Written by Andrew E. Kramer
Aida Sarina said she thought she was going on vacation in Turkey, but instead found herself in Syria, tricked, she said, by her husband, who joined the Islamic State. She herself, she said, never subscribed to ISIS teaching.
But in Kazakhstan, government psychologists are taking no chances. They have heard that story before. They have enrolled the young woman — and scores of others who were once residents of the Islamic State — in a program to treat Islamist extremism.
Unlike virtually every Western country and most of the rest of the world, Kazakhstan is welcoming home women like Sarina — albeit warily and despite the lack of proof that deradicalization programs work — rather than arresting them if they dare show up.
At the treatment site, the women are provided nannies to look after their children, fed hot meals and treated by doctors and psychologists, testing the soft-touch approach to people affiliated with a terrorist group.
For Sarina, it is a far cry from her previous life in a fetid refugee camp in Kurdish-controlled northeastern Syria, a human refuse heap of thousands of former Islamic State residents despised by most of the world.
Rather than treating the women as criminals, the professionals at the rehabilitation center encourage the women to talk about their experiences.
“We teach them to listen to the negative feelings inside,” Lyazzat Nadirshina, one psychologist, said of the method. “Why is that negative feeling bubbling up?’” she said she asks her patients. “Most often, it is the feeling of a little girl angry at her mother.”
The program lasts about a month. The women meet individually and in small groups with psychologists. They undergo art therapy and watch plays put on by local actors that teach morality lessons on the pitfalls of radicalization.
“It’s a success when they accept guilt, when they promise to relate to nonbelievers with respect and when they promise to continue studying,” said Alim Shaumetov, director of a nongovernmental group that helped design the curriculum.
Still, Kenshilik Tyshkhan, a professor of religion who tries to persuade women in the program to adopt a moderate form of Islam, said in an interview that some women “express these ideas that a nonbeliever can be killed.” And many show little remorse, he said.