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  • Author: Susan Hayward
  • Publication Date: 08-2012
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: United States Institute of Peace
  • Abstract: The field of religious peacebuilding has begun to move closer to the mainstream of conflict resolution practice and theory. The 2011 unrest in the Middle East and North Africa—the Arab Spring—reflects ongoing challenges and opportunities for the field. American and European nongovernmental organizations, agencies in the U.S. government, academia, and international organizations—sectors that once held religious issues at a distance or understood religion mainly as a driver of violence—increasingly engage religious communities and institutions as partners in creating peace. Meanwhile, religious organizations that have been involved in creating peace for decades, if not longer, increasingly have institutionalized and professionalized their work, suggesting ways that religious and secular organizations could coordinate their efforts more closely. The U.S. Institute of Peace's own programs on religion reflect the development of the wider field, having moved from research and analysis to on-the-ground programming to foster interfaith dialogue in the Balkans, Nigeria, Israel-Palestine, and Sudan. In addition, it has trained religious actors in conflict management in Sri Lanka, Iraq, and Colombia and developed peace curricula based on Islamic principles for religious and secular schools in Pakistan, Indonesia, the Philippines, and elsewhere. As the U.S. field of religious peacebuilding continues to develop, challenges include integrating further with secular peacebuilding efforts, engaging women and youth and addressing their priorities, working more effectively with non-Abrahamic religious traditions, and improving evaluation, both to show how religious peacebuilding can reduce and resolve conflict and to strengthen the field's ability to do so.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Islam, Peace Studies, Religion, Treaties and Agreements
  • Political Geography: Africa, United States, Europe, Arabia
  • Author: Lorenzo Vidino
  • Publication Date: 12-2010
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: United States Institute of Peace
  • Abstract: The recent surge in the number of American Muslims involved in terrorism has led U.S. authorities to question the long-held assumption that American Muslims are immune to radicalization, and to follow the example of other Western democracies in devising a comprehensive counter radicalization strategy. Radicalization is a highly individualized process determined by the complex interaction of various personal and structural factors. Because no one theory can exhaustively explain it, policymakers must understand the many paths to radicalization and adopt flexible approaches when trying to combat it. The role of religion in the radicalization process is debated, but theories that set aside ideology and religion as factors in the radicalization of Western jihadists are not convincing. Policymakers who choose to tackle religious aspects should do so cautiously, however, cognizant of the many implications of dealing with such a sensitive issue. Policymakers need to determine whether a counter radicalization strategy aims to tackle violent radicalism alone or, more ambitiously, cognitive radicalism. The relation between the two forms is contested. Challenging cognitive radicalism, though possibly useful for both security and social cohesion purposes, is extremely difficult for any Western democracy.Finding partners in the Muslim community is vital to any counter radicalization program. In light of the fragmentation of that community, a diverse array of partners appears to be the best solution. There is the risk, however, that counter radicalization efforts could be perceived by Muslims as unfairly targeting them. Partnerships with nonviolent Islamists could provide results in the short term, but there are doubts as to their long-term implications. All aspects of a partnership with such groups should be carefully examined before any decision is made. Policymakers need to find ways to empirically measure their programs' effectiveness.
  • Topic: Islam, Terrorism, Counterinsurgency
  • Political Geography: United States, America
  • Author: C. Christine Fair, Clay Ramsay
  • Publication Date: 02-2008
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: United States Institute of Peace
  • Abstract: Over the past year, Pakistan has endured a series of traumatic events that have brought increasing stress to its people and its political classes, as well as to American policymakers and the international community.
  • Topic: International Relations, Political Violence, Islam
  • Political Geography: Pakistan, United States, Asia
  • Author: Mona Yacoubian
  • Publication Date: 09-2007
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: United States Institute of Peace
  • Abstract: Parliamentary elections across the Middle East have led to a wave of Islamist victories. Islamist parties typically boast leaders who are young and dynamic, with strong ties to the community; their party organizations brim with energy and ideas, attracting those who seek change. The U.S. government has quietly engaged moderate Islamist parties for several years. U.S. engagement has been most successful where democratic reform is already underway and where the government is genuinely committed to political opening. Other factors include the Islamist parties' political sophistication, popular credibility, and openness to working with U.S. organizations. A successful Islamist engagement strategy both empowers individuals and strengthens institutions to yield greater transparency, more accountability, and shifts toward greater moderation. Of the three cases addressed in this paper—Morocco, Jordan, and Yemen—Morocco appears to hold the greatest promise for U.S. engagement with moderate Islamists. Meanwhile, Jordan and Yemen offer important though limited instances of success. U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East affects the ability of U.S. organizations to promote democracy there. At times, Islamist parties have cut off contact with U.S. democracy promoters to protest specific aspects of U.S. foreign policy, such as the war in Iraq. Ultimately, U.S. engagement of moderate Islamists must be understood within the broader political context of the ideological battle in the Muslim world over the place of Islam in public life. Moderate Islamist parties that reject violence and practice democratic ideals are an important counterweight to Islamist extremism, and their work should be encouraged.
  • Topic: Democratization, Islam, War
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Middle East, Yemen, Jordan, Morocco
  • Author: Babak Rahimi
  • Publication Date: 06-2007
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: United States Institute of Peace
  • Abstract: Since spring 2003, Sistani has become the preeminent and best financed of the grand ayatollahs remaining in the city of Najaf—and by extension, in Iraq. He remains one of the most powerful figures in Iraq and he brings the Shi'is closer together across the greater Middle East. Since 1997, the Internet has increased the size and the prestige of Sistani's social organization to an astonishing degree on a global basis. Like his father, Sistani is an adherent of a democratic Shi'i tradition that dates back to the Persian Constitutional Revolution of 1906 to 1911 and continued with the Khatami reformist movement (1997–2005). As the general representative of the Hidden Imam, quietist Sistani can remain totally aloof from all political matters, while at times of perceived moral decadence, political corruption, great injustice, or foreign occupation, he can become more active in political affairs by engaging in activities such as consultation, guidance, and even the promotion of sacred norms in public life. Sistani's religious network is increasingly becoming an important source of local governance in southern Iraq, where many Iraqis are hired and at times agree to conduct duties that are usually carried out by the state. Sistani's insistence on recognizing Islam as a fundamental component of the Iraqi constitution is not intended to make Iraq an Islamist state based on juridical sharia strictures, but rather to limit the total secularization of the constitution, which would deprive a Muslim country of an “authentic” national identity based on its Islamic heritage. Sistani could contribute to reducing sectarian tensions by working with other Sunni and Shi'i religious leaders (including tribal leaders) to organize a National Reconciliation Initiative in order to display a united, powerful Sunni-Shi'i front with an emphasis on common Islamic ideals; to express condemnation of anti-Shi'i Wahabi extremism and anti-Sunni Shi'i radicalism; and to form communal solidarity through the ceremonial process of intersectarian group gatherings. Sistani remains a key religious figure who has influence as a peacemaker and mediator among various Shi'i factions and ethnic groups in Basra and Kirkuk that are competing for economic and territorial dominance in the northern and southern regions of the country. As long as the state army is unable to independently fight off the Sunni insurgency and Shi'i militias, it is highly unlikely that Sistani will call for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. Sistani is mainly concerned with maintaining stability in the region while rejecting any form of U.S. military adventurism that could seriously endanger the integrity and autonomy of Muslim countries in the greater Middle East. Although Sistani is still a powerful figure within Iraq, his influence has diminished since the bombing of the Shi'i shrine in Samarra in February 2006 and the ensuing increase in Sunni–Shi'i violence. Washington should recognize that until the sectarian warfare subsides, there is no effective way for Sistani to become involved in the Iraqi political process. However, Washington should engage Sistani now, because of the positive role he would have in the democratization of Iraq if the sectarian tensions subside.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Democratization, Islam
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Middle East, Kirkuk, Basra