to operate in Libya than Iraq and Syria, write Kate Brannen and Keith Johnson. The country lacks the sectarian divide that fuels much of the violence in the Middle East and ISIS will face strong competition from other Islamist groups in Libya more rooted in local struggles.

Egypt: President Sisi has called for an international coalition to confront ISIS in Libya militarily, an idea that most Western leaders have rejected.  Jane Kinninmont argues that this arises from President Sisi's conception of all forms of political Islam as a threat to international security, while US and European policy distinguishes between moderate and violent Islamist groups. 

North Africa: With all eyes on ISIS in North Africa, Associated Press writers in the region outline the group's reach in Libya, Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia, as well as the threat that ISIS may pose to Europe by using the region as a 'staging post'.

Iraq: A tiny religious minority, the Kakai, targeted by ISIS because of their belief in reincarnation, have been forced to bear arms in defence of their beliefs writes The Economist. Meanwhile,  Isabel Coles examines the growing phenomenon of Westerners joining Iraqi Christian militias to fight ISIS, often alongside Sunni Kurdish forces.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Nigeria: While Boko Haram may be predominantly Kanuri in ethnicity, Michael Baca argues that this does not make the group an ethnic insurgency. Its actions and rhetoric also indicate a clear break from the defunct Kanuri kingdom that existed from 1380 to 1893. The ethnic makeup of the group may influence local contexts of the group, but it is neither defined nor limited to a Kanuri-centric trajectory. 

Nigeria: The postponement of national elections last week was met with cynicism by Nigerians and international commentators. This has increased the space for speculation, rumour and fear-mongering Sola Tayo explains. Whatever the outcome of the polls, Nigeria's democracy will be shaken and the new administration is unlikely to be able to implement fundamental changes required. 

Central African Republic: The process of disarming, demobilising and reintegrating (DDR) the Antibalaka and Seleka militias face a multitude of problems, which IRIN lays out. Due to the disorganised nature of the Antibalaka, many of its fighters won't qualify for DDR, and some experts are advocating a more community-based approach that will emphasise vocational training for ex-combatants. 

Central and South Asia

Bangladesh: Bangladesh has seen a recent flare-up in political violence, which comes amid a major internal displacement crisis arising from the country's inter-communal tensions. The Centre on Religion & Geopolitics looks at two new reports which add context to the crisis.

India: Narendra Modi has declared that his government will not accept violence against any religion, responding to a series of attacks on Christian institutions in New Delhi. Ellen Barry speculates that the BJP's crushing defeat in elections in the capital earlier in the month may be related to Modi's sudden willingness to engage with religious minorities.

Pakistan: Sectarianism has become a major concern across all regions of Pakistan, with the country's Shia community bearing the brunt of the violence. However, the country is far from being divided along sectarian lines in the way Iraq and Syria have been, explains Arif Rafiq.

East and Southeast Asia

China: After years of discussion and speculation, China's top legislation recently published a draft law on counterterrorism. Zunyou Zhou explains that unique definitions were developed in the draft law for terrorism, terrorist organisation and terrorist. Human rights groups are concerned about the vague, open-ended nature of the definitions, fearing they are susceptible to misuse. 

China:  A song and dance, set to the tune of Chinese pop song "Little Apple", has gone viral in the restive Xinjiang province in the government's latest attempt to 'deradicalise' the population, to mixed results Rachel Lu writes. The government, which claims the population is being radicalised by international jihadis, has employed a variety of techniques to quell unrest.

Myanmar: The plight of Myanmar's Rohingya communities is decades old and has been little impacted by the country's gradual loosening of autocratic military rule. Ishaan Tharoor explains that deep-seated racism and Buddhist nationalism impede any attempts to recognise or integrate minority Muslim communities.

Indonesia: A recent Indonesian Muslims Congress in Yogyakarta, attended by President Joko Widodo, focused the challenges to interfaith relations and the importance of cooperation and mutual respect in Indonesia. An editorial in the  The Jakarta Post claims the congress made a mistake by avoiding any Quranically-based arguments against jihadi violence.


Girls' Education: Education systems and female students are amongst those most in danger from violent extremist groups according to a new report from the UN.  The Centre on Religion & Geopolitics draws out the key points.


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