Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

At a Glance

Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

19 Mar 2015

In the Roundup this week we look at the threat Tunisia faces from jihadi networks, four years of Syrian civil war, and February's murder of Copts in Libya in the context of the history of persecution of the Coptic church.

We also feature analysis on negotiations with the Taliban in Afghanistan, the implications of Boko Haram joining ISIS, and religious tensions in rebel-held Ukraine.

Top Stories

Syria: Four years into the Syrian conflict, the religious and sectarian tones continue to rise. The Centre on Religion & Geopolitics looks at how the growth of jihad explains the motivations and justifications of its protagonists.  

Libya: The murder of 21 Christians by ISIS in Libya brought condemnation from around the world. Their murder puts them in a long history of persecution of the Coptic church, writes Samuel Tadros.

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia: The attack on the Bardo Museum demonstrates the threat that Tunisia faces from internal and external jihadi groups. The Centre on Religion & Geopolitics examines the context of radicalisation in the country.

Syria: Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda franchise long regarded by many rebel groups as an acceptable ally in the fight against Bashar al-Assad, is seizing territory from its partners, says the Economist. While the group's international backers are pushing for it to drop its links to al-Qaeda and lead a united rebel front, its own leaders seem more inclined to establish its own reputation as a viable jihadi alternative to ISIS.  

Syria/Iraq: Far from its string of victories in the summer and autumn of 2014, ISIS is now facing setbacks and defeats on many fronts, including in its capacity to provide services and pay fighters. But opportunities for the group remain, and the grievances that bred its development have not gone away, says Aron Lund

Israel/Palestine: Palestinian unrest has been rising steadily since the failure of an attempt to restart peace talks in April 2014. Unlike previous spikes in violence, the current trend is not led by existing militant groups, though they may encourage it. This creates a challenge that the Israeli security forces are ill-equipped to face, says Craig Charney.  

Sub-Saharan Africa

Nigeria: Boko Haram has pledged allegiance to ISIS, becoming the latest jihadi group to join the so-called 'caliphate'. The Centre on Religion & Geopolitics examines the implications and questions this raises. 

Somalia: Considering whether al-Shabaab will follow Boko Haram in their pledge of allegiance to ISIS,  Tres Thomas suggests that such an alliance would provide impetus to international forces in Somalia, whose offensive is currently stalled, posing many risks without necessarily greater rewards for the group.

Central & South Asia

Afghanistan: A spate of recent attacks on Muslim minority groups have raised fears about the growth of sectarian unrest in a country already wracked by conflict.  Emal Haidary speaks to a number of religious leaders who are concerned that this growth in sectarian violence may be due to the rising influence of ISIS in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan: As the Taliban makes overtures towards peace,  Thomas Ruttig profiles the internal dynamics within the increasingly divided movement that will affect the likelihood of a peace agreement, and looks at the international implications of negotiation.

Pakistan: Authorities are beginning to take the threat of online radicalisation seriously, says Mina Sohail. However, counter-radicalisation measures will have little effect unless Pakistan simultaneously addresses the inflammatory preaching and extreme rhetoric propagated across the country.

The Maldives: Mohammed Nasheed, a former president who warned last year that the Maldives had become a recruiting ground for ISIS, was sentenced to 13 years in jail earlier in the month on terrorism charges.  Alyssa Ayres argues that a Maldives unable to control extremism would quickly become a regional security threat.

East & South East Asia

Myanmar: The growing issue of human trafficking across the world needs to be tackled through the rule of law,  writes Olivia Enos. She singles out the plight of the Rohingya Muslim community in Myanmar, in particular danger as they are not recognised as citizens.

Philippines: With government operations continuing in the southern region of Mindanao against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) reports on the number of internally displaced people in the region. Latest reports indicate over 123,000 people displaced, which has prompted the IOM to join forces with the Philippines government to tackle this growing problem.


New Zealand: As the number of foreign fighters across the world travelling to join ISIS increases, Aaron Zelin focuses on New Zealand, discussing why citizens are travelling to Syria and Iraq, who the homegrown sympathisers are, and how the government has attempted to combat any potential threats to its security, through reforming terrorism laws and sharing intelligence.


Anti-Semitism: The fatal attacks on Jews in Paris and Copenhagen in January and February are only the most recent examples of rising violence against the Jewish community, with renewed anti-Semitic rhetoric from Islamists and the Far Right. Many Jews now face an agonising choice over whether or not to remain in Europe,  writes Jeffrey Goldberg.

Ukraine: Religious intolerance is growing in rebel-held Donetsk, with many religious minorities being forced underground amid persecution, reports Sabra Ayres. Since the Russian Orthodox Church was made the official religion of the self-declared rebel government, religious groups outside the Russian Orthodox faith have been viewed by the rebels as a potential enemy of the Donetsk People's Republic.


Data: Expert analysis on conflict requires accurate, timely and globally comparable data. This is essential when attempting to understand the profound impact of religion on global events, writes Anthony Measures.

Faith and the Public Square:  Francis Campbell speaks on how integrally important religion is in conflict prevention and conflict resolution, and how sidelining it can be highly problematic.

Resilience Against Violent Extremism:  Khalid Koser speaks about the challenges of developing mechanisms to help communities build resilience against violent extremism, and explores some of the key drivers for radicalisation.


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