Kazakhstan takes comprehensive approach against radicals

By Ksenia Bondal

Employees of the Almaty office of DUMK, imams and priests in Almaty last December discuss religious outreach. [DUMK photo obtained by Ksenia Bondal]

Employees of the Almaty office of DUMK, imams and priests in Almaty last December discuss religious outreach. [DUMK photo obtained by Ksenia Bondal]

ALMATY -- Kazakhstani officials are recognising the need to combat extremism with a comprehensive approach that includes even the use of theatre.

In September, the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kazakhstan (DUMK) launched a comprehensive programme in Almaty to combat extremism.

The programme combines traditional and innovative approaches to working with radicals, DUMK says. It is bringing actors on board, not just imams and theologians.

Officials in Kazakhstan came up with the idea of an integrated approach to fighting radicalism and extremism after the country experienced deadly terrorist attacks in Aktobe June 5 and in Almaty July 18.

"As of today, DUMK and the Almaty office of DUMK are dealing with the serious tasks of preventing religious extremism and terrorism," Nurmakhamed Iminov, the naib imam (deputy chief imam) of the Almaty Central Mosque, told Caravanserai.

Imams in Almaty are prepared to engage in dialogue any radicals who come to the mosque to proselytise or to challenge the imams, Iminov said.

"If this kind of outreach activity fails, then law enforcement agencies will be involved in the case," Iminov said.

Radicals at a mosque can be recognised by their intolerance of members of other religions, their rejection of fatwas from clerics, their closed-off nature, and the ferocity of their rhetoric, Iminov said.

Relying on theatre

Officials, though, want to use the performing arts too to help convey the message against radicalism.

"Lectures by imams ... are very important," Aset Doskeyev, director of the Almaty DUMK office's department for work with religious associations, told Caravanserai. "But outreach work ... should be done more extensively."

"Starting in mid-September, the Almaty DUMK, together with the national DUMK, will launch a new programme ... to engage theatres in [outreach] work," Doskeyev said. "Actors in drama theatres nationwide will give mini-performances three times a week for schoolchildren and college students about the dangers ... of participating in radical movements."

The performances will be free.

"We had [five] trial performances in April," Doskeyev said. "The play Shyrmalyk (Spiderweb) succeeded with the audience ... The viewers welcomed the initiative, so we decided to continue the initiative."

The hero of the play goes to England to study. He falls for extremist propaganda and becomes involved in terrorism. When he goes home, his parents turn to law enforcement for help. The young man spends five years in prison but realises the error of his ways.

Success live and on YouTube

"Over five days in April, 10,000 spectators watched the live performance," he said. "Another 15,000 watched it on YouTube."

Encouraged by those results, DUMK "decided to hold a government tender among Kazakhstan's drama theatres", Doskeyev said. "The winners will perform September 10 to December 30."

"The main criteria for selection will be an anti-extremism scenario and an original script," Doskeyev said.

"For outreach to be truly productive, you need to diagnose the 'sick' correctly," Alibek Kimanov, an Almaty-based analyst of law and religion, told Caravanserai.

"If someone intends to go to Syria to fight ... you have to destroy his entire motivation," Kimanov said. "Sometimes he'll reject his ... convictions after you show him the advantages of the traditional Islam that has taken shape in Kazakhstan ... [Accomplishing] this requires skill from theologians and imams."

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