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Kazakh Official: Don't Call IS Militants 'Islamists'

A flag of the Shi'ite Hizballah militant group flutters over a mural depicting the emblem of the Islamic State (IS) group in Al-Alam village, northeast of the Iraqi city of Tikrit, in early March.

A flag of the Shi'ite Hizballah militant group flutters over a mural depicting the emblem of the Islamic State (IS) group in Al-Alam village, northeast of the Iraqi city of Tikrit, in early March.

The media is wrong to dub the militant group Islamic State (IS) and other extremists as "Islamists," Galym Shoykin, the chairman of the Religious Affairs Committee of Kazakhstan's Ministry of Culture, has said.

"If gang members call themselves 'the Islamic State' but have no relation to Islam, should we also refer to them thus in the media, thereby distorting the notion of an Islamic state? I think not," Shoykin said.

Shoykin made his comments in a March 16 interview with the Kazakh news website, saying that the media were acting irresponsibly by associating religion with "terrorists, bandits, and militants." (The interview was translated into Russian by the website.)

An IS militant is "primarily a criminal, a member of a terrorist organization, possibly a former Muslim involved in a sect or in a terrorist group that uses religious vocabulary and justifies his actions with a perverted and distorted interpretation of Islam," Shoykin explained.

The head of the Religious Affairs Committee praised the European and U.S. media for using abbreviations like "ISIS" and "ISIL" to refer to the Islamic State group, saying that this showed the media "realized that religion is just a front for them, under the guise of which they carry out their actions."

Both Russia and the United States had "clearly indicated their position...that terrorists of all stripes are using religion to justify violence and cruelty," Shoykin said.


Shoykin said that IS was "zombifying" young people, who were then "committing murder with ease, arguing that it was in defense of religion."

However, Shoykin said that there are "over a billion Muslims in over 40 countries who do not support and do not accept the ideology of terrorist groups like [IS], understanding that their interpretation of Islam is a fraud and sectarianism."

Shoykin quoted U.S. President Obama's comments to CNN in January, when he said that: "I think we all recognized that this is a particular problem that has roots in Muslim communities, but...the overwhelming majority of Muslims reject this ideology."

The concept of jihad, as described by Islamic scholars, means a "struggle with ones vices and passions, a cleansing of one's inadequacies, jealousies, and hatreds," Shoykin said, adding that scholars ruled that extremists and terrorists were not waging jihad when they "murdered innocent people."

Shoykin said that the media "influence the minds of ordinary people in their countries" and called on Kazakhstan's media as well as politicians and social activists to "call the terrorists and criminals what they are, without giving them a religious or national origin."

"A terrorist, whether he be an atheist, a Muslim, or a Christian, is first and foremost a terrorist, and in my view it is not necessary to add religious terminology," Shoykin said.

Kazakhs In The IS Group

It is not known exactly how many Kazakh citizens are fighting in Syria and Iraq, including alongside the IS group.

Kazakhstan's National Security Committee (KNB) has said that there are about 300 Kazakh nationals fighting with IS, of which about 150 are women. However, this figure appears to be based on a video published on the Internet in November 2013, which showed a group of about 150 Kazakh militants who said they had come to Syria with their wives and children.

A January report by the International Crisis Group (ICG) suggested that there may be more than 300 Kazakhs fighting in Syria. The report found that between 2,000 and 4,000 citizens from across five Central Asian states -- Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan -- have gone to IS-controlled territory to fight or otherwise support IS.

IS itself has highlighted the presence of ethnic Kazakhs fighting in its ranks, provoking anger in Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan moved to ban and deem illegal a November 2013 video released by the IS group, which showed a group of Kazakh men and children undergoing military and ideological instruction in Syria.

The release of the video has prompted a wider crackdown by the Kazakh authorities against reporting on Kazakh involvement in IS or other militant groups in the Middle East. RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported that its website was blocked in Kazakhstan earlier this month when it reported on a video showing Kazakh militants calling on others to join them in Syria.

Kazakhstan has attempted to distance itself from other reports that Kazakh nationals or ethnic Kazakhs are suspected of involvement with IS.

The Kazakh National Security Committee denied that two men apparently filmed being shot dead by a child militant in Syria were Kazakh citizens, after one of the men said that he was from the Zhambyl region of Kazakhstan.

-- Joanna Paraszczuk

About This Blog

"Under The Black Flag" provides news, opinion, and analysis about the impact of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond. It focuses not only on the fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East, but also on the implications for the region and the world. The blog's primary author, James Miller, closely covered the first three years of the Arab Spring, with a focus on Syria, and is now the managing editor of The Interpreter, where he covers Russia's foreign and domestic policy and the Kremlin's wars in Syria and Ukraine. Follow him on Twitter: @Millermena