Amid another failed ceasefire attempt, Syria's rebels are as enmeshed as ever, with the line between jihadis and moderates blurred. Assad claims to be fighting 'terrorists,' but is it possible to fight the regime and stop extremists shaping Syria's future? Three Syrians have their say.
Oula A. Alrifai, Youssef Sadaki and Ruwan Rujouleh
The operation to retake Sirte from ISIS looks set to oust the jihadis from the coastal city. After that loss, what future does ISIS have in the North African state, which, until recently, was touted as its main hope for the future amid defeats in Syria and Iraq? Three analysts have their say.
Analysis of media coverage in the lead-up to the Jewish holiday showed Islamist and Jewish activists reiterating claims to the holy site - and far more coverage of the issue in Palestinian news sources.
Saudi Arabia's execution of Nimr al-Nimr, along with 46 others, in January drew widespread condemnation and a growing regional crisis. But the regime seeks to gain domestically and internationally from its actions.
With links to a number of attacks in recent years, Belgium is increasingly viewed as a hub for jihadis in Europe. Milo Comerford looks at the scale of the problem in Belgium and explores the underlying cause.
Russia's religious landscape is fast changing, and a contest over religious practice in the country's heartland has implications both for Russia's internal stability and it's geopolitics, writes Rafael Ibrahimov.
ISIS continues to expand in Libya as rivals jostle for power and the UN looks to build a unity government. To defeat the group, rivals must rally against a common enemy, write Jason Pack and Andrea Brody-Barre.
Russian fears of domestic jihad linked to ISIS and the presence of Orthodox Christians in Syria who look to Russia for protection means Russia cannot be excluded from peace negotiations, argues Ed Husain.
Recent unrest in Tajikistan has been blamed on extremists with links to ISIS, but the reality is more complex, requiring the country to answer difficult questions about religion and politics, writes Milo Comerford.
As ISIS destroys yet another priceless piece of history in Palmyra, there is a need to understand the reasons behind the group’s actions and how out of line they are with Islamic tradition, writes Mubaraz Ahmed.
Major questions were asked of the so-called 'success story' of the Arab Spring after the Sousse attack. But the contest between secularism and Islamism runs deep in Tunisia, write Jason Pack and Andrea Brody-Barre.
While militancy in Indian-controlled Kashmir has declined in recent years, developments in Iraq and Syria have the potential to bring new transnational overtones to the struggle, writes Bibhu Prasad Routray.
The ISIS-affiliated 'Sinai Province' has claimed to be behind a number of high profile attacks across Egypt in recent months. Tobias Borck explores the wider regional implications of the group's emergence in Egypt.
ISIS is fighting with other jihadi groups for the Libyan city of Derna. But while the rivals differ, hopes that an ISIS defeat will mean the decline of its ideology are sadly misplaced, writes Rhiannon Smith.
There is growing unease in the Philippines as the long-awaited peace process for Muslim Mindanao stalls once again, amid fears that Islamist groups linked to ISIS could disrupt it, writes Anthony Measures.
The rise of sectarianism in the Middle East is partly a consequence of the failure of nationalist politics. Turning the clock back requires strong national institutions and better education, writes Gerald Butt.
A history of corruption and bad government in three African countries has created space for extremist groups to spread their ideologies. Regaining trust is vital to defeating them, writes Emily Mellgard.
Despite the signing of a peace agreement, ongoing violence in Mali raises questions over the influence of Salafi-jihadi groups and radicalisation. But they are part of a wider problem, writes Andrew Hernann.
Syria's al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra seems to be attempting to convey a more moderate and conciliatory image. Their change of rhetoric should not be read as an ideological shift, writes Milo Comerford.
In the run up to the general election, ethnic and religious minorities need to be protected in Myanmar, but concerns remain over the weight of the law behind new 'religious protection' laws, writes Dr Lynn Kuok.
As the global threat from ISIS continues to grow, Malaysia and other South East Asian countries face the challenge of how to deal with extremist voices, both nationally and regionally, writes Elliot Brennan.
The rich discourse on religious freedom within Islam, seen by many as an effective antidote to extremism, should be amplified, particularly since it is silenced in many Muslim-majority countries, argues Areej Hassan.
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.
The high level of religious freedom in Brazil is notable as the country arguably undergoes one of the most dynamic religious shifts in the world today, with no religious or sectarian conflict, writes Brian Grim.
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.
Hindu nationalists are becoming increasingly emboldened by the Indian administration's reluctance to speak out against religious persecution, raising fears amongst India's minorities, writes Sandhya Gupta.
Four years on, the Syrian war continues to foment a concerning rise in religious prejudice and violence in neighbouring Turkey, although it has improved prospects for a Kurdish peace, writes Kunaal Sharma.
In many parts of the world, religious actors have access to unparalleled resources and influence, essential to effective statebuilding. But that doesn't necessarily mean that they will play along, writes Denis Dragovic.
Africa's largest country is being destabilised by the violence of Boko Haram. The group's power results from its use of ideology and ethnicity, as well as its links to other jihadi groups, writes Jacob Zenn.
The withdrawal of international troops from a combat role has seen Taliban violence spike in Afghanistan. Understanding the group's rhetoric is essential to a peaceful reconciliation, writes Milo Comerford.
With over 40 police officers killed in the Philippines recently, following an attempt to capture a number of extremists, Patricio Abinales looks at the repercussions of this event on the peace process.
The increased focus on Kurdistan as a bulwark against jihadism has revealed a tolerant society that is a beacon for its neighbours; the Kurdish model requires more international support, writes Gary Kent.
December's attack on a Peshawar school by the Pakistani Taliban has sparked a public backlash. But the fight will be undermined by the state's ambivalence towards jihadi movements, writes Frederic Grare.
A flurry of 'lone wolf' attacks and an increased flow of French citizens to Iraq and Syria has shocked France, particularly as the typical profile of the French Islamist is fast changing. Europe should take note, writes Gian Marco Liuni.
As Kenya grapples with religious violence, rising radicalisation is exacerbated by challenges facing moderate religious leaders and the need for a new security strategy, writes Cleophus Tres Thomas III.
The 2014 Global Terrorism Index, recently added to the Centre on Religion & Geopolitics' online data section, is an important tool for better understanding changes in global terrorism, writes Anthony Measures.
To understand religious conflict, Prof. Philip Jenkins argues that we need to take a long view of history and that failure to reflect internally and learn from our own experiences risks misunderstanding drivers of current conflicts.
Nigeria continues to be ravaged by the homegrown violent Islamist group Boko Haram, which has declared a caliphate in the areas under its control in the northeast of the country and begun implementing a harsh version of sharia law.
As Nigeria's national election cycle gets into full swing, Emily Mellgard argues that the rhetoric and actions of candidates and religious leaders will influence whether the elections are peaceful. Boko Haram's growing control of territory in the northeast and capacity to disrupt elections will also have an impact on the legitimacy of the results.
As insecurity and violence continue in the Central African Republic, Tom Jackson discusses how the conflict and perception of it developed along religious lines when its foundations are in socio-economic tensions.
Examining jihadi interpretations of the salafi ideology of "al-wala wal-bara", loyalty to all that is Islamic and disavowal of everything that is not, Ian Linden argues that in order to counter this narrative we must look more critically at the reality of the democratic values the West claims to be upholding.
In the face of the increased prominence of salafi-jihadi rebel groups in the Syrian civil war, the Centre on Religion & Geopolitics looks at the position of the Druze minority, who are being forced to evaluate whether greater integration with the Assad regime or a sectarian strategy can best assure their safety.
Spillover from the Syrian conflict is upsetting the delicate religious balance in Lebanon. Escalating sectarianism has the potential to jeopardise the entire region's response to ISIS, writes Gian Marco Liuni.
In a wide-ranging interview, Jonathan Powell, the British Prime Minister’s Special Envoy to the Libyan Transition, speaks about the role of religion in peace negotiations in Libya and the wider region.
The ISIS claim to a caliphate has been rejected by Muslim scholars all over the world. But ISIS does not depend on traditional Islamic authority; instead, it believes that its conquests give support to its claims, writes Adam Hoffman.
The upheaval rocking the Middle East has two tendencies at its core, writes Eric Brown. The first is to retrench into narrow communities and groups, the second to seek security in larger movements, including Islamism and regional rivalry.
The civil war in Syria, now characterised by brutal sectarianism, is being fought in a country once known for pluralism and tolerance. David Lesch explains how Syria's rich religious background and colonial history paved the way to the current conflict.
The struggle between ISIS and al-Qaeda for leadership of the global jihadi movement is dividing the militant community in Algeria. In the wake of a new group announcing its formation by the murder of a French tourist, Geoff D. Porter examines the dangers this development presents.
Kenyan security operations against al-Shabaab members and sympathisers within their borders are perceived by many Kenyan Muslims and Somali refugees as discriminatory against their communities and religious activities. If security measures are too oppressive, they risk inflaming the tensions they seek to destroy finds Tom Jackson.
As Nigeria’s election cycle begins, Ian Linden looks back at the elections in 2011, and the violence that occurred after the polls closed, and he looks forward at the role religious leaders can play in mitigating violence and promoting national unity.
As Boko Haram continues its fight in northern Nigeria, Atta Barkindo examines the cultural and ethnic ties of the insurgency. He argues that the group’s ideology is ultimately religiously focused, but draws on deep ethnic and cultural roots to recruit members and sustain its momentum.
As Boko Haram continues to claim territory in northeastern Nigeria, Jacob Zenn looks at the similarities in ideology and tactics between the group and ISIS in Iraq and Syria. While there has not been collaboration or declarations of an alliance from either group, Zenn posits that a future declaration may not be improbable.
With the arrival this week of UN peacekeeping forces in the Central African Republic, M. Christian Green looks at the motivations and drivers of a conflict that is so often characterised as being divided along religious lines.
American leadership is essential for peace in the Middle East. The US can show how a better future can be attained through political unity, religious pluralism and free-market capitalism says Ed Husain.
As Boko Haram escalates its territorial expansion in northeast Nigeria, Ian Linden analyses the ethnic and religious motivations for conflict in Nigeria, and disentangles the base motivations for the group.
The Centre on Religion & Geopolitics talks to Ambassador Zamir Akram, the Pakistani Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, about the role that religion plays in Pakistan's current political and foreign policy tensions.
Professor Miroslav Volf of Yale University says that perceptions of religion, once identified with politics, inevitably end up being an instrument in conflict, but globalisation and faith traditions and how they relate to each other are powerful forces shaping the world today.
The crisis facing the Middle East and Africa is related to two failures: the failure to promote religion-friendly democracy and the failure to promote democracy-friendly religion. Facing this will test international commitments to religious freedom, writes Ian Linden.
The fallout of the Chibok kidnappings has changed the shape of Nigeria's war with Boko Haram. The group is expanding the scope of its operations, while a potential food emergency and impending elections create a precarious situation writes John Campbell.
The narrative of a centuries-old Sunni-Shia war in Islam is so prevalent it is now accepted without challenge – but does not stand up to scrutiny. It is a recent invention serving a political goal, argues Abdul-Azim Ahmed.
As violence in Nigeria continues unabated, Ian Linden considers its many causes and points out that violent religious extremism, whether committed by Boko Haram or another group, is nothing less than an attack on our common humanity.
As Kenya is subjected to repeated attacks by militants affiliated to al-Shabaab, Jonathan Russell examines the reasons for the group's successes in recruiting in the country and what it can do to address them.
In the last two weeks, ISIS stoned two women to death, applying a rigid version of Sharia law that is not accepted by the vast majority of the Islamic community around the world and is not prescribed by the Quran. Will we speak out against this Pharisaic barbarism, asks Ed Husain.
In this Religion & Geopolitics Briefing Note, we take a look at Libya and the recent escalations in a conflict which has continued since the uprising against Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. We explore the domestic security challenges, the political deadlock and look at the international aspects of the conflict.
The coup removing President Morsi in July last year did not bring the Copts of Egypt the relief that many hoped for. Constitutional equality is irrelevant; unless the Egyptian government takes serious steps to address the issue, persecution will continue, says Samuel Tadros
Relations between Kurds, Christians and Arabs in northeast Syria are driven mainly by considerations of security. While this has driven religious and ethnic groups apart elsewhere in Syria, here it has served to bring them together, says Balint Szlanko
In the last of our three part series on religious tensions in India following the BJP's election victory, Lisa Curtis looks at the cautious optimism amongst religious groups nationally and how the prospects are seen regionally and globally.
In the second of our three part series on religious tensions in India following the BJP's election victory, Priyankar Upadhyaya examines the pre-election communal violence in Assam, arguing that without a change in the state's politics, such violence will continue.
In the first of a three part series on religious tensions in India following the BJP's election victory, Sumit Ganguly points out that politicians of all stripes are exploiting religion for electoral advantage.
The division of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) from al-Qaeda earlier this year is not about ideology. In jihadi circles proximity equates to power, and ISIS - more than just an insurgent group - sees no reason to obey al-Qaeda's commands, writes Shiraz Maher.
While Pakistan is signalling a change in its policy on Afghanistan, its strategic objective of undermining Indian influence remains. This entails strengthening its central control over the Taliban, but also reaching out beyond its traditional allies.
The Sinai peninsular has become a hotbed of jihadi groups since the Egyptian revolution of 2011. But solving the problem will take more than military measures. And failure to do so could destabilise the country and the region, says Peter Welby.
Most people accept the role of the security services in preventing extremist violence, but more needs to be done to address its root causes. This must revolve around education, support for peace-building groups on the ground, and removing the internet as an effective extremist tool says Charlotte Keenan.
With the failure of peace talks, western fears of powerful Islamist groups in Syria left many unsure of a solution, but the importance of ideological unity for these actors is overstated, argues Peter Welby
Many saw the Arab Spring as the death of authoritarianism in the Middle East. But continued sectarian violence across the region shows that authoritarians have simply adapted to retain their power, argues Thomas Thorp
Professor John Brewer recently gave this year’s Dunleath Lecture, highlighting the importance of civil society in Northern Ireland’s peace process. Ian Linden argues that this has to involve religious groups.
Local religious leadership is a tragically neglected feature of international interventions in crisis situations. The Archbishop of Bangui and the President of the Islamic Council of the Central African Republic are examples of how it should be done, reflects Ian Linden
There is a Punch and Judy quality to the argument about the cause of violent extremism: is it religion or socio-economic factors that drive conflict? Why this passionate need for mono-causal explanations? One process certainly stands out: the manipulation of religious explanations and ideology to "religionise" conflicts that, initially at least, may have little to do with religion: for example, the challenge of socio-economic change on honour cultures, feelings of humiliation and alienation, the experience of social deprivation and injustice with no hope for the future.
The last weeks have seen a ghastly roll call of terror attacks in the obvious places: Syria, Libya, Iraq and Lebanon, as well as Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia and Pakistan. Also suffering are places where we have only in recent years seen such violence: Nigeria, and in many parts of central Africa, in Russia and across central Asia, and in Burma, Thailand and the Philippines. We can either see all of these acts of killing as separate – produced by various political contexts – or we can start to see the clear common theme and start to produce a genuine global strategy to deal with it.
Horrific recent events in Syria, Kenya and across the world focus our attention on the urgent need to counter violent extremism. Immediate security and counter terror responses are rightly assessed, terrorists hunted down. But ultimately this is only half the story. We will only achieve lasting change if we deal with the root causes as well as the consequences of extremism.
Violence in the name of Islam is on everyone's minds. Imagine you are a Muslim parent, or simply a Muslim citizen, and you discover your son, or a friend, is taking an unhealthy interest in extremist websites. What do you do? They certainly won't listen to you. They would refuse to talk to the Imam at your mosque: "Not a proper Muslim". Perhaps it is just a passing phase.
In recent days Tunisia has seen major unrest after the assassination of opposition leader Mohamed Brahmi. Faced with growing unrest over a faltering economy and rising violence by extremists, Tunisia’s moderate Islamist led government is facing its biggest test.
The last decade has seen a bumper crop of new constitutions. It has been Spring time for constitutional lawyers and drafters: a well-placed comma saves lives, so they say. Constitutions carry the wisdom and burden of history. And they all have to present a plausible account of how religion is intended to fit into the scheme of things.
The events that led to the Egyptian army's removal of President Mohamed Morsi confronted the military with a simple choice: intervention or chaos. Seventeen million people on the street is not the same as an election. But it is an awesome manifestation of people power. The equivalent turnout in Britain would be around 13 million people. Just think about it for a moment. The army wouldn't intervene here, it is true. But the government wouldn't survive either.
The hue and cry at Channel 4's Ramadan broadcasts and call to prayer highlights the way religion is jumping back into the headlines in an unhelpfully sensationalist fashion. The good news is that in foreign affairs attitudes are moving in the right direction. Both the USA and Canada now have active offices for religious freedom and the British Foreign Office has a dedicated staffer for the topic.
"A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language", wrote George Orwell in Politics and the English Language. "It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts".
What would happen if the different faiths began automatically adding 'humanism' to their names, Islamic humanism, Buddhist, Judaic, Hindu, Christian humanism, for example - then explored what each meant. We'd probably end up with a rich dialogue based on a celebration of two great realities: our shared humanity and the richness of our different religious traditions. In some countries, this is far from just a utopian vision.
Lesson One from the Arab Spring in 2012: revolutionary political change is neither seasonal nor predictable. But in a time of resurgent religious identities, in North Africa and the Middle East, it was always going to heighten divisions between world views as well as between different concepts of governance and political order. Once the lid of authoritarian and repressive rule came off, an ugly blooming of human fears, and hopes encroached on political space propelling untried political leaders into perilous uncharted waters.
Londoners are flooded with foreign news and local stories about terrorism, arrests and attacks, which portray Muslims engaged in religiously motivated violence. The English Defence League, the "Counter-Jihad" movement, the new face of the extreme Right, build on the anxieties that this generates to build anti-Muslim hatred on top of anti-immigrant sentiment. The narrative is harmful and it hurts.
Tolkien's Gollum would have been a prime target for a religious terrorist recruiter. He is obsessed by the loss of a sacred treasure that defines his identity, obsequious yet angry in its pursuit, reduced to a split personality that goes down dark holes, addicted to being manipulated. Should Gollum be pitied, loved, redeemed or cast out?
At first sight, there was nothing unusual about the shelled mosque, with the aluminium roof of the minaret hanging on the side, in the village of Carraleve in 1999. To many reporters passing through the gutted villages of Kosovo during the yearlong war, this village in south-western Kosovo was merely a ghost town, just like scores of other villages whose residents were forced to flee to nearby woods to escape certain death, leaving behind their houses and places of worship engulfed in flames.
On the one side, there is the constant refrain that the real cause of a particular conflict is not religion. When people are burning down each other's mosques, temples and churches, this can sound implausible. On the other is the impression, reinforced by the mass media, that religion is today's number one vector of the virus of hatred around the world. Well, steady on; it's not that simple. There is another story to tell.
The development of Nigeria with its population of some 150 million people, oil reserves, and an abundance of entrepreneurial spirit, is arguably critical for the future of sub-Saharan Africa. It has had more than its fair share of misfortunes: civil war, serial military coups, tyrannical military government, spectacular corruption and all the downsides of its black gold economy.
In 1999, in the midst of the Kosovan war and in the aftermath of a global financial crisis, I set out six areas I believed needed serious focus in order to build a peaceful and long-lasting global community: global finance, free trade, the UN, NATO, action on climate change and third world debt.
It is, as Einstein once said, ‘very difficult to explain the obvious’. So it is best not to labour over why religious freedom lies at the heart of any meaningful concept of human dignity. Better to assert simply that interfaith relations that attempt to ignore this truth, or keep it for an ever receding “next meeting”, are barking up the wrong tree. Outside of references to “reciprocity” from the Vatican, it is rarely on any interfaith agenda.
The recent visit by Pope Benedict XVI to Britain took the edge off the contemporary Punch-and-Judy show between secularism and religion in the public square. There was certainly a binary opposition in his talks but it was between “aggressive secularism” and “an open secularity”. The message was to stop the attacks, let’s talk and have a conversation. Keep the doors open. Keep the public square open for religious counsel.
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