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Kazakhstan intensifies anti-extremism outreach

By Alexander Bogatik

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An outreach group meets with locals in Zhanaozen June 28. [DUMK photo obtained by Alexander Bogatik]

ASTANA -- After the terrorist attacks that occurred in Aktobe and Almaty, the country's Republican (National) Outreach Group (RIPG) is stepping up its activity to prevent extremism and terrorism.

The moves come after terrorists committed deadly attacks in Aktobe June 5 and Almaty July 18.

In recent efforts, outreach groups conferred with the public in Katon-Karagai District, East Kazakhstan Province, August 7; Karkaraly/Karkaralinsk, Karaganda Province, July 8; and in Zhanaozen and Aktau, Mangystau Province, June 27-28.

The outreach groups, which number more than 500, include clerics, government officials and civic leaders. A part of the country's Committee for Religious Affairs (KDR), they have been operating since 2013.

Youth are in a high-risk category

Outreach is vital to protect youth from entrapment by cunning extremist recruiters, observers say.

"Youth want to study religion," Alinur Shpekpayev, a Taldykorgan religious scholar who works for the Almaty Province Administration for Religious Affairs, told Caravanserai. "They get on the internet. And destructive websites are the first ones they see."

"Youth are the best target [for extremists]," he said. "If you give them a goal, they will do anything to justify their leaders' hopes."

A nationwide NGO is helping clerics and officials combat the tide of extremism. In 2016 so far, KazakhStan for Peace has held more than 110 events nationwide, attracting about 9,000 attendees. It complements RIPG's work.

"Youth are KazakhStan for Peace's main target," Shkpekpayev said. "We don't spread ourselves too thin -- we work only with our target audience, guided by the 'peer to peer' principle."

"I saw the project leaders' patriotism and compassion," he said, referring to KazakhStan for Peace. "I'd like [it] to co-operate with neighbouring countries."

Training imams

Authorities are seeking to train imams so that they can relate more readily with youth.

The country has about 2,500 mosques. However, their educational work against the dangers of terrorism reach only those who go to mosques.

Youth who find mosques and their imams unappealing seek information on religion from the internet or from gatherings outside mosques. RIPG branches and the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kazakhstan (DUMK) are trying to teach imams to speak the language of youth.

Two examples of training for imams include a July 26 workshop in Aktau, Mangystau Province, called "Providing rehabilitative help to the victims of destructive religious movements"; and a July 10 public speaking workshop in Ust-Kamenogorsk, East Kazakhstan Province, called "Imams in the 21st century".

"Every year, the demands on imams grow," Yermek haji Mukhatai, the DUMK-appointed chief imam for East Kazakhstan Province, said recently in a statement issued by the Khalifa Altai mosque. "They have to meet the spirit of the times ... and keep working on self-improvement."

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All of us should fight against the deceitful, diabolical Salafist sect. It is the duty of every Muslim and rational person.

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