Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

At a Glance

Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

28 May 2015

In the Roundup this week we draw together analysis on ISIS' latest propaganda magazine, a report on religion, conflict and the state in Iran, and how Hindu nationalism has shaped Pakistan's development.

We also highlight commentary on al-Shabaab's strategy in East Africa, sectarian cooperation in Iraq, discrimination against Israel's Ethiopian-Jewish community, and a video documenting the ideological dynamics of the new 'Army of Conquest' rebel coalition sweeping Idlib province in Syria.

Top Stories

Iran: A regime of contradictions and paradoxes, Iran's deeply ideological and religious revolutionary framework sits alongside pragmatic political self-interest, with tensions between popular and theocratic sovereignty permeating its recent history, writes Charlie Gammell.

ISIS: The latest edition of ISIS' propaganda magazine, Dabiq, includes an unapologetic defence of its actions, including the sexual slavery of Yezidi women, and emphasises a 'duty' to migrate to the 'caliphate.' The Centre on Religion & Geopolitics analyses its message.

Middle East & North Africa

Syria: As the rebel 'Army of Conquest' coalition continues to make sweeping gains against the regime in northwest Syria, VICE News embeds with the forces involved in the capture of the city of Jisr al-Shughour, finding Jabhat al-Nusra jihadis acting as shock troops on the front line, whilst US-armed Free Syrian Army fighters provide support from the hills. [GRAPHIC CONTENT] 

Iraq: As ISIS' indiscriminate brutality in Ramadi presents a common enemy to Iraq's Sunni and Shia communities,  Landon Shroder explores the burgeoning military cooperation between Iran-backed Shia militias and Sunni tribes in Iraq's west, including reports of hundreds of Sunni men joining Shia militia responsible for incidents of extreme sectarian violence.

ISIS: A French journalist using the pseudonym Anna Erelle recounts how she went undercover online to research how young Europeans are recruited into extremist groups like ISIS. Her story provides insight into how young women are groomed by jihadi recruiters proposing marriage in Syria. 

Saudi Arabia: Nationalism has increased rapidly under the new king, Mohammed bin Salman, encouraged by his assertiveness on the international stage and a recent reshuffling of government ministries and royal inheritance that places new, younger royal faces in line for succession,  says Simeon Kerr

Israel: Yossi Mekelberg catalogues some of the systematic and historic discriminations suffered by Ethiopian-Israeli Jews which fuelled recent protests in the country, sparked by the release of a video showing a policeman beating a uniformed Ethiopian-Israeli soldier.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Nigeria: Amid recent reports that Boko Haram fighters were killed in Iraq and that foreign fighters have been captured on video in Nigeria, Alex Thurston offers a reminder that these claims do not necessarily indicate a substantial involvement of either Boko Haram or ISIS in the other's operations, nor that Boko Haram is regaining lost momentum. 

Nigeria: As the country prepares for the first peaceful, democratic transfer of power between parties with the inauguration of president-elect Muhammadu Buhari on 29 May, Abdullahi Umar, Winifred Ogbebo and Kareem Haruna explore the devastating humanitarian impact the Boko Haram insurgency has had and the development of a 20-year reconstruction and development plan. 

Somalia: Following al-Shabaab's attack on Garissa University in April, which killed 148 people, reports have tended to focus on either the group's decline or expansion. By contrast, Matt Bryden argues that recent al-Shabaab activity is the continuation of a strategy to become more internationally-focused and to increase the group's resilience to attack.

Central & South Asia

Pakistan: As the Pakistani Taliban releases a lengthy statement rebutting ISIS' claims to have established a caliphate, Thomas Joscelyn argues that this rhetoric signals a strengthening of the group's commitment to al-Qaeda's jihadi project, particularly given the praise awarded to Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Pakistan: Religious minorities in Pakistan find themselves under ever-increasing threat from sectarian persecution.  Saba Eitizaz reports from Quetta in Balochistan, where young Hazara Shia affected by extremist violence are taking up martial arts to protect themselves, and to battle against a pervading feeling of powerlessness in the community.

India: In a detailed analysis of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's first year in office, The Economist explores the exponential rise in Hindu nationalist sentiment in the country, concluding that while religious violence in India is rarely spontaneous, politicians are increasingly stirring up and exploiting religious tensions, and pluralism is proving increasingly insecure.

India: After a rise in tensions on the Kahsmiri border, rebuilding relations with Pakistan represents one of Modi's greatest challenges. Nisid Hajari argues that deep divisions are still rooted in the two countries' messy partition in 1947, where Pakistan emerged as a nation born out of paranoia about Hindu dominance, a perception to which even Ghandi contributed.

East & Southeast Asia

Indonesia: With no sign of a resolution to the Houthi conflict in Yemen, there are suggestions that countries further afield may be able to assist. Muhammad Zulfikar Rakhmat and Media Wahyudi Askar ask if Indonesia, seen as an especially moderate Islamic country, and with strong diplomatic ties to both Saudi Arabia and Yemen, could become a mediator. 

Myanmar: As pressure grows on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to tackle the plight of Rohingya Muslim refugees, Marie McAuliffe considers whether the region will be able to respond to the crisis at an upcoming summit, and whether enough pressure can be put on Myanmar's government to finally recognise the citizenship of the Rohingya. 

Myanmar: With international eyes on the migrant crisis in Southeast Asia, BBC correspondents assess the thoughts of people in the region, ranging from views of sympathy and accommodation in Malaysia and Indonesia, coupled with reservations over numbers of refugees, to 'anti-Rohingya' soundings in Myanmar, where few are embracing responsibility for the issue. 


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.