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Reporting and analysis of the religious forces that drive and influence global news. 

Myanmar's military accused of torture as it reasserts political power

Q&A: The military is acting to preserve its hold on parliament as a new report shows that the army has "systematically" tortured ethnic Kachin civilians over the last three years with impunity.
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A man prepares dinner in the communal kitchen at the Jan Mai Kawng Internal Displacement Camp in which is sponsored by the Kachin Baptist Church in Myitkyina, Myanmar on June 6, 2014. The fighting between the Burmese Military and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has been going on for three years. (Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images)

Myanmar opposition leader and former political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi on Monday shot down a warning against using language in rallies that “challenges the army” leading up to the country’s 2015 parliamentary elections.

Since becoming a lawmaker, Suu Kyi has been working to amend the military-drafted constitution that, in its current state, blocks her from attaining the presidency while also giving the military great influence over the governing body. A parliamentary committee voted last week against changing the constitution.

"It is not the work of (the) elections commission to warn me or other leaders of what we should say or what we should not say," she said.

Her condemnation of the warning came on the same day that the government issued another warning against free speech, threatening “to expel students from technological colleges and institutes who participate in political activities that lead to ‘unrest.’"

Some are seeing the coming elections as a test of whether the army — for whom a quarter of seats in parliament are reserved, unelected — will loosen its grasp over the government.

Just last week, however, Bangkok-based human rights group Fortify Rights released a report that shows the military may not be so willing to let go of power, especially as it continues to wage war against ethnic groups.

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How ISIS is tearing up the century-old map of the Middle East

As it captures key Iraqi territory, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is undoing the WWI-era Sykes-Picot Agreement.
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People have their passports processed at a checkpoint next to a temporary displacement camp on June 13, 2014 in Kalak, Iraq. Thousands of people have fled Iraq's second city of Mosul after it was overrun by ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) militants. (Dan Kitwood/AFP/Getty Images)

PARIS — Nearly 100 years ago, when the world was in the throes of war, a secret Anglo-French document called the Sykes-Picot Agreement casually and carelessly divided up the Middle East among colonial powers.

It might sound like one of those obscure historical references you’ve long forgotten from a high school history class lesson on World War I.

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The collapse of Iraq would open a new front in the Sunni-Shia war

Commentary: In a twist of irony, Iraq may invite Iranian troops to fill the role of the US before its withdrawal.
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Families arrive at a checkpoint next to a temporary displacement camp on June 13, 2014 in Kalak, Iraq. Thousands of people have fled Iraq's second city of Mosul after it was overrun by ISAS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) militants. Many have been temporarily housed at various IDP (internally displaced persons) camps around the region including the area close to Erbil, as they hope to enter the safety of the nearby Kurdish region. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

DENVER — Iraq is collapsing. The Middle Eastern nation, where nearly 4,500 American lives were lost and nearly one billion dollars were spent from 2003-2011 to oust a dictator and rebuild a nation, is approaching chaos, perhaps even “failed state” status.

The deterioration in Syria and the invasion and spread of extremism in northern and western Iraq is putting the “cradle of civilization” under the control of the Middle East’s most militant, ruthless and vile Islamic extremists.

They proffer no future for the region’s inhabitants other than oppression under the guise of rigid adherence to Sharia law.

Extremist fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) — expelled from Al Qaida because of its extreme militancy — have seized Iraq’s second largest city of Mosul and took possession of Ninewah Province, after taking Fallujah and Ramadi just west of Baghdad late last year. They quickly moved south to Samarra and Tikrit, capturing both cities with little government resistance. They also seized Iraq’s largest oil refinery in Baiji. The militants have made no secret of their objective: Baghdad.

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The rise of atheism in Saudi Arabia, where talking about atheism is illegal

Part Three: In March the Saudi government outlawed “calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based.”
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A Pakistani child stands next to a replica of the Kaaba, the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca, during celebrations marking Eid Milad-un-Nabi, the birthday of Prophet Mohammed, in Lahore on January 14, 2014. (Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images)

Editor's note: Saudi Arabia’s religious landscape has sometimes appeared as a monochromatic terrain of pious Muslims following an intolerant, puritanical version of Islam. If that picture was ever accurate, it is certainly not today.

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Saudi Arabia: Tired of religious conflict, youth explore Arab nationalism

Part Two: After decades of declining popularity under the ascendance of political Islam, Arabism is seeing a revival of sorts among Saudi youth as a way out of the sectarian conflicts now gripping the region.
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Bahraini women hold Bahrain and Saudi flags during a pro-government rally in the village of Arad on the Bahraini island of Muharraq on February 21, 2013. (Mohammed Al-Shaikh/AFP/Getty Images)

Editor's note: Saudi Arabia’s religious landscape has sometimes appeared as a monochromatic terrain of pious Muslims following an intolerant, puritanical version of Islam. If that picture was ever accurate, it is certainly not today.

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Saudi reformers challenge Islamic movement linked to extremism

Part One: The kingdom's official version of Islam, Wahhabism, has dampened Saudi creativity and impeded government modernization programs. But reform is in the air.
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Saudi boys walk past luxury Mercedes cars displayed at the 2013 International Luxury Motor Show in the capital Riyadh on October 29, 2013. (Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images)

Editor's note: Saudi Arabia’s religious landscape has sometimes appeared as a monochromatic terrain of pious Muslims following an intolerant, puritanical version of Islam. If that picture was ever accurate, it is certainly not today.

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Vatican at war with nuns over evolutionary thinking

Part Two: Pope Francis's remarks have often sounded compatible with Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's concept of 'conscious evolution.' So why are American nuns in trouble for supporting it?
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Nuns kneel in prayer at the end of Easter Mass service at Cathedral of the Holy Cross, on April 20, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Andrew Burton/AFP/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: In GlobalPost’s 2013 series “A New Inquisition,” religion writer Jason Berry went deep behind the daily headlines on the Vatican investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the 1500-member council representing the majority of America’s 57,000 nuns.

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Vatican continues attack on American nuns as Pope Francis stands by

Part One: Religious sisters still under pressure despite soothing language from the pope.
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Pope Francis gives a speech during a meeting with prelates, nuns and seminarists at the Church of All Nations in the Garden of Gethsemane, in east Jerusalem, on May 26, 2014. Pope Francis called for people of all faiths to have access to often hotly-contested sacred sites in Jerusalem, on the final day of his whirlwind Middle East trip. (Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: In GlobalPost’s 2013 series “A New Inquisition,” religion writer Jason Berry went deep behind the daily headlines on the Vatican investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the 1500-member council representing the majority of America’s 57,000 nuns.

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American Sikhs remember mass violence in India, 30 years later

Thousands of Sikhs died in the wake of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's assassination. Some in the Sikh diaspora want the pogroms officially recognized as genocide.
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An Indian Sikh devotee takes a dip at the Golden Temple in Amritsar on May 23, 2014, on the occasion of the 535th birth anniversary of Guru Amardas, the third master of the Sikhs. It's the same temple that was attacked by Indian troops in 1984. (Narinder Nanu/AFP/Getty Images)

Simran Jeet Singh was born in Texas in the summer of 1984. He doesn’t remember that year, of course, but like many young Sikh Americans, he’s grown up hearing about it: The Indian government feared Sikh secession. At the order of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, military troops marched on Sikhism’s holiest temple. Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards. Anti-Sikh violence erupted throughout India.

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Saudi Arabia is cracking down on atheism to suppress dissent

Commentary: Law seeks to rein in terrorists as well as send a message to the country’s few atheists.
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Muslim pilgrims pray to God after they threw pebbles at pillars during the 2nd day of "Jamarat" ritual, the stoning of Satan, in Mina near the holy city of Mecca, on October 16, 2013. (FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images)

NEW YORK — Since Syria’s conflict began in 2011, a stream of jihadists militants has travelled from Saudi Arabia to join rebels fighting the regime of Bashar al Assad. Although travelling fighters are a Saudi tradition going back to the Soviet war in Afghanistan, the Saudi government worries that this time they may return home and take up arms against the monarchy.

So it was perhaps no surprise when the government this year criminalized the act of fighting in foreign conflicts, and named as “terrorist” several groups with which the Saudi jihadists identify: Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood, and various factions of Al Qaeda.

What was surprising was the inclusion of another group on the “terrorist” list: Saudi atheists.

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