Kyrgyzstan protects schoolchildren from extremist views

By Sanzhar Sharipov

Students learn how to ward off radical ideas during the training in Nookat, Osh Province, September 17. [Photo obtained by Sanzhar Sharipov]

Students learn how to ward off radical ideas during the training in Nookat, Osh Province, September 17. [Photo obtained by Sanzhar Sharipov]

NARYN PROVINCE -- Since the beginning of the school year, security officials and clergy have been holding preventive lectures, talks, and meetings for schoolchildren in the villages of Ak-Talaa, Zhany-Talap, and Togolok Moldo in Ak-Talaa Region, Munarbek Manapbaev, a spokesman for the 10th Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) in Naryn Province, told Caravanserai.

"Students listen to the imams with pleasure and then ask questions," he said. "It is most important that they receive exhaustive answers, with references from reliable sources. With this there is a chance to save them from the influence of radicalisation and members of non-traditional Islamic movements."

Manapbaev believes, besides clergy members, teachers, and law enforcement agencies, parents should be directly involved in educating children if they do not want them to wind up in the networks of recruiters.

Janybek Jeenbekov, an imam in Ak-Talaa District in Naryn Province, said younger generation runs into religion from an early age – when they become aware of what their loved ones do.

"When children see a relative praying, or someone performing a rite, there arises a desire to repeat after them. At this point, the child needs moral support and to be told about the basics of Islam, to be given the chance to speak his mind and help him understand the basic principles of Sharia," he said.

Students realise the danger of extremism

In Nookat Region in Osh Province, students are familiar with the dangers of extremism. As part of the 'Peace Dialogue' project, two major secondary schools – Abduvoitov school and Krupskaya school – whose students had already successfully gone through training against extremism and terrorism, began to produce school mural newspapers with anti-terrorism content, said Munira Shafigulina, a teacher and spokeswoman for the Nookat Youth Centre.

"With assistance from local police officers from the 10th division of the Nookat Region police department, older students from these schools started to develop Internet pages directed against the radicalisation of young people," said Shafigulina. "Initially, they launch the pages in their personal accounts, and then they intend to create them as stand-alone pages, in social media networks, and possibly in mobile phone applications."

Mastura Abdirasulova, a resident of Nookat, believes this innovative approach helps to protect children from recruitment, given that above anything else they are interested in not getting 'hooked' by foreign emissaries themselves.

"The Internet is everywhere now, and it should be used for the benefit of children, not to harm them, as now occurs," she told Caravanserai. "The more truthful information there is on social networking sites, or other sites, or about the harm caused by alleged 'jihad' or con artists' tricks - who use Islam for their own advantage – the better we can oppose the threats of terrorist attacks."

According to Abdirasulova, authorities need to carry out preventive measures among students regularly, with classroom hours devoted to the topic at least once a week, so that children can know about the real dangers of extremism and terrorism.

Officials say public support will help fight extremism

Meanwhile, according to Kyrgyz law enforcement agencies report, more than 1,900 people in the country have been identified as involved in the dissemination of ideas related to religious extremism.

"We are working with all of them," MVD spokesman Erlan Bakiev said September 16 in Bishkek. "However, we suspect that the true number of people who follow radical ideas is much greater. And, in this situation, we cannot do without help from our citizens. I am talking about social responsibility, when people will not remain silent or hold back information on incidents they know about involving recruitment, agitation, the creation of an Islamic caliphate, etc."

A year ago, 500 Kyrgyz citizens were fighting in Syria, while now their number reached 800, Bakiev said.

"But it should be noted that this number has increased not because of people who have recently left, but because we have identified more people, including some thanks to co-operation with the public," he said.

"To have a constructive influence on youth, it is necessary for activists, bloggers, and opinion experts to express their views on social media networks in a language that young people can understand. Transmitting this kind of information to youth in Kyrgyzstan's souther provinces, both in Kyrgyz and in Uzbek, is especially urgent," he added.

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