Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

At a Glance

Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

16 Apr 2015

In the Roundup this week we look at Boko Haram's origins and ideology, the centrality of religion to the Taliban's claim to legitimacy, and the legal structures ISIS uses to control its territory.

We also feature analysis on the various aims of the factions fighting the Houthis in Yemen, the expansion of al-Shabaab into Kenya, and a surge in Islamist violence in Bangladesh.

Top Stories

Nigeria: As Nigeria commemorates the first anniversary of the kidnapping of the Chibok schoolgirls, Emily Mellgard examines the origins and ideology of Boko Haram, and how it recruits its members. 

Afghanistan: A recent biography of the Taliban's leader reminded the world of the centrality of religion to the movement's identity. Religion will also play a part in any meaningful peace process, writes Michael Semple.

Middle East & North Africa

Iraq/Syria: While much of the world focuses on the security threat that ISIS poses, the group regards itself as a state on the model of the early Islamic community. Andrew F. March and Mara Revkin examine how the group develops and applies law in the territories that it controls. 

Yemen: The war in Yemen is much more complicated than a binary sectarian conflict, says Peter Salisbury. Instead, many of those fighting the Houthis in Aden want independence from the north. 

Saudi Arabia/Iran: While it might have sectarian overtones, the regional conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran is primarily about power, argues Thanassis Cambanis. On that measure, Iran is more likely than Saudi Arabia to win from its involvement in Yemen. 

Sub-Saharan Africa

Nigeria: On the anniversary of Boko Haram's kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls from Chibok in northern Nigeria, president-elect Muhammadu Buhari lays out his administration's promise to combat Boko Haram and to do everything possible to bring the girls home.

Kenya: In the wake of al-Shabaab's attack on Kenya's Garissa University, Amanda Sperber finds that Somalis in Kenya are nervous of a security backlash against the community as a whole. Meanwhile,  Ngala Chome insists that Kenya needs to reassess why Kenyans join al-Shabaab and how to counter the group's narrative. 

Kenya: The al-Shabaab attack on Garissa University should not be interpreted as a "desperate" move by a dying organisation,  argues Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Nathaniel Barr, but as a continuation of a years-long expansion into Kenya. The al-Shabaab presence in Kenya should now be seen as a fully functioning branch of the mother organisation in Somalia. 

South Africa: Following an alleged attempt by a 15-year old South African girl to join ISIS, South African are increasingly concerned that citizens may be targeted for recruitment,  according to the Institute for Security Studies. South Africans are believed to be attractive recruits because they often require less assistance to travel, anda South African passport rarely raises suspicions. 

South & Central Asia

Pakistan: After the Pakistani parliament rejected sending forces to join the Saudi-led coalition against the Houthis in Yemen, C. Christine Fair and Ali Hamza explore the sway that one of South Asia's largest militant groups, Jamaat-ud-Dawa (formerly known as Lashkar-e Taiba), has over foreign policy-making in the country. 

Bangladesh: Worsening political clashes between Bangladesh's two main parties, the BNP and Awami League, have distracted from a concerning upsurge in Islamist extremism among fringe factions, whose growing influence is shown by the murder of two secular bloggers in Dhaka in as many months,  writes Victor Mallet.

East & South East Asia

China: With few outsiders spending much time with the Muslim Uighur population in Xinjiang province, Ian Johnson reviews a new book by Carolyn Drake on the realities of life for the group. Drake has travelled extensively in Xinjiang, and describes the conditions of a rigidly authoritarian society, and people with little control over their daily lives.

Malaysia: As Malaysian officials announce that around 70 army personnel had travelled to join ISIS in Iraq and Syria, Prashanth Parameswaran examines what this means for human rights in the country. Malaysia recently passed new anti-terror laws and has arrested many alleged ISIS supporters, but Parameswaran suggests that these new powers may also be used to crack down on political opponents.


Crimea: Since annexing the peninsula last year, discriminatory legislation from Moscow has made life difficult for many of Crimea's religious minorities.  Thomas J. Reese and Daniel I. Mark examine how this is affecting groups including Tartar Muslims, Crimean Jews and Christian churches and leaders not affiliated with the Russian Orthodox church.


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