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Search for common ground

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There are many people who are vulnerable to Islamic radicalism due to understandable life hardships, butlittle energy is spent on actually pursuing a mission to monitor radicalism and recruitment. The Search for Common Ground is an organization that created an interesting project under the title “Supporting Media in Promoting De-Radicalization in Kyrgyzstan”. The project itself used press conferences, interviews, and research to analyze how the lack of interaction between religious and political representatives contributes to the problem of extremism and provided potential scenarios if the affairs of both entities were to improve. There were also proposals as to how relations could improve and successfully collaborate with each other. However, SFCG’s project failed to implement these changes even themselves. This detailed assessment is a simple yet comprehensive and valuable source of information exposing the consequences of government negligence.

Lessons Learned:

-          Muslim radicalism is feared by superpowers and threatens vulnerable transitioning states

-          Previously, the government did not play an active role in religious affairs

-          Cooperation between political and religious institutions is essential for combating extremism

-          Opinions of marginalized societal groups need more recognition

-          Media containing Islamic extremism needs to be censored

-          Alternatively, the state can use media to gain civilian support for battling radicalism

-          Following the assessment, further activism from SFCG or other international and national organizations is needed to pursue the organizations’ suggested solutions

Summary About the Organization

Search for Common Grounds (SFCG) is a worldwide non-profit organization that aims to reduce violent conflicts through peaceful conflict resolution. Based in Washington D.C. and Brussels, SFCG works globally on projects like gender equality, democracy promotion, free media, refugee and internal displacement issues. One of the projects central to this case study is the organization’s effort to reduce violent extremism in Kyrgyzstan. SFCG recognizes that conflict is inevitable but works towards their goal to specifically end destructive conflict with the help of communities, media, and dialogue to establish transparency and peace. But the path towards peace is difficult and lengthy; therefore the NGO made a long-term commitment to work with local communities to transform the way conflict is dealt with. Founded by John Marks in1982 amidst the Cold War, Marks set out to transform people’s norms of violence. Presently, SFCG holds 53 offices across the U.S., Europe, Africa, and Asia.

Background:

Along with fifteen other nations, Kyrgyzstan operated as a republic of the Soviet Union for almost a century. After its collapse in 1991, post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan was transitioning and reforming as an independent state. Under communism, a secular government was the only kind of government that was practiced which influenced the way future Central Asian states ruled in the post-Soviet era. After the regime’s end, Kyrgyzstan finally had access to different ideologies and ultimately a new kind of knowledge that was previously limited and restricted. All of Central Asia were Sunni Islamfollowers but that quickly changed with the arrival of communism.People’s appetite for information absorbed some religious and secular ideologies that established disagreement in the newly formed government. Kyrgyzstan gravitated towards secularism, banning religion from intervening in political matters and established a government that plays a weak role in religious institutions. Historically, tradition is primary and it is debatable whether religion is even secondary because most of the Kyrgyz people do not fully practice Islam. But with the rising number of mosques and religious leaders, political officials lack the ability to firmly address their non-existent association with religion. Additionally, Central Asia gained significant Western attention after the September 11th terrorist attacks on the U.S. The West, Kyrgyzstan and even Russia share a common interest and that is to prevent the rise of radical Islam in the region.

Project

The project “Supporting Media in Promoting De-Radicalization in Kyrgyzstan” sought to diminish radicals and then avert them fromjoining terrorist groups. The project began with looking at what Kyrgyz legislature defines as extremism; “an incitement in the religious beliefs to the extreme versions of interpretation of the religion that calls for actions against the constitutional order of the state, incites social, racial, national, religious, and regional hatred, as well as aimed at destructing human security, health, and life”.[1] The point behind the legislatureis to undermine any acts that can potentially lead to terrorism but simultaneously, it also grants religious freedom to the citizens. The media is also prohibited from promoting religious hostility or use propaganda to justify terrorism. The next step was to look at statistical data analysis that examined the relationships between agencies and religious and political officials. Additionally, the aim was to identify the challenges radical Islam would pose and provide solutions to the possible problem. While conducting the report, the organization was determined to figure out the positions and interests of the different religious and political groups. This is important because the actors express their positions openly while hiding their true interests. The project also held interviews to attempt to understand a relationship officials often try to ignore because it does not particularly exist to some extent. The project interviewed representatives from the country’s two largest cities, Bishkek and Osh and excluded opinions of provincial authorities.

After a careful analysis, SFCG concluded that the situation is changing pertaining to Islamic contact to the state. The focus was then placed on the kind of scenarios that would possibly play out if the two forces collaborated. The project addressed positive and negative changes like a clear platform given to secular and religious authorities or sabotage of Islamic organizations that could potentially transform to radical approaches. Also examined were the consequences of such newly developed associations like criticisms coming from other minority religions that desire the same kind of treatment and acknowledgment. The supposed changes and consequences varied depending on the three scenarios; state-faith relations, uncontrollable situations, and the strengthening of state involvement in religion. The project concluded with recommendations directed at the situation, separate recommendations for the key actors based on the conducted interviews, and advice for the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Some of the recommendations were to re-evaluate laws and legislatures concerning religion, create long-term strategies, and introduce educational facilities within Islamic organizations. One important recommendation pertaining to media was to “introduce a monitoring mechanism” on any religious and specifically, Islamic information.[2] Special attention needs to be paid to all forms of media that can be used to recruit and impose radicalization. Another suggestion was to use media to formulate civil society support for the newly founded partnership between secular and political figures. There was no significant media attention during the report’s release but the project did achieve its goal of addressing important issues.

Actors

The project focused on assessing the key players within the Islamic sphere. There are four major religious actors that are used as vehicles to cultivate Islam; the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kyrgyzstan, State Commission on Religious Affairs, 10th Special Unit of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and other informal Islamic groups. Prior to establishing communication between secular and religious institutions, it was necessary for the leaders of this project to assess relationships within the religion. It would appear that the Muftiate has a weaker affiliation with some religious groups like the State Commission but a surprisingly stronger partnership with Ministry of Internal Affairs officials. The few times that these organizations intersect is when responding to a rising extremist threat but overall provide nothing more than a pamphlet on how to avoid and abstain from extremist views. Fortunately, the mentioned associations are well aware that isolated relations need to be abandoned if they are to battle extremism. The main group of actors that the issue revolves around, the extremists themselves perceive any interaction with the Kyrgyz secular government as an act of betrayal. In regards to the government, it realizes that religious actors can no longer be marginalized and the need for communication is inevitable. There is opportunity and room for improvement for these religious sects to use preaching and teaching true Islamic principles as strategy to prevent violence. The problem observed by the project is that each different group maintains their own interpretation of what the Quran teaches. Another problem stems from the informal groups that attempt to expand and overshadow the Muftiate who is deemed to be a traitor. This undermines the position of the Muftiate who could have been used as an ally rather than a challenger.

Recommendations

The project successfully interpreted the religious obstacles the government has to deal with as it pertains to national and international security. Starting off with simple recommendations, I took into account that women’s inputwas unfortunately not used for this project. Women are active and important participants in both spheres and their experiences are valid for proposing alternative solutions. As subjects of research, female input could improve the study because going forward, future projects can provide solutions that satisfy both genders. While reviewing the assessment, the project labeled an important religious actor as ‘informal small organizations’. The reason they need proper recognition is because they were the sources of manipulating state-religious relations and adding extremism in the supposed scenarios.Like the lack of female voices, their insight can bring more knowledge and give answers to unasked questions and possibly change the direction of the study. One of the recommendations proposed by the organization was the need to establish Kyrgyzstan’s first official Islamic school. The risk for manipulating students and cultivating stronger religious beliefs is prominent and should perhaps be re-evaluated as a possible suggestion to reducing extremism.

As an operating organization, this project fell majorly short in physically contributing to fix the challenge. The research and analysis done by two local SFCG workers was extremely helpful in pointing a serious political problem. The assessment itself is an excellent report and can be distributed to educate religious and political actors throughout Kyrgyzstan. However, the organization was not motivated to pursue actual solutions and only provided their suggestions at successfully altering the situation. If Search For Common Ground is limited to only making such assessments then the next step could be partnering up with other organizations who have a track record of success in policy advocacy. The right kind of partners can be other Western organizations as well as the recently established local Research Institute for Islamic Studiesthat can be used as a resource. It is also important to act in several regions with locals who can provide local solutions. Simply hoping their project will influence political and religious decision-makers is unsatisfactory. The organization based in Bishkek should actively search for partners who could implement real change and eliminate radical sentiment amongst the Kyrgyz Muslims. The organization can also conduct a follow-up project on based on the conclusions of this project and act on the recommendations they advocated.

 

Bibliography

Mirsaiitov, Ikbalzhan, and VeneraSakeeva. Strengthening Capacity To Prevent Violent      Extremism In The Kyrgyz Republic. Rep. Bishkek: Search For Common Ground, 2013.

"Supporting Media in Promoting De-Radicalization in Kyrgyzstan." Search for Common   Ground. N.p., 04 Feb. 2015. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.

"What We Do." Search for Common Ground. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2015.

 


[1]Mirsaiitov, Ikbalzhan, and VeneraSakeeva. Strengthening Capacity To Prevent Violent Extremism In The Kyrgyz Republic. Rep. Bishkek: Search For Common Ground, 2013. Pg 19.

[2]Mirsaiitov, Ikbalzhan, and VeneraSakeeva. Strengthening Capacity To Prevent Violent Extremism In The Kyrgyz Republic. Rep. Bishkek: Search For Common Ground, 2013. Pg 23.