Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

At a Glance

Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

30 Apr 2015

In the Roundup this week we look at how militants in Pakistan are utilising migration routes, and how international leaders are coming together in response to the threat from religious extremism.

We also feature analysis on the casting of Yemen's conflict as an existential battle, the debate within al-Shabaab on whether to join ISIS, the significance of India's engagement in Afghanistan, and projected changes to global religious affiliation in the next three decades.

Top Stories

Pakistan: Ongoing counter-insurgency efforts by the Pakistani military are leaving thousands displaced. Meanwhile, militants freely use established migration routes to conduct their operations, argues Assunta Nicolini.

Countering Extremism: The debate over countering extremism is increasingly driven by those countries most affected by the violence. The Centre on Religion & Geopolitics looks at what this trend might mean for international policymaking.

Middle East & North Africa

Yemen: The rhetoric surrounding the conflict in Yemen casts it as an existential battle, while its regionalisation may be taking any hope of resolution from Yemeni hands, writes Adam Baron. The country's social fabric has been destroyed, with Houthis portraying their enemies as tantamount to al-Qaeda, while others call the Houthis enemies of God. 

Jihadi Culture: The cultural activities of jihadi groups can shed light on the ways that extremists think and behave, writes Thomas Hegghammer. The study of doctrine alone is insufficient; one must study both doctrine and culture to understand a group's driving ideology. 

Middle East: The violence currently engulfing the Middle East is a battle of ideologies that bears a strong resemblance to northern Europe's Wars of Religion in the 16th and 17th centuries, writes John M. Owen IV. Understanding how such conflicts were resolved is essential to creating a peace that lasts. 

Sub-Saharan Africa

Somalia: There is an internal debate within al-Shabaab,  explains AFP, on whether to stay aligned with al-Qaeda, the strongest branch of which has gained territory and influence in Yemen during the recent unrest, and is a powerful ally in close proximity to Somalia, or to join ISIS, which could offer the group more financial resources and increased media exposure.

Mali: Climate change is partly to blame for increasing insecurity in the Sahel,  argues Chris Arsenault. As the Sahara Desert expands, it pushes communities closer together and into competition for decreasing resources. Rebel and jihadi groups who offer food for recruitment often find a receptive audience.

Nigeria: Laura Grossman analyses how, despite gains by regional militaries, Boko Haram remains a threat to Nigeria and the region. The impact of the group's alliance with ISIS remains unclear, though it seems to be affecting Boko Haram's media strategy. 

South & Central Asia

India/Afghanistan: As President Ghani makes his first state visit to New Delhi,  Smruti Pattanaik outlines the significant incentives for Indian engagement in Afghanistan. In particular, India is keen to avoid the re-emergence of the Taliban as a major force in Afghan politics, which it fears might galvanise radical groups elsewhere and provide fertile ground for terrorism against India.

Afghanistan: Human rights groups have this week renacted the mob killing of Farkhunda, a 27-year-old Islamic law student falsely accused of burning a Quran, on the streets of Kabul.  Rod Nordland argues that the stunt was instrumental in prompting the announcement of formal charges against 49 alleged participants in the killing by the attorney general's office, after a month of reticence by Afghan authorities.

East Asia, South East Asia & Oceania

Malaysia: As a number of reports suggest that between 60-150 Malaysians have joined ISIS to fight in Syria and Iraq, Joseph Chinyong Liow asks what the appeal of ISIS is to "moderate" Malaysia, suggesting a number of factors, including the politicisation of Islam in the country, and the curbing of expressions of faith that deviate from the mainstream Shafi tradition by the state.

Myanmar: International Crisis Group reports on the challenges Myanmar faces to hold credible, inclusive and peaceful elections in November this year. The report points to the violence that could be triggered, particularly in areas that have suffered Buddhist nationalism and anti-Muslim sentiment, including against the Rohingya Muslim community.

Australia: A recent ISIS propaganda video showed an Australian doctor showcasing the group's 'health service.' Rodger Shanahan contrasts the protagonist's background to that of many other foreign fighters, but finds that his ideological motivation for travel is typical of other Australian jihadis.


Global Religions: A new report by the Pew Research Center forecasts a changing global religious landscape over the next four decades, including a rise in religious affiliation. The Centre on Religion & Geopolitics looks at the major findings.


Sign up to receive the Roundup

Sign up to the Centre on Religion & Geopolitics' Roundup to receive weekly updates with the latest commentary, analysis and news on the role of religion in conflict zones. Sign up here.