- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 28, 2005

The fourth anniversary of the attacks of September 11 as well as the July bombings in London have heightened our national soul-searching for new tools to combat terrorism and secure peace, including more effective engagement with the Muslim mainstream. One answer to this crucial quest of foreign policy may already exist within President Bush’s domestic agenda, in his challenge to support “armies of compassion.”Authentic compassionate outreach transcends boundaries of religion and ideology, and assuages the fear that immoral, violent thugs work to create.

As the former director of Faith-Based Initiatives at the Corporation for National and Community Service, I was able to attend White House meetings with leading clergy where the president stated that our greatest strength is not in our military might, but in our nation’s character found in our communities of faith. A decade before, President George H.W. Bush likewise founded the Points of Light movement, declaring that service is “America’s greatest export.” John Bridgeland, the founding director of USA Freedom Corps, is now advising the establishment of an impressive beachhead for such an approach with the creation of the International Freedom Center at the site where the Twin Towers once stood. A highlight of the center will be a clearinghouse for international volunteerism and service.

Former Ambassador to the United Nations John Danforth also challenged that forum to tap the potential of faith-based outreach of its members when he asked, “Where are the religions at the U.N.?” The National Association of Evangelicals has been faithfully working to redress the Muslim-Christiandivide through important reconciliation dialogue in Sudan and Morocco. The Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace has likewise sponsored a series of interreligious pilgrimages to Jerusalem, Amman and the Gaza Strip. These “ambassadors of peace” included Rev. Walter Fauntroy, organizer of Dr. King’s March on Washington, Sam Zachem, the former U.S. Ambassador to Bahrain, and thousands of Christian, Jewish and Muslim faith-based leaders.

Productive meetings on nonviolence and democracy were held between the most senior leaders of the Muslim Sharia Court on the West Bank along with Israeli counterparts in the Knesset. Such promising initiatives should cause policy-makers to take stock of the limits of conventional strategies and to dramatically reinforce civil-society engagement.

Opportunities abound for the administration to expand its commitment to promote such civil-society outreach and volunteer service abroad. To begin with, special presidential envoy to Gaza James Wolfenson, a longtime advocate of interfaith dialogue, could ramp up a youth-service approach in Gaza reinvestment following the laudable Israeli disengagement.

During trips to Gaza and Jerusalem, I met with unemployed Palestinian university graduates who are enthusiastically mapping NGO youth organization assets that have the potential to field a broad-based youth service corps. Such a corps could quickly turn the idle energies that are prey for Hamas into a constructive force of service and reconciliation.

This August in Washington, a promising sign was given by faith and service leaders from 16 nations who attended the 2nd Annual International Roundtable on Service and Volunteerism, which called for expanding youth service to redress conflict and further promising Global Youth Service Day initiatives. In that forum, key leaders from GreatBritain,Israel, Africa, and Latin America joined with representatives of Freedom Corps’ Volunteers for Prosperity at USAID, the Points of Light Foundation, the Corporation for National and Community Service, United Nations Volunteers, Service for Peace and other NGOs to highlight models of service at home and abroad. This new alliance of service leaders also included the launch of a global corporate volunteerism council supported by companies such as Citibank, Starwood Resorts, and the Prince of Wales Business Trust.

One proven intervention cited at the conference was the massive U.S. charitable support of tsunami relief led by former Presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush. According to a Terror Free Tomorrow poll in Indonesia following our nation’s charitable outpouring, America’s favorability ratings soared upward to 65 percent on the streets of the world’s largest Muslim nation.

As a prelude to the Service Roundtable, a delegation of Jewish and Arab Muslim youths sponsored by the City of Jerusalem’s at-risk youth department joined the Interface coalition of faith-based groups in a moving exchange of arts performances and community service in the District’slow-income neighborhoods.These youths and their proud families back in Jerusalem ably demonstrated the power of service in addressing cultural bias and establishing bonds of communication. That “wonder working power” should be further tapped in a comprehensive international strategy to buttress counterterrorism with effective cultural and service diplomacy.

David Caprara is president of Empowerment Consultants International and former director of Faith-Based Initiatives and VISTA at the Corporation for National and Community Service.

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