Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

At a Glance

Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

12 Mar 2015

In the Roundup this week we look at ISIS' recent destruction of Iraq's pre-Islamic history, the emergence of jihadi groups in Libya as a 'third force' in the conflict, and the role of Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria's civil war.

We also feature analysis on the apparent affiliation of Boko Haram to ISIS, the changing relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan in the fight against the Taliban, and the possible role of Sufism as a counter-weight to Islamist extremism.

Top Stories

Sufism: In the search for alternatives to Islamist extremist ideologies and violence, the traditional Islamic practices of Sufism, drawing on the experiences of Muslims stretching back over 1,400 years, may offer part of the antidote, argues Sarah Feuer.

ISIS: To view ISIS' destruction of Iraq's pre-Islamic history as the irrational act of a death cult is to miss the point. Like their policies of genocide and enslavement, their actions are driven by clear goals and religious justifications,  writes Peter Welby.

Middle East and North Africa

LibyaIn the chaos of the Libya conflict, jihadi groups have emerged as a potent third force, determined to derail any meaningful negotiation process between the two major blocs, writes Jason Pack.

Yemen: As Yemen's political crisis grows increasingly polarised, a Chatham House report examines its regional aspects, and their ideological and pragmatic motivations. The Centre on Religion & Geopolitics explores the key points.

Syria: Jabhat al-Nusra is the al-Qaeda franchise in Syria and one of the country's most powerful jihadi groups, but little is known about it. Milo Comerford looks at its shifting web of affiliations and fluid structure.

Iraq: The battle for Tikrit, which began this week, is a crucial test of the Iraqi prime minister's credibility, says Renad Mansour. It fell so easily to ISIS in June in part because of its Sunni tribes' resentment of their treatment by the central government; but if the government is to win their trust, it must restrain its forces from seeking revenge.

Egypt: The crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood since 2013 has exacerbated inter-generational tensions in the movement, with the younger generation blaming its leaders for the position that they find themselves in, writes Kristen McTighe.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Nigeria: As a video emerges apparently showing the leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, pledging allegiance to the leader of  ISISThomas Joscelyn explains that the announcement should not come as a surprise. Meanwhile Obinna Anyadike examines the impact of Shekau's pledge of allegiance on both groups and the regional militaries' fight against Boko Haram. 

Nigeria: As the Economist discusses some of regional militaries' recent successes against Boko Haram, Ahmad Salkida analyses the prevalent suspicion and non-cooperation present in the relationships between the governments and militaries of the 'Multinational Joint Task Force'. 

Cameroon: Increased Boko Haram attacks in Cameroon's Far North Region have worsened an environment of already scarce resources, high unemployment and few avenues for education. This has paradoxically led to an increase in men and boys of the region joining the group as,  Monde Kingsley explains, seemingly the only avenue for survival.

Central and South Asia

Pakistan: As a response to the Pakistani Taliban attack on a school in Peshawar last year, Pakistan introduced an anti-terrorism action plan, one of the stated aims of which was "the repatriation of Afghan refugees", who were alleged to have planned and facilitated the assault. Nearly 52,000 Afghans have now left the country in the past ten weeks, with a major effect on Afghan-Pakistani relations,  says Christine Roehrs.

Afghanistan: The history of the development of transnational jihadi groups in Afghanistan in the 1980s, including their successive splintering in search of a purer form of Islam, can explain a lot about the development of such groups today, and shows salafi-jihadism to be a constantly evolving phenomenon, writes Myra MacDonald

Afghanistan/Pakistan: As President Ashraf Ghani reevaluates his country's traditionally hostile relationship with Pakistan, hoping to secure its assistance in establishing a peace deal with the Taliban, former president Hamid Karzai has warned of the danger of Afghanistan sliding 'under the thumb' of Pakistan in an  interview with Jon Boone.

East and South East Asia

Indonesia: The city of Yogyakarta in Indonesia has been known in the past as 'the city of tolerance' because of its pluralist culture, but this image is under threat. Azis Anwar Fachrudin looks  at the motives are behind recent banners and demonstrations encouraging Sunni-Shia conflict in the otherwise peaceful city.

Myanmar: As a number of controversial bills, including one on religious conversion, are debated in Myanmar's parliament, Marte Nilsen examines the politics behind these measures, how the Buddhist nationalist movement has lobbied for the legislation, and what this means for the Rohingya Muslim community.

Myanmar: Following a number of recent visits to Myanmar, the UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar has reported on the current human rights situation in the country. Yanghee Lee concludes that there is now an atmosphere of "distrust and hostility" in the country, including in Rakhine state where the Rohingya Muslim community face discriminatory policies from the government. 

Philippines: As the first anniversary of the peace deal between the Philippines government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front approaches, Floyd Whaley examines the difficulties the deal now faces, particularly with over 82,000 people displaced in the southern Philippines due to recent conflict between government forces and another rebel group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.


Religion as a Transnational ForceUsama Hasan speaks about understanding religion as a transnational force, how it can exacerbate conflict, and how it can promote peace.


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