OSH -- The Kyrgyz grass roots spoke up recently against extremism and violence.
More than 2,000 residents of the Shark rural administration, Kara-Suu District, Osh Province, marched against extremism October 29. They urged their fellow Kyrgyz to stay out of terrorist organisations.
"None of them want their relatives or friends to fall under the influence of terrorism," Shark Mayor Arstanbek Joldoshov told Caravanserai.
By organising this demonstration, locals showed their commitment to traditional Islam, he said. The protesters designed and wrote their own anti-extremism banners and posters and marched more than 2km down local streets.
Residents are highly likely to know some militants personally.
Thirteen residents of six villages governed by the Shark administration are fighting Syrian government forces, Joldoshov said, adding that two have been killed so far.
Approval for grass-roots event
Some observers are praising the initiative shown by the locals.
"It's good that locals are now initiating these sorts of events and supporting the government so that people can be kept far away from extremist ideas," Nilufar Khattamova of Kara-Suu city told Caravanserai.
Schoolchildren, teachers, health workers and state and NGO officials joined the march, Rakhimjan haji Nishanov, an imam-khatib from Shark, told Caravanserai.
"Uniting locals ... is key," he said. "Every day they learn more and more and develop an immunity to radical ideas."
Prevention work, education to stop radicalism
"We formed mobile groups to do outreach work with the public," Joldoshov said. "Poorly educated Muslims, teenagers, and other youth are at risk of falling prey to 'jihadists'."
Outreach like lectures and seminars helps reduce the number of uninformed Muslims who do not understand the difference between Islam and extremism, Nishanov said.
"Over the past year, there hasn't been a single resident of Kara-Suu District who has gone to fight in war zones," Osh Province Police Department spokesman Rasul Kudaiberdiyev said. "This shows that the religious situation is improving."
Several years ago, Muslims rarely heeded sermons, but they became interested in protecting their loved ones after they recognised the danger of "jihad", he said.
"It's become commonplace for the clergy and religious scholars to work with Muslims, and that adds a positive contribution to the fight against extremism and international terrorism," Kudaiberdiyev said.
The key to success is the trust between Muslims and those who conduct extremism prevention work, Khattamova said.
"You can't relax or even a minute," she said. "Otherwise, tragedy will strike."
Engaging media in anti-extremism fight
Some observers have ideas for further bolstering the fight against extremism.
Authorities, besides speaking to the public, should recommend muftiate-approved books on Islam and show anti-extremism films and videos, Bishkek theologian Mirlan Abdyldayev told Caravanserai.
"We don't have enough good literature that provides comprehensive answers to tough questions that the faithful ask," he said.
"Sometimes imams haven't been able to give clear explanations to Muslims," he said.
Journalists do an excellent job of covering anti-extremism stories, Abdyldayev said. However, to maximise viewership, such stories need to go on online media, not just on TV, he said.