Previous Weekly Numbers have documented growing religious hostilities in Iraq. The missing headline -- as the Sunni-led Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), formerly affiliated with al-Qaeda, battle Shia-dominated government forces -- is the economy. But, it's not oil and the negative impact on the global economy I'm referring to.
Majid Jafar, CEO of Crescent Petroleum and founder of the Arab Stabilisation Plan, and Erik Berglof, chief economist for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, argue that the dramatic events now unfolding in Iraq show the need for a coordinated economic plan to offer hope and enhance stability. In particular, they note that the International Labor Organization (ILO) found that the Middle East has the world's highest youth unemployment rate in the world, and it is rising.
This, however, does not mean that social hostilities involving religion are irrelevant. Rather, it highlights the dangers of a system where religion and religious identities become rallying points for other grievances. As the Shia-dominated Iraqi government favors other Shia Muslims -- long the underclass under Saddam Hussein -- this sets up new animosities that are easily grafted onto other issues, such as unemployment, inequality and unmet expectations.
Although not the immediate solution to the current crisis, research shows that protecting religious freedom and the rights of all groups to contribute as equal members of society leads to peace, more inclusive societies and economic competitiveness. Any long term solution to the escalating Iraq crisis that ignores the religious context will miss one of the key elements that gives resiliency to societies and economies - religious freedom.
For more, see the recent study showing that religious freedom is linked to economic growth.