Religious extremism is not a new phenomenon in South Asia but it has certainly grown during the 21st century and that too across the region. While there are historical reasons behind religious divisions and fissures in South Asia (e.g., the two-nation theory with reference to the creation of a separate homeland for the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent), religious nationalism is a key driver behind the securitization of religious minorities. Although the existence of Muslim extremists is linked to how religion was used as a tool to recruit and mobilize mujahideen against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan between 1979 and 1988, the global dynamics after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the “war on terror” have also influenced religious radicalization and extremism in Pakistan. In contrast, Buddhist and Hindu nationalism have been key drivers of religiously motivated extremism targeting religious minorities, especially Muslims, in Sri Lanka and India. There are similarities in terms of how Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim extremist groups have been propagating hate and inciting violence; for instance, many extremist groups now increasingly use social media. As this article argues, the presence of religious extremism in South Asia presents a significant challenge to peace and security. This includes various forms of extremism targeting different religious groups and promoting anti-Western sentiments. International terrorist organizations are active in the region, while Hindu and Buddhist nationalists contribute to the marginalization and violence against Muslims. Creating an environment of tolerance, inclusivity, and respect for all religious communities is crucial to address these complex issues effectively.
Zahid Shahab Ahmed
For some time, scholars have noticed that ethnic groups that are geographically concentrated or possess a “regional base” tend to become embroiled in anti-state rebellion at a much higher rate than other ethnic groups. Countries with higher numbers of geographically concentrated ethnic minorities and self-determination movements tend to see more internal violence. Furthermore, if popular demands for independence exist, they may or may not reach serious political expression, and that expression may take various forms, from electoral action to protest or outright rebellion. The form of expression depends on institutional constraints and various factors that generate reasons for conflict; however, not all attempts at secession are done with violence. Many secessionist organizations have in fact refrained from violence, and some governments permit secessionists to organize, to contest elections, and even to pursue independence through the political process. Recently, scholarship has begun to move away from the determinants of popular demands for sovereignty to the dynamics of secessionist mobilization, including collective protest and rebellion. This research sees the struggle between nationalists and the state in the context of game theory, particularly deterrence models, and generally stresses concepts such as capability, information, and credibility. Secessionism overall remains a research frontier in both comparative politics and international relations.
Terrorism has been described variously as a tactic and strategy, a crime and a holy duty, as well as a justified reaction to oppression and an inexcusable abomination. Nationalist terrorism is a form of terrorism motivated by nationalism. Nationalist terrorists seek to form self-determination in some form, which may range from gaining greater autonomy to establishing a completely independent, sovereign state. Nationalist terrorism is linked to a national, ethnic, religious, or other identifying group, and the feeling among members of that group that they are oppressed or denied rights, especially rights accorded to others. But while terrorism has more often been based on revolutionary politics, there has also been an increase in terrorist activity motivated by religion. Terrorist acts done in the name of religion typically aim to enforce a system of belief, viewpoint or opinion. The validity and scope of religious terrorism is limited to an individual’s view or a group’s view or interpretation of that belief system’s teachings. There are some researchers, however, who argue that religion should be considered only one incidental factor and that such terrorism is primarily geopolitical. Meanwhile, ethnic violence refers to violence expressly motivated by ethnic hatred and ethnic conflict. The minimum requirement for ethnic tensions to result in ethnic violence on a systemic level is a heterogeneous society and the lack of a power to prevent them from fighting.
Like the contested remembrance of historical events, collective memory shapes interstate relations, foreign and security policy, and global politics. International relations (IR) scholars studying the relationship between collective memory and international politics link the memory concept to the notions of security, power, language, emotions, gender, identity, trauma, justice, law, and the like. The study of the international politics of memory relies on a plurality of theoretical approaches gained from interdisciplinary works on collective memory. Although collective memory is viewed as a variable influencing foreign policymaking in structural terms within a positivist paradigm in IR scholarship, from an interpretive perspective, collective memory is a practice of remembrance that constitutes a state’s foreign and security policy. Following the advances of the interpretive paradigm in the social sciences, it is expected that more interpretive studies on the international politics of memory will appear. .
Kurds are considered to be one of the largest ethnic groups in the world—with a population of more than 30 million people—who do not have their own independent state. In the Middle East, they are the fourth largest ethnic group after Arabs, Persians, and Turks. The statelessness of such a major group with an increasing ethnic and national consciousness in the post-Ottoman world led to their traumatic insecurities in the hands of majority-led nation-states that used modern technologies of social engineering including displacement, dehumanization, assimilation, and genocidal acts throughout the 20th century. With the memory of such traumatic insecurities, the driving force of contemporary Kurdish nationalism in the Middle East has primarily been the question of state or state-like entities. Yet, Kurds are not a homogeneous group with a collective understanding of security and self-government. Rather, there are political-organizational rivalries within Kurds across Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Iran. Thus, it is important to understand the multifaceted Kurdish politics in the Middle East within a global-historical perspective where global power rivalries, regional geopolitics, and intra-Kurdish organizational competition are interwoven together. While the opportunities for Kurdish self-determination were missed in the early 20th century, resilient Kurdish political organizations emerged within the bipolar international context of the Cold War. The American hegemony in the post–Cold War era transformed the Kurdish political status in the geopolitics of the Middle East, where the 1991 Gulf War, the 2003 Iraq War, and the broader war on terror provided the Kurds with many political opportunities. Finally, the shifting regional and global alliances in the post–Arab Spring era—where the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has become the global nemesis—created new political opportunities as well as significant threats for the Kurds.
The academic study of religion and irregular warfare has expanded considerably since the turn of the 21st century—driven by both global events such as 9/11 and empirical studies that find armed rebellions with religious dimensions to be longer, bloodier, and more difficult to resolve than nonreligious conflicts. Most of this research focuses on the religious, usually radical, ideas and practices of insurgent groups. Of particular interest has been the way religion shapes the motivations and means of guerrilla fighters. Less attention has been paid to the role of counterinsurgent armies in irregular, religious wars. Following the U.S.-led invasions in Iraq and Afghanistan, a few initial studies explored how state forces misunderstand or ignore the religious dynamics of armed conflict. A growing body of research since the mid-2010s has pushed further, cataloguing a more varied set of ways counterinsurgent forces account for religion in combat and information operations. Moving forward, studies that look at both sides of the battlefield need to expand their empirical emphases, as well as more directly address a common set of challenges to the broader study of religious violence—how best to conceptualize, measure, and analyze the religious dynamics of war. Future scholarship should also consider research designs that test the causal processes purported to link religion with conflict outcomes and pay increased attention to the interaction between insurgent and counterinsurgent forces.
The relationship between “religion,” “nationalism,” and transnational actors in contemporary international relations is often unclear and sometimes controversial. Many scholars have questioned the view that religion and nationalism are necessarily separate. This became necessary as it was clear that rather than fading away, religion showed surprising persistence, with deepening religious identities in many countries around the world, both “developed” and “underdeveloped.” Religion and nationalism were not necessarily apart. Instead, as two kinds of self-identification, although they were sometimes in tension, often they were not; either coexisting unproblematically, or acting in mutually supportive ways. Various approaches are suggested to explain the relationship. Rather than “either or,” the relationship between nationalism and religion can be seen as a continuum. At one end is an ideal-type “secular nationalism” and at the other there is fully realized “religious nationalism.” Somewhere in the middle is “civil-religious nationalism,” for decades believed to be the situation in America, with characteristics of both. Over time, the issue of transnationalism has also appeared of interest to scholars. This includes “transnational religious actors” which operate across international boundaries, including the Roman Catholic Church and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Our discussion commences with a discussion of secularization, in order to locate the issues of religion, nationalism, and religious transnationalist actors within an appropriate intellectual and ideological context. The aim of the essay is to illustrate how religion has a strong role in relation to nationalism and transnationalism during what many identify as a period of post-secular international relations. The two case studies highlight different aspects of religion’s involvement in international relations and underline that neither conflict nor cooperation can solely characterize such involvement.
Işık Kuşçu Bonnenfant
Research on contemporary diasporas and their political mobilization strategies has proliferated. The literature differentiates between the mobilization strategies of stateless and state-linked diaspora. While earlier works have argued that stateless diasporas pursue more violent strategies with, as an end goal, secession, more recent studies have suggested that this is not always the case. Research on diaspora has also borrowed extensively from social movement theory. This has allowed researchers to focus on diaspora as a social group that can mobilize in convenient political opportunity structures with claim-making ability. A political opportunity structure is the combination of structural and contextual conditions that permits diaspora mobilization. Mobilizing structures and frames are the two other analytical tools of social movement theory that have previously inspired diaspora scholars. Mobilizing structures are formal and informal structures in which diasporas can organize collectively for a common cause. Various frames, such as human rights, enable a diaspora to make sense of certain events and conditions in its aim to mobilize members into action. Nearly 500,000 to 600,000 Uyghurs live as diaspora today; most of them left their homeland, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in China, because of increasingly repressive policies targeting the very core elements of their identity. Uyghurs are one of the 55 ethnic minorities in China. Particularly after the end of the Cold War and the independence of the neighboring Central Asian republics, China perceived a threat of secession from the Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Later, 9/11 and the subsequent war on terror instigated China to adopt a new rhetoric, one that focused on the “fight against terrorism” in its policies toward Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang. Riots and several terrorist incidents reinforced this discourse and legitimized China’s securitization of the Uyghur issue. Since 2010, China has increased surveillance activities in the region, arbitrarily detained up to a million people, and violated the basic rights of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang. Since the 1960s, the Uyghur diaspora has pursued various mobilization strategies, most of which are confined to nonviolent repertoires of action. Uyghurs abroad have utilized various mobilization structures and political opportunity structures and frames. The first-generation Uyghur diaspora contributed greatly to the construction of a national identity and history, and this was an alternative to China’s dominant narratives. The second generation has benefited from better political opportunity structures and managed to bring various Uyghur diaspora organizations under one umbrella, the World Uyghur Congress. The Uyghur diaspora vigorously continues its efforts to create awareness on the plight of its brethren in the homeland within a human rights–based frame using moderate strategies of action. The Uyghur diaspora leadership has become a legitimate transnational actor, one that is now taken quite seriously by various states and international organizations.
Kristin P. Johnson and Ashlea Rundlett
Conflicts that occur along ethnic or nationalist lines are often the most protracted, violent, and difficult to resolve in the long term. Civil wars are often divided into two distinct types: ethnic/religious wars (identity), and revolutionary wars (nonidentity). The distinction between these conflict types is based on whether cleavages within a society occur along ethnic lines or along lines that cut across ethnic divisions and are focused on issues including class, ideology, or seeking significant policy orientation of change. The most significant theoretical and empirical contributions to the understanding of ethnic conflicts in recent years come from the disaggregation of civil wars focusing on micro- and group-level dynamics. This disaggregation supports theoretical advancement and a departure from using macro-level data with micro-level mechanisms supports transition from a monadic to dyadic study of ethnic conflict, and supports examination of potential causal mechanisms of ethnic violence. Scholarly traditions and theoretical approaches explaining identity mobilization along ethnic or nationalist lines, the contributing factors that explain the transition from mobilization to the exercise of political violence, the duration of identity-based conflicts, and the long-term prospects for settlement of the conflict have enjoyed a proliferation of studies using newly available data featuring subnational units. These include explanations of conflicts based in sociological foundations focused on the formation and maintenance of identity, structural explanations for internal conflict focus on the capacity of the state and the distribution of political authority within a political system, and the opportunity for rebellion.