Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

At a Glance

Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

26 Feb 2015

In the Roundup this week we look at the evolution of extremist groups in Algeria, the turbulent situation in Yemen, and the varying responses to the White House counter-extremism summit.

We also feature analysis on a Turkish military operation in Syria, the international links of jihadi groups in Nigeria, and ethnic and religious tension in Myanmar.

Top Stories

Algeria: With international eyes on the violence in Libya, Algeria remains at the centre of Islamist extremism in the Magreb and Sahel regions. Lisa Watanabe examines the evolution of extremist groups in the country, and looks at the implications for national and regional stability.

Yemen: With deposed president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi renouncing his resignation following escape from house arrest,  Thanos Petouris looks at recent events and their implications for the international community, in an updated situation report.

Middle East & North Africa

ISIS: Graeme Wood's article ' What ISIS Really Wants' has opened a debate about the importance of religious ideology in ISIS' decision-making. Hassan Hassan argues that viewing ISIS through a purely apocalyptic lens risks underestimating the multidimensional nature of their ideological appeal, in particular their claims to a caliphate.

Libya: Picking sides in the Libya conflict will only succeed in polarising the country's political spectrum further, creating a vacuum in which extremism can flourish,  write Jason Pack and Lydia Sizer. Rather than simply fighting jihadi forces, the West should provide support for a national unity government to help empower moderates.

Turkey: After Turkish troops entered Syria on Sunday tasked with relocating the tomb of Suleyman Shah, the grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire, and evacuating the soldiers guarding the monument,  Berivan Orucoglu suggests that Turkey will now be in a stronger position to play a more active role in the international coalition against ISIS.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Cameroon: There are over 30,000 refugees at the Minawao refugee camp in northern Cameroon,  according to Moki Edwin Kindzeka. Amid an escalation by regional forces in their fight against Boko Haram, many of the refugees are unlikely to return to Nigeria in the near future. 

Nigeria: Islamist groups in Nigeria appear to be choosing sides in the duel for influence between ISIS and al-Qaeda, argues Thomas Joscelyn. He analyses public messages and social media communications from al-Qaeda-leaning Ansaru and seemingly ISIS-leaning Boko Haram. The wedge between Ansaru and Boko Haram also highlights tactical and ideological differences between the Nigerian groups. 

Nigeria: In contrast, John Campbell suggests that while Boko Haram in Nigeria and ISIS in Iraq and Syria share many ideological positions and goals, the two groups differ in some of their tactics. Boko Haram prefers hit-and-run attacks over governing territory and is more nationally focused. As such, it is unlikely that Boko Haram will swear allegiance to ISIS. 

Central & South Asia

Pakistan: It is overly simplistic to claim that Pakistani politicians do not want to take on the Taliban and sectarian extremists, writes Syed Moazzam Hashmi. However, there is a significant rift between military strategy and political will. This impediment will likely detract from efforts to combat militancy in the country.

India: The head of the Hindu nationalist organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has come under fire for suggesting Mother Theresa's service to the poor in India was an attempt to convert them to Christianity. Suryatapa Bhattacharya places the statements within a context of religious tension in the country. Recent statements by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has close links to the RSS, have emphasised that his government would ensure "freedom of faith".

East & South East Asia

China: Steadily increasing violence in the Xinjiang region of China, attributed by Beijing to Pakistan-based militant groups, could lead to a reassessment of China's close relationship with Pakistan and encourage the country to look toward Afghanistan as its closest South Asian ally,  argues Uzair M. Younus.

Myanmar: With growing unrest between a number of ethnic groups and the national army in Myanmar, and the violence against the Muslim Rohinyga in Rakhine state, the Economist looks at the history behind the fighting, the political reform process and what might be achieved in the forthcoming elections this year.

North America

US/Somalia: Following a recent al-Shabaab video threatening attacks on shopping malls in the West, FBI agents in Minnesota believe a direct attack on the US from the Somalia-based group is unlikely. However, David Francis explains that there is a risk of inspiring radicals already in the country to carry out attacks.

US: Last week's White House summit on Countering Violent Extremism split the policy community down the middle, with many arguing it didn't go far enough.  The Centre on Religion & Geopolitics draws out the main points and reactions to President Barack Obama's speeches at the summit.


Deradicalisation: One of the themes of the White House Countering Violent Extremism Summit was 'deradicalisation'. Omar Ashour unpacks the term, exploring its ideological, behavioral and organisational dimensions, and in particular the transition from armed to unarmed activism that characterises the majority of succesful examples.

Deradicalisation: A programme in Denmark, which was developed by a policeman and a Salafi imam, is working to prevent young men in the country from becoming radicalised, and to deradicalise returning foreign fighters. Manfred Ertel and Ralf Hoppe explain that the success of the programme derives from its street-level approach and its emphasis on integration and the line between individual beliefs and criminal actions. 


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