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  • Author: Abdisaid Ali
  • Publication Date: 08-2016
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Africa Center for Strategic Studies
  • Abstract: The growth of Salafist ideology in East Africa has challenged long established norms of tolerance and interfaith cooperation in the region. This is an outcome of a combination of external and internal factors. This includes a decades-long effort by religious foundations in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states to promulgate ultraconservative interpretations of Islam throughout East Africa’s mosques, madrassas, and Muslim youth and cultural centers. Rooted within a particular Arab cultural identity, this ideology has fostered more exclusive and polarizing religious relations in the region, which has contributed to an increase in violent attacks. These tensions have been amplified by socioeconomic differences and often heavy-handed government responses that are perceived to punish entire communities for the actions of a few. Redressing these challenges will require sustained strategies to rebuild tolerance and solidarity domestically as well as curb the external influence of extremist ideology and actors.
  • Topic: Islam, Religion, Violent Extremism, Global Security
  • Political Geography: Africa
  • Publication Date: 01-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Growing numbers of Central Asian citizens, male and female, are travelling to the Middle East to fight or otherwise support the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIL or ISIS). Prompted in part by political marginalisation and bleak economic prospects that characterise their post-Soviet region, 2,000-4,000 have in the past three years turned their back on their secular states to seek a radical alternative. IS beckons not only to those who seek combat experience, but also to those who envision a more devout, purposeful, fundamentalist religious life. This presents a complex problem to the governments of Central Asia. They are tempted to exploit the phenomenon to crack down on dissent. The more promising solution, however, requires addressing multiple political and administrative failures, revising discriminatory laws and policies, implementing outreach programs for both men and women and creating jobs at home for disadvantaged youths, as well as ensuring better coordination between security services.
  • Topic: Islam, Religion, Terrorism, International Security
  • Political Geography: Central Asia, Middle East, Asia
  • Author: Aaron Rock-Singer
  • Publication Date: 11-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: Religion was a pillar of pre-modern political identity in the Middle East, arising out of Muslims’ understanding of Islam’s foundational moment and state institutions that developed with the spread of Islamic Empire. Beginning at the turn of the 19th century, European colonial powers and indigenous reformers questioned the centrality of religious identity; instead, it was to be the nation that defined the political community. Since then, the nationalist project has permeated 20th century ideological conflicts in the region, equally shaping the claims of secularists and Islamists. Today, advocates of religious change refer back to early Islamic history as they seek to place religious over national identity, yet they, like their competitors, are unmistakably shaped by the secular nationalist project.
  • Topic: Islam, Nationalism, Post Colonialism, Religion
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arab Countries
  • Author: Lev Weitz
  • Publication Date: 11-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: The majority of the Middle East’s population today is Muslim, as it has been for centuries. However, as the place of origin of a range of world religions – including Judaism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and many lesser-known faiths – it remains a region of remarkable religious diversity. This article considers the place of religious minorities in the modern Middle East from three angles: their distinctive religious and communal identities, their place in the major transformations of the region’s political landscape from the nineteenth century to the post-World War I era, and the challenges of contemporary political conditions.
  • Topic: Demographics, Islam, Religion, Sectarianism
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arab Countries
  • Publication Date: 10-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: We live in an age of identity politics. We define ourselves by one or more objective measures: measures of race, ethnicity, gender, politics, religion, sexual orientation, to name just a few. Those measures then define who we are to others. They determine our place in society, the communities with which we identify, our attitudes towards others and other communities. The politics of identity are fraught, and they interact in ways that both liberate and confine. On the one hand we prize diversity. On the whole, this is a good thing, since it reflects a larger transformation in American life. Like it or not, the fact is that we are becoming, have become, a “multi-cultural society.” No matter what terms we use to define diversity—racial, ethnic, religious, sexual, gender, whatever—we are more diverse now than we have ever been, and we are destined to grow more so. Multi-culturalism is not an option; it is the future. The only question is how, and how well, we are going to deal with it.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Islam, Religion, Sectarianism
  • Political Geography: Middle East
  • Author: Samuel Helfont
  • Publication Date: 08-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: Defining – and distinguishing between – the terms Islam and Islamism has broad consequences for America, both domestically and internationally. However, teaching about the relationship between these two concepts involves negotiating numerous sensitivities and it can cause considerable consternation for educators. At the most basic level, Islam is a major world religion practiced by well over a billion people, and Islamism is a political ideology to which a subset of the broader Islamic community adheres. The importance of this distinction seems fairly clear. The United States, and the American body politic more generally, views itself as committed to secular governance and religious freedom. While Islam is not completely immune from criticism, Americans have traditionally objected to state interference in religious matters and, theoretically, they should expect the same standards to apply to Islam. Therefore, Islam as a religion would seem to have a clear place in the diverse fabric of American society. Islamism, as a political ideology, opens itself to harsher critiques and even questions about its appropriateness in, or compatibility with, the American political system. Unsurprisingly, American public discourse suggests that Americans generally feel much more comfortable with Islam than they do with Islamism.
  • Topic: Islam, Political Economy, Politics, Religion
  • Political Geography: United States of America
  • Author: Morten Bøås
  • Publication Date: 01-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre
  • Abstract: Political instability and administrative weakness have been permanent features of the Central African Republic (CAR) ever since independence. This is, therefore, the history of a collapse foretold. Michel Djotodia may have had good intentions when he put together the Séléka alliance; the problem was that the only thing that kept it together was the desire to get rid of François Bozizé. When Bozizé was gone, the coalition's internal coherence also disappeared. Thus, for lack of other options, the alliance members continued to make their livelihoods based on plunder. As the situation worsened, the communities plundered established their own militias, and the stage was set for a simmering sectarian conflict between Christians and Muslims. It is in this mess of communal violence that the international forces are supposed to re-establish law and order. The main challenge, however, is how to avoid adding fuel to the sectarian fire. The international forces must tread carefully, and any attempt at disarming militias must be conducted with this in mind. What has happened and is happening is tragic, but it is neither genocide nor a full-blown sectarian conflict. This can still be avoided if the international forces behave impartially with regard to the two main religious communities in the country.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, International Cooperation, Religion, Sectarian violence, Peacekeeping
  • Political Geography: Africa
  • Author: Palwasha L. Kakar
  • Publication Date: 06-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: United States Institute of Peace
  • Abstract: As the economic, security and political transitions take place in Afghanistan, it is essential to work with religious leaders who have credibility and moral authority among large segments of the Afghan public. Religious leaders are among Afghanistan's traditional "gatekeepers" for making local decisions, especially on questions of women's rights, and they can be effectively engaged. Despite the very negative reactions by religious leaders to women's rights at the national political level, some at the local level have shown continuing interest in women's rights when they are involved within an Islamic framework and have participated in protecting such rights. Effective engagement with religious leaders starts with respecting their opinions and involving them directly in processes of changing strongly held social norms on women's rights and other sensitive topics, such as tolerance and peacebuilding.
  • Topic: Security, Politics, Religion
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan, Africa
  • Author: Matthew J. Walton, Susan Hayward.
  • Publication Date: 11-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: For the past few years, Myanmar's political transition has been hampered by violence between Buddhists and Muslims. A nation with an ethnically Burman and religiously Buddhist majority, the population also comprises a large minority of Muslims and members of other religions, and includes many different ethnic groups. As such, Myanmar society is complex and innately plural.
  • Topic: Political Violence, Ethnic Conflict, Religion, Political Activism
  • Political Geography: Burma, Myanmar
  • Author: Arif Rafiq
  • Publication Date: 11-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: United States Institute of Peace
  • Abstract: Sectarian violence between Sunni Deobandi and Shia Muslims in Pakistan has escalated in recent years. Most of this violence is perpetrated by local networks, but the sectarian phenomenon also has important ties to regional security dynamics and transnational terrorist networks. Despite sporadic state crackdowns, Pakistan's leading Sunni Deobandi sectarian militant groups have been able to maintain a persistent presence thanks in part to reluctance among mainstream Pakistani military and political leaders to directly confront groups that are sometimes seen as serving utilitarian political interests. Despite this negligence, Sunni Deobandi militants have also established linkages with terrorist groups that target the Pakistani state, such as al-Qaeda and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Rising conflict in the greater Middle East over the past five years has strengthened the sectarian political narrative in Pakistan and emboldened sectarian militant networks on both sides of the conflict.
  • Topic: Political Violence, Islam, Religion, Terrorism, Sectarianism, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: Pakistan