By Erkin Kamalov
Local authorities talk to schoolchildren during an extremism prevention event in Kara-Kul city, Jalal-Abad Province, October 13. [Erkin Kalamov]
JALAL-ABAD, Kyrgyzstan --Authorities in Jalal-Abad Province are conducting various initiatives to keep high-school and college students from joining the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL).
The effort comes as hundreds of radicalised Kyrgyz fight alongside militants in Syria and Iraq.
"We held prevention meetings over the course of a week in October for students at [Jalal-Abad State University] and for students in high schools No. 1, 3, 4, and 6 in Kara-Kul and No. 5 in Kambar-Ata," local imam-khatib Bekten haji Kerezbayev told Caravanserai in an interview.
These events rely on religious scholars, police officers and teachers to convey to youth a world of new information about Islam and about ways to avoid falling victim to extremist recruiters, he said.
"The college and high-school students realised the dangers of ISIL," he added. "We urge them to be careful online ... and to ignore pseudo-imams who strive to lure people into their extremist movements."
Education gives the next generation love for its homeland and a sense of duty, which serve as antidotes to extremism, Kerezbayev added.
"We ... cite those who were tricked into going to Syria and were killed," Jalal-Abad Province police spokesman Taalaibek Kalmurzayev told Caravanserai. "[Doing so] has a powerful effect on children's minds."
One possible militant casualty in Syria is Mansur Japarkulov, 34, of Bek-Abad, Suzak District, who vanished last August, Kalmurzayev said. Japarkulov last spring went to another CIS country to work.
"Cases of Kyrgyz citizens pretending to look for work abroad while they go to Syria in reality ... and most likely meet a senseless death are not uncommon," Kalmurzayev said.
Minors could become the victims of radicalised adult relatives, he warned, adding that authorities are telling children to seek help in such cases from their own schools, the police or block committees.
"We should protect the younger generation from extremism and terrorism," Ogiloi Maniyazova of Jalal-Abad city told Caravanserai. "In addition to explaining extremism to them, teachers also stage skits, give quizzes and hold competitions on anti-radicalism topics."
The way to fight extremism is to take a comprehensive approach, Maniyazova suggested, incorporating events that involve elements of games. Children themselves could demonstrate how to avoid recruiters' sales pitches.
"Parents need to do their share in keeping phony online imams from influencing their children," she added. "Checking their social media accounts could reveal high-school and college students' preferences ... and protect them from extremism."
Since January, the Jalal-Abad Province police have opened 42 cases in connection with charges of extremism, according to the provincial police. Law enforcement agencies work together to uncover new cases.
The latest such case occurred in Kumush-Aziz village, Suzak District. Police searched the home of one suspected member of an extremist group October 21 and found religious literature that they sent away for textual analysis.
The state needs to promote an ideology in which youth can believe, Azis Idrisov, director of the Kyrgyz Republic Youth Labour Market, said at a roundtable in Bishkek September 27, according to Kyrgyz media.
Youth who lack solid moral foundations that the state supports are vulnerable to all kinds of messages, including extremist ones, he warned.
"Corruption, the lack of a healthy ideology, and no honest forms of upward social mobility send youth searching for answers on extremist websites, extremist YouTube videos and social media, where they quickly find extremist recruiters," he said.
Militants who regard Afghanistan and Pakistan as 'Khorasan Province' in their idea of a caliphate could move the theatre of war from the Middle East to Central Asia, observers warn.
In case of questions about religious issues, where would you look for answers first?