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Skip to 0 minutes and 9 secondsOur second case study concerns the jihadi movement that calls itself IS, Islamic State. Considering its current impact both in the Middle East and at a global level, IS is an obvious albeit complex case study to illustrate how a conflict situation can lead to a religiously framed violence. The influence of IS extends well beyond Syria and Iraq. It has attracted over 20,000 young Muslims from all over the world to join the jihad. We cannot pretend to be able to provide all the answers to explain what is happening in Syria and Iraq at the moment.

Skip to 0 minutes and 50 secondsBut applying the knowledge and insights that we have discussed over the past three weeks does enable us to at least sketch the contours of the interplay between religious and other factors in the conflict. Our main argument throughout the course has been that since religion may mean different things in different circumstances and to different people, to understand how a conflict has come to be framed as religious conflict, we need to investigate the political, economic, and social circumstances that have given rise to a conflict situation. As a first step to understand the rise, objectives, and success of IS, we must therefore look at the immediate context and the historical background of the two countries where IS first emerged, Iraq and Syria.

Skip to 1 minute and 48 secondsYou may remember the iconic image of the pulling down of a statue of Saddam Hussein by the US Army in 2003. Most analysts agree that Iraq's present situation is the result of what happened then. The fall of Saddam Hussein marked a shift in power relations in Iraq that would lead to civil unrest, and eventually, to civil war. Inspired by the Arab Spring in 2011, in Syria, a civil movement emerged that tried to topple the regime of Bashar Assad. Due to both internal and external factors, this soon developed into a full-blown civil war. In both countries, several jihadi groups stepped in to fight their own war. But why did things get so out of hand in Iraq and Syria?

Skip to 2 minutes and 41 secondsI suggest you read the text about the background in the upcoming article before viewing the next lecture video.

Introduction to case study 'Islamic State'

This section focuses on IS as a case study, but located within the frameworks we have previously discussed. While we do not claim all answers on the topic, it is important to place this case study within a wider social, economic and political climate and with relation to recent world events.

In any religiously framed conflict, religion is not the only isolated contributing factor and it is important to bare this in mind of future activities.


Up for debate

  • Can you think of other religiously framed conflicts with clear contributing factors that combined with religious ones?
  • Often one of these factors on its own is not enough to cause a conflict, can you think of why that might be, and why its important to consider all possible contributing factors both separately and as a whole?

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Religion and Conflict

University of Groningen

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