Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

At a Glance

Religion & Geopolitics Weekly Roundup

04 Jun 2015

In the Roundup this week, we look at the challenges facing Nigeria's new president, the roots of the crisis facing the Rohingya, and the prospects of renewed Afghan peace talks.

We also feature commentary on efforts to broaden Jabhat al-Nusra's appeal, al-Shabaab's funding sources, radicalisation in Tajikistan, and Islamist threats to Southeast Asia.

Top Stories

Nigeria: Muhammadu Buhari's accession to the Nigerian presidency is a victory for Nigerians, but the challenges ahead are daunting, and Nigerian religious leaders could be strong allies, says Emily Mellgard.

Myanmar: The plight of Rohingya Muslim migrants from Myanmar has gained worldwide attention as they seek refuge in neighbouring countries,  Anthony Measures explains that this is not a recent problem.

Middle East & North Africa

Libya: The international community is running out of ideas for resolving the conflict in Libya, which has reached a stalemate that endangers the whole region and creates a vacuum in which jihadi groups and militias operate with impunity. Jason Pack argues that peace will require regional players to limit their destabilising role and instead push their allies and proxies towards dialogue.

Kurdistan: As Kurdistan continues to battle ISIS, International Crisis Group has published a report on political divisions and external influences on its forces. The Centre on Religion & Geopolitics draws out the key arguments.

Syria: Last week's Al Jazeera interview with Jabhat al-Nusra leader Abu Mohammed al-Jolani revealed the group appearing to adopt more moderate positions on issues including the implementation of Sharia law, treatment of religious minorities, and hostilities with the West. This new discourse is part of a long-term plan to broaden al-Qaeda support,  writes Charles Lister

Lebanon: Hizbullah's claims to be winning the battle against ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra in the Qalamoun mountains have been framed by the group's supporters as part of a 'war on terror.'  Nour Samaha explores the development of the group from a resistance organisation against Israeli occupation to a regional player involved in battles beyond Lebanon's borders, including Iraq.

Palestine: Internal tensions in Gaza have been rising since the summer 2014 war with Israel, which coincided with the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria.  Benedetta Berti examines Hamas' response to the growing influence of several Gaza-based jihadi groups, which have switched their loyalty from al-Qaeda to ISIS.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Nigeria: As President Buhari begins his first week in office,  Lagun Akinloye discusses some of the challenges he faces, including entrenched party interest, corruption, and economic woes, as well as the ongoing Boko Haram insurgency.

Nigeria: Salil Shetty describes a new report by Amnesty International alleging human rights abuses committed by the Nigerian military, including the incarceration without charge of over 20,000 young men and boys since 2009 in the fight against Boko Haram, and the deaths of over 7,000 people since March 2011. 

Somalia: Despite losing control of much of its territory in Somalia,  Yarno Ritzen details how al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab continues to to make over 50 million US dollars a year from the production and export of charcoal, much of which goes to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Central & South Asia

Pakistan: International engagement is required to help Pakistan reverse its slide towards intolerance, and to protect religious diversity and freedom, argue Katrina Lantos Swett and Mary Ann Glendon. A concrete step towards this would be the US State Department designating Pakistan a "country of particular concern" for religious freedom violations.

Afghanistan: As a second round of informal talks approaches between Taliban and Afghan officials in Qatar, Thomas Ruttig explores possible avenues of consensus in the negotiations. He also examines what a recent meeting between the two parties in China could mean for the prospects of a political settlement in Afghanistan.

Tajikistan: The news of a Tajik special forces chief appearing in an ISIS propaganda video shocked the world, but perhaps not Tajikistan, argues Farrukh Umari, who looks at the worsening climate of radicalisation in a country where the threat of religious extremism and terrorism has been used to justify an excessive crackdown on practicing Muslims.

East & Southeast Asia

Myanmar: As the international community becomes increasingly vocal about the plight of Rohingya Muslim refugees, Jonah Fisher asks why Aung San Suu Kyi remains silent on the issue. Fisher explains that with the upcoming election, it is likely that Suu Kyi does not want create any tension with Buddhist nationalist groups.

Thailand: Trying to reconcile Thailand's strong Buddhist identity with its failure to take responsibility for the Rohingya migrant crisis, Sanitsuda Ekachai argues that Thai Theravada Buddhism is operating under nationalist and patriarchal institutions, and that widespread temple corruption has severely eroded public faith.

Singapore: With growing concerns among southeast Asian nations about the threat from ISIS, Prashanth Parameswaran assesses a recent speech from Singapore Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, which suggested that ISIS is actively looking to establish a base in the region.

 

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