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  • 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: Aram Nerguizian
  • Publication Date: 02-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for Strategic and International Studies
  • Abstract: Lebanon has been a chronic US foreign policy challenge in the Levant since the Eisenhower Administration. However, given the country's centrality to regional security politics and Iran's support for the Shi'a militant group Hezbollah, the US cannot avoid looking at Lebanon as yet another arena of competition with Iran in the broader Levant.
  • Topic: Security, Islam, Religion, Terrorism, Armed Struggle, Power Politics
  • Political Geography: Lebanon, Syria
  • Author: Mehdi Khalaji
  • Publication Date: 01-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Although President Rouhani has persuaded the Supreme Leader to adjust the IRGC's economic functions, he has not challenged its role in shaping Iran's nuclear policy. President Hassan Rouhani's relationship with Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is a central dynamic in the country's politics and economy. As always, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ultimately determines the roles of the president and the IRGC, so Rouhani has sought to pursue his economic imperatives without crossing the Supreme Leader or the military elite on the nuclear issue.
  • Topic: Security, Religion, Nuclear Power
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East
  • Author: Eric Trager
  • Publication Date: 01-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Low Salafist turnout for this week's constitutional referendum could signal a broad base of support for growing jihadist violence against the post-Morsi government. The January 14-15 referendum on Egypt's draft constitution is being billed as a referendum on the military's July 3 ouster of Muslim Brotherhood president Muhammad Morsi. Yet the vote is unlikely to alter the country's short-term political trajectory: no matter the results, the military-backed government will continue repressing pro-Morsi forces, who will in turn continue resisting a process they view as illegitimate. The extent to which Salafists participate in the referendum may have longer-term implications, however. High Salafist turnout would suggest an embrace of the Nour Party's decision to participate in the post-Morsi process, whereas low turnout would reflect strong feelings of disenfranchisement that could lead more Salafists to embrace jihadism.
  • Topic: Religion, Armed Struggle, Regime Change, Reform
  • Political Geography: Arabia, Egypt
  • Author: David Schenker
  • Publication Date: 01-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: The controversial Hariri trial will unfold amid growing sectarian violence in Lebanon, the seemingly interminable war in Syria, and a longstanding political stalemate regarding Hezbollah's role in government.
  • Topic: Islam, Religion, Terrorism, Sectarianism
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, Lebanon, Syria
  • Author: Mehdi Khalaji
  • Publication Date: 02-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Although Tehran worries about internal threats from Salafi jihadists, it may well cooperate with such groups if they attack Western interests.
  • Topic: Security, Religion, Terrorism, Armed Struggle
  • Political Geography: Iran, North America
  • Author: Habib Sayah
  • Publication Date: 04-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: As Tunisia's Islamists reaffirm their cohesiveness, the country's contentious politics have worn out many voters and dulled their interest in democratic participation, making abstention the most likely winner of this year's elections. Last week, 39,000 members of Tunisia's leading Islamist faction, Ennahda, took part in an internal referendum to decide whether to postpone their next national congress, where a new party executive board is typically chosen. More than 70 percent of the members agreed to maintain the party's cohesiveness in order to focus on winning the next round of legislative elections rather than risk exposing internal divisions. In contrast, the various parties in the secular opposition remain disorganized and divided by their ambitions -- months after helping to pressure the Ennahda-led governing coalition out of office and agreeing to a transitional roadmap, they are unable to unite, whether against their Islamist adversary or around a common political project. More important, Islamists and secularists alike face an uphill battle in convincing increasingly skeptical Tunisian voters that they are serious about addressing the country's social, economic, and security concerns instead of squabbling with each other.
  • Topic: Islam, Religion, Power Politics, Sectarianism
  • Political Geography: Egypt, Tunisia
  • Author: David Schenker
  • Publication Date: 05-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: The thorny parliamentary process of selecting a new president could rekindle violence if it results in substantial delays or further sectarian friction. Last week, Lebanon's parliament convened for the first round of balloting to elect a new president. While Samir Geagea -- who leads the Christian "Lebanese Forces" party, which is aligned with the pro-Western March 14 coalition -- received the most votes, he failed to secure the requisite two-thirds parliamentary support. In the coming weeks, legislators are slated to continue meeting until a president is selected. Unlike last week's session, in which the Hezbollah-led March 8 bloc did not challenge Geagea's candidacy, the voting promises to become increasingly contentious in subsequent rounds. Perennial sectarian tensions exacerbated by the war next door in Syria have complicated the historically wrought and arcane election process. Should a compromise candidate not emerge by May 25, the term of current president Michel Suleiman will expire, leaving the post vacant. In the past, the presidency -- which by law must be held by a Christian -- was the dominant office in Lebanon's government. But the 1989 Taif Accord effectively stripped the position of its powers, delegating them to the prime minister, who must hail from the Sunni Muslim constituency. Given the post's largely symbolic nature, some might argue that the tense selection process is much ado about nothing. Yet the presidency remains an emotionally evocative issue for Lebanese Christians, and both the March 8 and March 14 blocs see a sympathetic chief executive as an important advantage worth fighting for.
  • Topic: Religion, Power Politics, Regime Change, Public Opinion
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Lebanon
  • Author: Haroon Ullah, Eric Trager, Vish Sakthivel
  • Publication Date: 05-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: A senior State Department advisor and two Washington Institute scholars discuss what lessons can -- and cannot -- be drawn from the Islamist political experience in Egypt, Pakistan, Morocco, and other countries.
  • Topic: Islam, Religion, Political Activism
  • Political Geography: Pakistan, Middle East, Arabia, Egypt, Morocco
  • Author: Aaron Y. Zelin
  • Publication Date: 05-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Security crackdowns will not be enough to eradicate jihadist networks in Tunisia and Libya, which have the patience and ideological conviction to weather drastic reorganization. Eight months ago, the Tunisian government officially designated Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (AST) as a terrorist organization. Since then, Tunis has cracked down on the group's activities, going after both its dawa campaign (i.e., proselytization and social-welfare efforts) and any links members have to terrorist plots. On the whole, AST's public response has been to keep relatively quiet. Yet recent developments indicate that the group may be rebranding itself as Shabab al-Tawhid (ST; the Youth of Pure Monotheism), a shift that would have important implications for efforts to counter Tunisian jihadists and their associates in Libya.
  • Topic: Islam, Religion, Terrorism, Armed Struggle, Border Control
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Libya, Arabia, Tunisia