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Terrorism

Kyrgyz undergraduates discuss extremism with schoolchildren

By Asker Sultanov

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Vladimir Shkolnyi, a Bishkek-based security analyst, addresses Bishkek schoolchildren June 8. [Asker Sultanov]

BISHKEK -- Kyrgyzstan is trying to have youth address other youth about the dangers of extremism.

The hope is that young people will be more trusting of speakers close to them in age.

In a recent such effort, students from three Bishkek universities -- the Kyrgyz-Russian Slavic University (KRSU), the International University of Kyrgyzstan and the Eastern University named after Mahmud Kashgari-Barskani -- discussed the problem of extremism and terrorism with pupils from Bishkek Gymnasium (Preparatory School) No. 12.

The event took place June 8.

The Bishkek-based NGO Unity set up the seminar, Vladimir Shkolnyi, one of the event's organisers, told Central Asia Online. Shkolnyi, a Bishkek resident, specialises in fighting extremism.

"The students ... talked about radical extremism, forms and methods of recruitment and the use of social media by extremist recruiters," he said.

"They also armed the pupils with arguments so that they could understand the ... toxicity of ideas advanced by extremists," he said.

Concern at all levels of government

More than 500 Kyrgyz, mostly of combat age, have journeyed to Syria and Iraq since 2011 to fight, according to the government.

As a result, preventing extremism among youth is one of the top concerns for Kyrgyz government agencies at all levels, law enforcement and schools, Shkolnyi said.

"Frequently government agencies and social institutions fighting this problem ... use methods that are not always understandable to the young," Shkolyni said. "That's why Unity, members of youth organisations, Kyrgyz college students and various experts have launched a project to halt the spread of extremism among youth."

College students are addressing schoolchildren throughout Bishkek about the dangers of terrorism and radicalism, he added.

"The basic principle of this campaign is 'from one peer to another'," Shkolnyi said. "Young people ... explain the methods that recruiters use to lure the young ... They explain the dishonesty of the 'religious tenets' put forth by extremist recruiters."

Conferences throughout Bishkek

As part of the anti-youth extremism effort, student conferences already have taken place at KRSU, Eastern University and Kyrgyz National University.

Participants discussed the main threats from extremists and their misuse of social networks.

One of the suggestions for fighting extremism "was the creation of initiative groups and having youth work in their own environment", Shkolnyi said.

Messages from students

Extremism is always geared toward grabbing power, KRSU student Aibek uulu Nurbek told the schoolchildren at the June 8 event.

"ISIL [the 'Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant'], for example, wants to create a caliphate' i.e., its aim is to overthrow existing governments," he said. "We like to think extremism will never touch us, but that is not true."

"You want to get the most out of life," he said. "You should be careful."

"Kyrgyzstan ... has almost 3,000 mosques," he added. "The State Commission for Religious Affairs [GKDR] regulates them but has only 100 employees ... It's possible that some people [in mosques] advocate extremism."

The future of youth depends on how extremist ideas spread through society, Zalkar Satybaldiyev, an Eastern University student, told the schoolchildren at School No. 12.

"We ... plan for the future," he said. "But our plans don't come true if extremism is widespread."

Spreading extremist ideas is punishable by three to five years of imprisonment, he reminded his listeners.

The most dangerous terrorist groups are ISIL, the Taliban and al-Qaeda, KRSU student Yelena Kutznetsova told the pupils.

"The main group targeted .. by these groups is children aged 12 to 15, who lack life experience," she said. "The extremists ... throw information onto social networks and engage [children] later under assumed names."

The recruiters online also use inflammatory videos, she said.

Kyrgyzstan does not interfere in the activities of religious organisations, Ak-Maral Gaibayeva, an employee of the GKDR, told the schoolchildren.

"Pay attention when online recruiters say, 'To fully embrace Islam, you have to relocate,'" she warned her listeners.

"I urge you to be cautious and to approach the Spiritual Administration of Muslims or the [GDKR] if you have questions about Islam," she added.

Boosting religious knowledge

The main way to fight radicalism among youth is to boost their knowledge of religion, Alina, a student at the International University of Kyrgyzstan who did not want to disclose her full name for security reasons, told Central Asia Online.

"The government should play a greater role in this, as well as youth themselves," she said. "It's also necessary to raise the level of teamwork with authorities in preventing extremism."

Questions from schoolchildren

The young listeners had plenty of questions for the speakers.

They included, "Can you join extremists who promise money to treat your sick relatives" and others based on making money "to help loved ones".

Shkolnyi categorically rejected the idea of taking life to help one's relatives.

"Human lives are exactly what radicalism threatens," he told the children. "If your loved ones are in trouble, never subject them and yourself to risk by joining an extremist organisation."

No religion in the world calls for war, he said. "If they make such appeals, they are chasing selfish goals," he said.

In another anti-extremism event in Bishkek June 8, a Lebanese scholar made his own plea for sanity.

"Allah forbids killing people," Muhammad Said al-Rashid said at a news conference that day. "The terrorists who hide behind Islam have never read the Koran."

"Kyrgyzstan urgently needs government-funded, large-scale religious education programmes," he said. "I also consider it necessary for security agencies here to step up their work on these matters."

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