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  • Author: Mehdi Khalaji
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: The clergy’s ambitions for global Shia revolution made the city of Qom uniquely vulnerable to the disease, and their resistance to modern medical science weakened the state’s ability to combat its spread. On February 19, two days before the Iranian government officially announced the arrival of coronavirus, an infected businessman who had recently returned from China to Qom passed away. The location and timing of his death illustrate how the Shia holy city and the religious leaders and institutions who call it home have played an outsize role in the disease’s disproportionately rapid spread inside Iran compared to other countries. How did this situation come to pass, and what does it say about the current state of the clerical establishment, its relationship with the regime, and its alienation from large swaths of Iranian society? (Part 2 of this PolicyWatch discusses the regime's role in the outbreak and its resiliency to such crises.)
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Health, Religion, Shia, Coronavirus
  • Political Geography: China, Iran, Middle East, Global Focus, United States of America
  • Author: Sarah Feuer
  • Publication Date: 11-2019
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Throughout 2016 and 2017, statements from Riyadh suggested that Saudi Arabia might be on the verge of reorienting its decades-long promotion of Salafism around the world. Given the sheer scale of the kingdom’s support for Islamic institutions over the years, the ripple effects of such a shift would be profound. Saudi efforts to propagate its particular brand of Salafism have long been anchored in the Mecca-based Muslim World League, but the ascent of Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman has apparently shunted the MWL in a different direction. Recent initiatives suggest Riyadh has assigned the league a central role in its broader religious reform agenda, at least as it applies to the export of religious doctrine abroad. In this deeply researched Policy Focus, Sarah Feuer, an expert on Middle East religion and politics, explores the meanings of Saudi reforms, how they are playing out within the MWL, and the broader implications for the U.S.- Saudi relationship. She recommends that Washington expand reporting mechanisms in nations where the MWL is active, pursue avenues to engage directly with the league, and incorporate religious reform into the high-level U.S.-Saudi strategic dialogue, all toward promoting moderation and undermining extremism.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Islam, Politics, Religion, Bilateral Relations, Soft Power
  • Political Geography: Saudi Arabia, North America, United States of America, Gulf Nations
  • Author: Jacqueline Wilson
  • Publication Date: 06-2019
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: United States Institute of Peace
  • Abstract: Since the beginning of South Sudan's civil war in 2013, the country's religious actors have sought to play an active role in turning the tide from war and violence to peace and reconciliation. Drawing on interviews, focus groups, and consultations, this report maps the religious landscape of South Sudan and showcases the legitimate and influential religious actors and institutions, highlights challenges impeding their peace work, and provides recommendations for policymakers and practitioners to better engage with religious actors for peace.
  • Topic: Civil War, Religion, War, Violence, Peace
  • Political Geography: Africa, South Sudan
  • Author: Melyn McKay
  • Publication Date: 08-2019
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: United States Institute of Peace
  • Abstract: This Peaceworks report maps the religious landscape of Myanmar’s Rakhine State, focusing in particular on the current and potential influence of religion in peace and reconciliation efforts. Part of a broader USIP initiative to map the religious landscape in conflict-affected environments, it presents key findings and offers recommendations to enable policymakers and peacebuilding practitioners to better navigate and engage within Rakhine’s religious landscape.
  • Topic: Religion, Conflict, Peace, Reconciliation
  • Political Geography: Southeast Asia, Myanmar
  • Author: Ann Wainscott
  • Publication Date: 11-2019
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: United States Institute of Peace
  • Abstract: Religious actors in Iraq wield considerable influence, and Iraqis perceive them as playing an important role in moving the country toward peace. This report analyzes the influence of Iraq’s religious actors—who has it, why they have it, and how they exercise it—to illuminate their crucial role in supporting peace and reconciliation efforts and to help policymakers and practitioners understand how to engage them in efforts to advance peace.
  • Topic: Religion, Violent Extremism, Islamic State, Peace, Reconciliation
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Monika Chansoria
  • Publication Date: 10-2019
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Japan Institute Of International Affairs (JIIA)
  • Abstract: The politico-governance landscape in 20th century Lhasa oversaw a system of hierarchical government–one in which, the hierarchy was composed of both, clerical and lay departments, each consisting of an equal number of men. The 165 priests belonging to the higher ranks attending to the affairs of the State bore the title “Tse Dung.” The lay officials with corresponding rank and number held the title “Dung Khor.” The most visible distinguishing mark between the priests and laymen was that while the former shaved their hair and wore priestly robes, the latter did not.1 The priestly functionaries of higher ranks were subjected to control by four Grand Secretaries, bearing the title “Tung yk chen mo”, though the real powers were vested in the seniormost priest. Similarly, four “Shabpe” (Premiers) were appointed over the higher lay officials.2 Only one among the four “Shabpe” held precedence in wielding real power, while the other three were his councilors and advisers.
  • Topic: Education, Gender Issues, Government, Religion, Governance, Finance, Trade
  • Political Geography: Japan, Asia, Tibet
  • Author: Monika Chansoria
  • Publication Date: 05-2019
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Japan Institute Of International Affairs (JIIA)
  • Abstract: Histor y often tends to repeat itself, or as Spanish-American philosopher, Jorge Agustín Santayana wrote in 1905-06 in The Life of Reason, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. While setting out to write on, or about Tibet, it is inevitable to conclude that there never was, or will be, a long walk to freedom either for Tibet, or for the holy chair of the successive Dalai Lamas – the god and king-in-one incarnation of Chen-re-zi, the Lord of Mercy – the patron deity of Tibet. The Dalai Lama not only governs his subjects in this life, but can influence their rebirth in the next, or as Tibetans believe is the “Ruler in this life, the Uplifter in the hereafter.” The journeys of the Dalai Lamas in and out of Tibet recount being perennially those, which forced them out of their homeland in the most pressing, dark, and arduous circumstances. These have been recorded most persuasively by Sir Charles Bell, British civil servant, and former British Political Representative in Tibet, Bhutan, and Sikkim, whose accounts dedicated to the memory of the 13th Dalai Lama stand testament to their long and affectionate friendship. Bell’s work Portrait of The Dalai Lama published in 1946 is amongst the finest accounts on Tibet’s chequered history. It’s important to understand Tibet’s geography and the course of events that shaped its historical and political destiny in order to realize the relations that Tibet shared with the powers that encircled it. The Chinese overlord ship, which commenced early in the 18th century and ended in 1912, was often little more than nominal. China’s endeavor to control the foreign policy of Tibet sprang mainly from two reasons: First, the Chinese desired the country as a barrier on the west; and second, from 1642, when the supreme authority of the Dalai Lama was established– China sought his spiritual backing to restrain the turbulent Mongols from invading the northern Chinese provinces.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Religion, History, Territorial Disputes
  • Political Geography: Asia, Tibet, Bhutan
  • Author: Leonard C. Sebastian
  • Publication Date: 03-2019
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Institut français des relations internationales (IFRI)
  • Abstract: Despite Indonesia’s reputation for a traditionally moderate brand of Islam, religious conservativism is gaining considerable political traction in the lead up to this April’s presidential election. During the campaign for the 2017 Jakarta Gubernatorial elections, thousands of Muslims gathered in massive demonstrations against Ahok, the initial frontrunner and a candidate from a minority ethnicity and religion, accusing him of blasphemy. Many observers have looked at the unprecedented size of the anti-Ahok rallies and their electoral context as a watershed in the evolution of Indonesian Islam. This article analyses the seismic shift in Indonesian Islam that has occurred, with moderate Islam in steep decline while conservative Islam is on the rise. It argues that radical Islam and violent extremism in Indonesia are only the tip of the iceberg—a resurgence of conservative Islamic ideology and large-scale Islamisation of Indonesian society has occurred over the nearly two-decade old Reform Era.
  • Topic: Islam, Politics, Religion, Elections, Conservatism
  • Political Geography: Indonesia, Southeast Asia
  • 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