Reflecting on the recent rise of Salafi groups and their impact on civil war, the academic literature on Salafi radicalization, mobilization, and recruitment has burgeoned in the recent decade and a half. Yet little consensus exists as to the relative power of three major causes: grievances, ideology, and radical milieu and support structures as causes of violent radicalization. Even less is known about how jihadist foreign fighters affect civil wars in terms of conflict intensity and resolution. In both fields, key debates are identified in the recent scholarship, explain the major shortcomings and gaps, and suggest avenues of future research. For instance, it is important—and hardly avoidable—that epistemological and ontological obstacles lay in the way of establishing the causes of (violent) radicalization, because the processes relating to the change of human perception and behavior are extremely difficult to trace. Another point is the frequent—deliberate or unintended—distortion of the testimonies of former combatants, not least Salafi-jihadists, which makes the task of establishing the causes of (violent) radicalization and recruitment harder. Identifying avenues of further research, there is a lack of quality first-hand data in the current research on Salafi-inspired radicalization, mobilization, and recruitment. More methodological plurality—particularly in-depth ethnographic studies and quantitative work—is needed, as well as more research on virtual social networks and non-verbal contents.
Emil Aslan Souleimanov
Out of the 111 armed conflicts that took place worldwide between 1989 and 2000, only seven were interstate conflicts. The others were intrastate in nature. As a result, the last decade and a half witnessed a boom in the publication of works on civil wars. While the percentage of civil wars involving religion increased from 21% to 43% between the 1960s and 1990s, scholars have been rather slow to integrate the study of religion into the overall framework of conflict in general, and of civil wars in particular. Operating under the impact of the secularization thesis and treating religion as an aspect of ethnicity, the literature on civil wars has long embraced ethnonationalism as its subject matter. Yet, since the early 2000s there has been a rapid increase in the number of works focusing on religion and civil wars. While one branch treats religion as a trigger for and an exacerbating factor in conflict, another focuses on religion as a conflict resolution tool. Turkey is an apt case to ponder the latter as several governments have deployed religion (namely, Sunni Islam) as a tool to suppress ethnic divisions for years. During the Justice and Development Party (AKP) rule, religion has gained even more visibility as a conflict resolution tool in the 33-year-long armed ethnic conflict between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK). Yet, the role of religion in Turkey’s Kurdish conflict still remains understudied. Increased attention to this topic could deliver important insights not only for those who conduct research on the Kurdish conflict in Turkey specifically, but also for those who explore the role of religion in civil wars more generally.
Rina Verma Williams and Sayam Moktan
With over one billion adherents worldwide and 15% of the world’s population, Hinduism is the fourth largest, and among the oldest, of the major world religions, with important political aspects that reverberate well beyond South Asia. Yet it is perhaps the least studied of the major world religions. Hinduism is also one of the most geographically concentrated religions of the world. The majority of Hindus are concentrated in two South Asian countries, Nepal and India, where Hindus constitute 80% or more of the population. Small but politically influential diasporic communities of Hindus are found throughout Europe, Africa, the Caribbean, the United States, and Canada. Key characteristics of Hinduism that set it apart from Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), especially politically, include its polytheistic nature and lack of one single authoritative text; the tremendous variation in its practice across locality and caste; and its frequently informal practice beyond the confines of official institutions such as temples. Hinduism has been compatible with a range of regime types over time in India and Nepal, including empire, monarchy, and democracy. Both India and Nepal are officially secular countries, but the status of secularism in both countries is contested by the forces of Hindu nationalism, a movement that seeks to institutionalize the political, social, and cultural predominance of Hinduism. Religious conversion is expressly prohibited in Nepal; in India, it is increasingly under legislative attack. The politics of caste are an important political aspect of Hinduism in both India and Nepal. While politics in both countries remain dominated by upper castes, important lower-caste political mobilization has appeared in India, but has yet to take hold in Nepal. A better understanding of Hinduism’s political aspects has enormous potential to enhance knowledge of religion and politics more broadly.
Religion has historically played a central role in motivating rulers to start and individuals to participate in war. However, the decline of religion in international politics following the Peace of Westphalia and the inception of the modern nation-state system, which built and highlighted a sense of national identity, undermined the contribution of religion to politics and consequently, conflict. The case of the Iran−Iraq War, however, shows a different pattern in which religion did play a crucial role in motivating individuals to participate in war. Although the evidence suggests that religious motivations by no means contributed to Saddam’s decision to launch the war, an overview of the Iranian leaders’ speeches and martyrs’ statements reveals that religion significantly motivated people to take part in the war. While Iraqi leaders tried to mobilize the population by highlighting the allegedly Persian-Arab historical antagonism and propagating an Iraqi-centered form of Arab nationalism, Iranian leaders exploited religious symbols and emotions to encourage war participation, garner public support, alleviate the suffering of the people, and build military morale. The Iranian leadership painted the war as a battle between believers and unbelievers, Muslims and infidels, and the true and the false. This strategy turned out to be an effective tool of mobilization during wartime.