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Seek and You Shall Find Religious Intelligence in British Counter-Insurgency Operations

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Counter-insurgency forces across a variety of contexts have been criticised in recent years for insufficient attention to the role of religion in insurgency wars. The consensus view of this critique alleges that military planners, at best, misunderstand the impact of religious identities and beliefs on guerrilla forces and, at worst, ignore them all together. In this article, I challenge this conventional wisdom by tracing the routine efforts of British forces to understand the impact of religion during conflicts in Mandatory Palestine, Cyprus, and Kenya. Drawing on original data collected from the colonial archives, I demonstrate how security personnel repeatedly obtained and evaluated religious intelligence in three key issue areas: combat operations, information operations, and demobilisation. My findings have significant implications for the study of both religious violence and civil wars. First, they illustrate how binaries that construe state actors as secular and non-state actors as religious are often oversimplified. Second, they point to how religion affects conflict in meaningful, and oftentimes unanticipated, ways. While not necessarily the cause of a particular rebellion, religious sensibilities often shape how counterinsurgents combat guerrilla forces.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 1, 2016

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  • The St Antony's International Review (STAIR) is the only peer-reviewed journal of international affairs at the University of Oxford. Set up by graduate students of St Antony's College in 2005, the Review has carved out a distinctive niche as a cross-disciplinary outlet for research on the most pressing contemporary global issues, providing a forum in which emerging scholars can publish their work alongside established academics and policymakers. Past contributors include Robert O. Keohane, James N. Rosenau, and Alfred Stepan.
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