By James M. Dorsey

Saudi and Emirati efforts to define ‘moderate’ Islam as socially more liberal while being subservient to an autocratic ruler is as much an endeavour to ensure regime survival and bolster aspirations to lead the Muslim world as it is an attempt to fend off challenges rooted in diverse strands of religious ultra-conservatism.

The Saudi and Emirati efforts to garner religious soft power have much in common even though the kingdom and the United Arab Emirates build their respective campaigns on historically different forms of Islam. …


By James M. Dorsey

A paradigm shift in jihadist thinking suggests that the US invasion of Afghanistan may prove to have achieved more than many counterterrorism experts would want policymakers and military strategists to believe.

Similarly, the paradigm shift also hints at the possibility that the presence in a Taliban-governed Afghanistan of various militant Islamist and jihadist groups could turn out to be an advantage in efforts to prevent and contain political violence.

The evolution of tensions and unfolding of differences in the world of Afghan militancy will constitute a litmus test of the shift and how history will ultimately…


By James M. Dorsey

Indonesian religious affairs minister Yaqut Cholil Qoumas set the bar high for President Joko Widodo as well as Nahdlatul Ulama, the religious backbone of Mr. Widodo’s government when he laid out the agenda for his country’s presidency of the Group of 20. The G20 groups the world’s largest economies.

Speaking to the G20 Interfaith Forum in Bologna as Italy prepared to handover its presidency to Indonesia, Mr. …


By James M. Dorsey

Controversy over a recent ‘Dismantling Global Hindutava’ conference that targeted a politically charged expression of Hindu nationalism raises questions that go far beyond the anti-Muslim discriminatory policies of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government and ruling party.

The conference and responses to it highlight a debilitating deterioration in the past two decades, especially since 9/11, of the standards of civility and etiquette that jeopardize civil, intelligent, and constructive debate and allow expressions of racist, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic attitudes to become mainstream.

Organizers of the conference that was co-sponsored by 53 American universities, including Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, Columbia, Berkeley, University of…


By James M. Dorsey

The Taliban’s record in recent weeks on making good on promises to respect human and women’s rights as well as uphold freedom of the press is mixed at best. Afghanistan’s neighbours and near-neighbours are not holding their breath even if some are willing to give the Central Asian country’s new rulers the benefit of the doubt.

A litmus test of Taliban willingness to compromise may come sooner than later.

It’s most likely only a matter of time before China knocks on newly appointed Afghan acting interior minister Sirajuddin Haqqani’s door demanding the extradition of…


By James M. Dorsey

The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan may help Iran reduce its international isolation. At least, that’s what the Islamic Republic hopes when leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) gather in Tajikistan next weekend.

Members are admitted to the eight-member China-led SCO that also groups Russia, India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan, by unanimous consensus. Iran, unlike its rivals in the Gulf, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, has long had observer status with the SCO.

The Gulf states have so far kept their distance to the China-dominated regional alliance created to counter the ‘evils’ of…


By James M. Dorsey

At the very outset of the 21st century, Osama bin Laden wittingly or unwittingly positioned himself with the 9/11 attacks as one of its most important figures.

The attacks initially served to undermine multi-cultural policies in relatively ethnically and religiously homogeneous European societies, which struggled to with migration from other continents, ethnicities, and religious backgrounds. The legacy of the attacks has brought identity politics back to the fore not only in the West but also in Africa and Asia.

In doing so, the attacks reshaped global politics and attitudes towards large numbers of people fleeing political…


By James M. Dorsey

The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan perpetuates a paradigm of failed governance in the Muslim world based on a centuries-old alliance between Islamic scholars and the state that, according to scholar Ahmet T Kuru, explains underdevelopment in many Muslim-majority states and authoritarianism in most.

The takeover also highlights that, in a twist of irony, a majority of competitors for Muslim religious soft power, leadership of the Muslim world, and the ability to define Islam have as much in common as they have differences.

The takeover further spotlights the Muslim world’s struggles to free itself from the shackles…


By James M. Dorsey

Turkish state-run television appears to have not gotten the message: Turkey and the United Arab Emirates are burying the hatchet — one of several Turkish efforts to reduce tensions in the Middle East and prevent them from spinning out of control.

TRT 1 is set to broadcast a new and second season of Teskilat (The Organization), a series allegedly endorsed by Turkey’s intelligence agency, that portrays it as fighting a covert war against a thinly disguised Arab adversary, the United Arab Emirates.

The UAE-backed fictional organization is led by Zayed Fadi, a composite figure whose first…


by James M. Dorsey

The US withdrawal from Afghanistan will likely clarify what the Gulf’s security options are.

Gulf states are likely to monitor how Russia and China handle the perceived security vacuum and security threats in the wake of the US withdrawal and abandonment, for all practical matters, of Central Asia. It will tell Gulf states to what degree Russia and China may be viable alternatives for a no longer reliable US security umbrella in the Middle East.

Gulf states are likely to discover that they are stuck with a less committed United States. That reality will push them…

James M. Dorsey

James is an award-winning journalist covering ethnic and religious conflict. He blogs using soccer as a lens on the Middle East and North Africa's fault lines

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