Thank you Richard, I am truly humbled by your very kind words. Last night, you heard a splendid talk by Eboo Patel on the business of Interfaith leadership is. Now, that's something that our own center takes very seriously, and in fact just a few weeks ago we launched an interfaith network between Pakistan and the United States and over the course of a week-long meeting in Nepal (of which James Patton headed for our side), we brought together interfaith and religious leaders from Pakistan and from the American Evangelical community. The whole idea is to try to work together to develop capacity building initiatives that can ease the plight of religious minorities in Pakistan and also on this side of the pond, to arrest the spread and impact of Islamophobia which has taken root more than it should. So, I want to talk about a business called faith-based diplomacy. For those of you who have heard me talk about this before, I apologize for any redundancy with what you have already been exposed to, but the rest of you might find it somewhat unique.
First, let me set a backdrop for you. In the Pentagon for probably the last 25 years, defense planners have been wrestling with what is called the asymmetric threat. For those of you not familiar with that term, it usually connotes an attack by creative, unconventional means that a disadvantaged opponent uses against a more powerful adversary, much like Bin Laden did on 9/11 that rocked this country back on its heels. In response to that, the Pentagon came up with a new concept called irregular warfare, which caused for a much tighter integration of diplomacy, defense envelopment—this was all for the greater good. I maintain that there is not enough money in western treasuries to protect any single country against the full spectrum of asymmetric threats. You really need an asymmetric counter to the asymmetric threat: a counter that gets at the ideas behind the guns if you will.
Now that sounds reasonably straightforward enough, but it is made more complicated by the religious nature of those ideas and that's not good news for the United States. Based on our recent involvements in Iraq and Afghanistan, our country has very little ability to deal with religious differences in a hostile setting or to counter demagogues like Bin Laden or before him Milosevic who manipulate religion for their own purposes. I find it supremely ironic that one of the most religious nations on the entire planet is so at sea in not knowing how to deal with these religious imperatives. There are a number of reasons for that. Several stand out: First is our long-held commitment to church and state since our birth and that's fine and I would not suggest that we do anything different, but we have unfortunately let it become an excuse for not doing our homework to understand how religion forms world views and political aspirations of those who do not similarly separate the two. Second, we have been long committed to the rational actor model of decision making, which has governed our model of international relations for as long as I can remember, and which, non-rational factors like religion are not on the policy maker's screen, they're excluded, so they simply don't know how to deal with it. Finally, are the political ambiguities surrounding our separation of church and state that cause our political leaders and our military leaders to shy away from addressing the religious dimensions of the threats that they are facing, many of them are very intimidated by that, and it causes many of us to be out there fighting with one hand behind our back. One person for whom that generalization does not apply to though is General David Petraeus. He understood that if you got a national security dimension and a secular purpose, there's all sorts of room to run. If you watched him in his briefings before Congress and the like, very pronounced it would be engage religious leaders
. He got it. I must say this though, in all fairness, we operate with double standards in all areas, but even internally we operate with a double standard because you find that the military can get away with repairing that mosque to develop good relationships with the communities with which they're involved, whereas if USAID tries to do the same thing, they're stopped cold by the lawyers. It all has to do with these political ambiguities that I'm talking about. So when you couple all of this with this looming specter of the overriding concern of marrying religious extremism with weapons of mass destruction, it just adds to the urgency of why we need to fill this gap.
So, one approach that has shown unusual promise here is faith-based diplomacy. What is it? At the macro-level, it simply means incorporating religious considerations into your practice of international politics. At the micro-level, it simply means making religion part of the solution in some of the things that exceed the grasp of traditional diplomacy: identity-based conflicts, ethnic conflicts, tribal warfare, and religious hostilities. If you want to read more about it, you can! You've all been given this book, and it goes into it in some detail in there. Since you have been given this book, I am going to tell you just a little bit about it to hopefully inspire you to read it. It is really a how-to book: how to incorporate religious considerations into the practice of U.S. foreign policy where it would be considered on a daily basis in the natural course of things. Second, it is a how-to book to how to get past the rational actor model, to a process that that not only accommodates non-state actors, but also non-rational factors like religion. Finally, it is a how-to book in how we can move to a different leadership paradigm that will serve our country better in the multi-polar world that we are now entering. If I had to give that a bumper sticker characterization, it would be servant leadership at the international level
where you lead more by example than by force.
So, let me just read from the foreword by retired Marine Corp General Anthony Zinni [in Religion, Terror, and Error
]. General Zinni served as commander in chief of the United States Central Command and as the U.S. special envoy to the Middle East. He says, "This is a visionary approach that goes beyond the whole-of-government effort and which expands the current definition of smart power. From my two decades of experience in the Islamic world, I am convinced that the vast majority of Muslims would embrace this approach as a means of clearly expressing their beliefs and enabling them to understand ours."
The other interesting thing about the book is that I sort of hypothetically asked myself, what would I do if I were king for a day? What resources do we currently have at our disposal that could be usefully redirected to addressing this kind of problem?
And beyond that, what additional capabilities might we need?
Well when you look at the things we have available, there are three in number. First, as I mentioned earlier, are military chaplains. Back in 2001 before 9/11, I had the good fortune to lead a team of four folks, Dick Ruffin was one of them and the star of our show I believe. Dick and I and a couple of others went around and we trained the Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and Navy chaplains in religion and statecraft, and the U.S. Navy bought all of them a copy of that first book which came out about '94 called Religion: the Missing Dimension of Statecraft
, (1300 copies) so it was good for book sales. But as we went around the world training all of these folks, it was very interesting to watch them, and it was about a four-day effort. Largely, if I had to encapsulate it, I would just say that we were really looking at all the benefits that could flow from military chaplains establishing relationships of trust with local clergy, wherever they might be stationed. Now, the Navy was doing this because we were trying to enhance the conflict prevention capabilities of the Sea Service Commands which were on the cutting edge of our overseas involvements. As we went through this, we found that about a third of the military chaplains were very keen to take on this sort of thing where they could actually be helping to prevent the conflict rather than be relegated to picking up the pieces after the conflict had occurred.
I had a good friend who was a military chaplain, who is now deceased, but he hit the beach at Guadalcanal. Of the eight military chaplains that did this, he was the only one who lived. So it is very tough, and it makes much more sense to devote as much as energy as you can to the prevention side. I remember talking to one marine general as we were doing this, and he pounded his hand on the table and he said, "You know, the only responsibility of my chaplains is to tend to the spiritual needs of the men and women of my command. Period." He was very emphatic about it. so [conflict prevention] was not an easy sell. Over time we did other things, we wrote articles trying to challenge the line-officer community to expand the rules of engagement for chaplains so they could engage in this sort of activity, those who want to do it and those who got trained to do it. The last revision of the Joint Publication 1-05
, which governs what the chaplains can do in joint operations, got us 95% of the way there, and there is a lot of latitude now. There is still a long way to go. The service still hasn't developed the sub-specialties and training to make it all happen, but it's on its way. The second thing is the NGOs, which is what we
are. The third and I think this is very important for all of you to think about, is the American-Muslim community. It struck me very early on after 9/11 that probably the most strategic asset that we had at our disposal in this global contest with militant Islam is the American-Muslim community. Not only were we not recognizing it as such, but we were unwittingly alienating as we went on. So in 2006, we convened a meeting of thirty American-Muslim religious leaders with thirty U.S. government practitioners, security officials, foreign policy practitioners, and the like, and we cosponsored this with the International Institute of Islamic Thought, which is headquartered in Herndon, Virginia, but also the Institute for Defense Analyses which is the Pentagon's leading think tank. And the whole idea was to see how we could get the American Muslim community and US government working together for the common good. And we had four specific goals. First was, how could we address the legitimate grievances that the community had? Second, how could we capitalize on the extensive paths of influence that this community has with Muslim communities overseas, many of them in countries of great strategic consequence to us. Third, was how could we impart a Muslim perspective and understanding to US foreign policy and public diplomacy? If you recall back in the Cold War, one of the things we did quite often, all the time in fact, was put on a soviet hat and try to look at the situation through their side of the prism and figure out what we would need to do to counter how they were going to counter us. We have done none of that with respect to this. So one of the things that came out of this, we had a conference the following year to make sure that we had accountability for the recommendations that came out of the first conference, and come up with some ideas as well. Now in the specific project area one of the things that happened was I'm pleased to say that the doors of the Departments of State, Defense, Homeland Security and Justice, opened much wider to inputs of American-Muslim citizens. And one of the things on the Muslim side they did is they formed a group called American Muslims for Constructive Engagement where they are deliberately determining how they can best serve the US national interest. And we, about every month and a half on capitol hill, we co-sponsor a policy forum where we bring together key congressional staff with key executive branch staff and key Muslim representatives of the American-Muslim community and outside experts and, unlike other presentations on the hills where you have somebody who lectures or talks and then you have questions and answers, this is very different. We start with one of the policy makers, and really it is the staff that makes the policy, it is not the congressional members, to sort of open with the kinds of problems that they are wrestling with, with relation to the topic at hand, and usually it has been a country focus, whether it is Egypt or Bahrain or Libya or what have you. Last one was terrorism in the horn of Africa. But, what happens is it is just a very rich discussion over lunch, an hour and a half discussion, and everybody, myself included, comes away much better informed than when they went in. I remembered how surprised I was two times ago when we were addressing Afghanistan and I came away far more encouraged about Afghanistan then when I walked in. Because, and you don't pick up on this in the media, if there were one lesson I'd like you to take away tonight is always be a bit skeptical about what you read in the media. No news there. But, the youth, folks your age, in Afghanistan, for many of them the Taliban is just a distant memory, if they remember it at all. And so, they have been very encouraged by all of the progress that has been made over the last twelve years, and they're very excited about all of the upcoming elections and the rest of it. So I am very hopeful that the US can find its way clear to conclude this security agreement with Afghanistan because I think there is a lot of good to build upon there, and we risk throwing away all that we fought for if we don't have that continuing relationship. Then the final goal of that conference was to see what we could do to help support the American Muslim community in taking a strong leadership role in the further advancement of Islam, both intellectually and spiritually. And it is kind of interesting when I have tried that idea out on high level Muslims in different parts of the world, in Malaysia and elsewhere, they are very sympathetic with it, and in fact, there is an undercurrent that the sun of Islam is going to rise in the West. It makes a lot of sense when you think about it because the American Muslim community, on a daily basis, is bridging modernity and the contemporary practice of Islam. And furthermore, they probably have more freedom of thought than just about any Muslim community in the world. So, with those assets, they can play a huge role. Now, in terms of new things that need to be done, one is addressing the political ambiguities business that I spoke about, it could be addressed very easily. If the President were to task his Justice Department with building the legal case for incorporating religious engagement in the practice of US foreign policy and then getting high level bi-partisan support on capitol hill for it. Then you would free up the creative energies of all these people that are now semi-paralyzed, afraid to act, because they fear what might happen to their careers. So that's one thing. The second thing is doing some realigning of the Executive Branch, particularly the State Department. In the book you'll see four alternative structures for how that might be accomplished, so that religion does get considered into the real practice on a daily basis. One item I would mention there, which I've been advocating for a long time now, is to establish a specialty in the Foreign Service called the religion attaché, a new position. When you talk to people who are in the state department at all, some might be receptive to that, but the naysayers will say that is the quickest way to marginalize something is by creating a specialty around it. And I think that's balderdash. I don't believe it for a second. If you talked to these folks, now these are folks who understand how faith motivates action, and they would be grounded, they might have some seminary background, these could be contracted in, we determine that a cadre as few as thirty could handle our global interests because we're talking about only posting these new positions in countries where religion has particular salience whether it is Saudi Arabia, Israel, you name it. And it would be an annual cost of 10 million dollars which may sound like a lot but it pales in comparison to the billions of dollars we spend on symptoms, you know baggage handlers and all the rest of that. Because what typically happens now is religious issues are handled by the cultural affairs officer, the political affairs officer, or the ambassador him or herself. And all too often these complex, a lot of them are very complex; issues get pushed aside by more pressing business. So if you have somebody who is equipped to deal with these kinds of issues and who is appropriate with their position within the political section of the embassy staff, just like political military officers are, I think it could work just fine. Another piece would be to try to bring to life a real conflict prevention capability, and one of the chapters in there is devoted to the concept of conflict prevention research teams that would be comprised of individual civilians in the right disciplines, depending on what area you're looking at, for example, in the Balkans, if you were to go into Bosnia, you will find that everything looks wonderful. Sarajevo has been rebuilt, it is a cosmopolitan city and everything, but just beneath the surface the tensions are still as severe as they were when the war was in place. So if you send teams in to see what's going on before things heat up, and then come back with policy recommendations, I think it is the ounce of prevention is worth the pound of cure. It is just make so much more sense. And the last peace, and this gets to the NGO thing, is called organic-suasion. This is where you try to promote peace from within. To illustrate that, I would just like to talk to you about our involvement in Pakistan. Since our inception back in 1999, we've been involved in the north of Sudan, Kashmir, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and most recently Colombia in addition to the United States. Well in Pakistan, we spent seven years on the ground reforming the madrasas
, the religious schools. Now, few in the west are mindful of the illustrious history of these schools. Back in the Middle Ages, up through the 16th century, they were without peer as institutions of higher learning in the world at the time. It was only European exposure to them that lead to our own university system. And you would be stunned at how many of the traditions and mores of academia trace their roots to the madrasas
. From the mortar boards and tassels that you wear to graduation to funding a chair in a given discipline, it just goes on and on and on, and we shouldn't be surprised, because they were the models. We've just forgotten about it. While they were at the absolute peak of learning excellence, under the influence of colonialism, particularly British colonialism, where attempts were made to try to secularize these schools, they reacted by purging themselves of all disciplines that were either western in nature or secular in nature to the point that the majority of them today are about rote memorization of the Qur'an and the study of Islamic principles.
Now, our goals there have been two-fold. First is to expand the curriculum to make sure to include the physical and social sciences, but with very strong emphasis on human rights, particularly women's rights, and religious tolerance. Now you run into people at USAID and the like say, "you know what these madrasas need are science, computers, English, and math" and I say, "Well, that's fine, if you want to build more efficient terrorists. You've to go have these human rights and the religious tolerance. That's been our strongest focus. We don't promote the other at all, but it has got to be couched in this religious language. Thus far, over those seven years, we engaged some 2700 madrasa leaders from 1600 madrasas. It sounds like it's a lot; it wasn't. There are 20,000, but all the work we did is in the more radical areas of the country, so we feel there is sufficient momentum to take this across the board. Now, why were we successful when no one else had been? Least of all, the government of Pakistan. Several reasons: first was ownership. We conducted the project in such a way that the Madrasa leaders felt it was their reform effort and something that wasn't being reformed from the outside. And by the way, over there, we didn't use the word reform, we used the word enhance. Enhancement really works when you consider their history. If you, again, this gets back to the media, I've been instructed to speak close to the mike here so I'll try to do that, if you read the media and read about madrasas, all you conclude is they are seed-beds of terrorism with sort of a caveman mentality associated with them. I don't think that's a very accurate portrayal. I want to read you a very short paragraph on the teacher awareness module that we conducted with these Madrasa leaders. And this was crafted by a Madrasa leader. And I quote, "I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. My personal approach creates the climate. My daily mood makes the weather. As a teacher, I have a tremendous power to make a child's life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture, or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate, or humor; hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or deescalated and a child humanized or dehumanized." That's very powerful. I would be hard pressed to come up with something half that good myself.
Second, we inspire them with their own heritage. Not only the heritage of their own schools, but going back to the very origins of Islam, when so many of the pioneering breakthroughs in the arts and sciences, including religious tolerance, took place under Islam. And the more they hear this, internalize it, the taller they walk and start thinking "hey, maybe we can do better too." And a third reason, and I think this is probably most important of all, is that we ground all suggested change in Islamic principles so they can feel they are becoming better Muslims in the process, and they are. And the final one, I don't talk about it much, when I do it sort of blows them away, but we operate from a posture of total humility driven by our awareness that it was the United States that was very complicit in planting seeds of Jihad in the madrasas in the first place when they were trying to grow holy wars to evict the godless Soviets out of Afghanistan. So it is left, and we left, and now we are back and doing what we trained them to do, we just changed targets. This is a glowing example of the law of unintended consequences. And here we are. I don't know how many of you may have seen the movie "Charlie Wilson's War," which is really a very accurate portrayal of what sort of happened, but if you haven't, you should. It is well worth seeing. Now, what I'd like to do is just illustrate with a few anecdotes and give you a feel for the faith based diplomacy part of it. At one point, a couple of years ago, I took a couple of board members over to Pakistan and we visited with several Madrasas that had been clearly identified with terrorism. The first one was a Deobandi Madrasa outside of Karachi. Now, there are five sects that sponsor these schools. Deobandis and Wahhabis are the hardest line. And then you have the Barelvis, and the Shi'a, and Jamaat-e-Islami. But the Deobandis, which is where the Taliban comes out of, are far more powerful and influential than all of the other four put together. So, we were visiting a very major Deobandi madrasa outside Karachi that was known to supply most of the fighters for Kashmir and Chechnya, and had also spawned the two most violent anti-Shi'a terrorist groups. We walk into a room, it is about this size, it is full of Madrasa leaders and seasoned Islamic scholars and the like, and it was full of rage. Rage over US foreign policy more generally, but also rage because at that time Israel and Hezbollah were locked in combat in Lebanon and anything Israel does, the United States gets credit for. So, to try to break through that, I said, "look, we are not a government organization, nor have we ever received any funding from our government," which was true at that time, and I said then, "while the United States may have made some mistakes of late, it is important for you to remember when they have intervened on behalf of Muslims in Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, Kuwait," and I said, "while you may feel like criticizing the United States for operating with a double standard in the Middle East because of our relationship with Israel, so too can you criticize the Arab leaders who complain mightily of Israeli mistreatment but then turn a deaf ear to Palestinian pleas for humanitarian assistance. Anywhere you look, there are double standards driven by perceived national self-interest. But that is not why we are here. We are here to see if we can build on commonly shared religious values that bring us close together." And then I recited three passages from the Qur'an that I had committed to memory, not in Urdu but in English, it was translated. But a consolidated paraphrase would be, you've all heard this at one time, it is 'O, mankind, God could have made you one had He willed, but He had not, He made you into separate nations and tribes that you may know one another, cooperate with one another, and compete with one another in good works." I said, "I and my two colleagues are here to open the competition in good works." And I said, "the three of us happen to be followers of Jesus," and I said, "and we know, you cannot be a good Muslim without believing in some pretty wonderful things about Jesus," which is very true, we can go into that in depth, but I said, "let's ask ourselves, how would He want us to behave toward one another were He in our midst today?" and over the course of an hour, at the end of the hour, the discussion segued into a little social gathering with punch and cookies and all, but the rage had generally been converted to a spirit of total acceptance if not fellowship. It is amazing to behold. One Of the things our project director told me some months later, he said that in each case where we did this, each time that I recited these passages from the Qur'an he says he heard an audible sigh of relief in the audience. It was as though the rage was being defused because people were interpreting this not as tolerance, but as respect. There is a big difference. We through that word 'tolerance,' and I'm as guilty as anybody, around a lot, but it's really respect that you need to get to. Where you care enough about them and the values they hold dear to learn about them. So, that's a great takeaway for you. But, we then went up to a Wahhabi madrasa outside of Lahore that had been identified with the London bombers. The exact same presentation, same results, and, interestingly in the wake of that, the madrasa leader, who was a very big, revered, and somewhat feared individual, had run into our project director and I'll talk more about him momentarily, on several occasions, and each time, he brought up that question about Jesus and he said "it has caused me to ask myself on a daily basis, what would the prophet have me do?" And that Madrasa, without the benefit of our workshops, they wanted them, we never made it up there, but they've been sponsoring seminars on conflict resolution and peacemaking. So you never quite know where these seeds are going to bear fruit. In the third on that we went to, it was a very interesting episode, a Madrasa leader comes up at the end and one of them says, he had his hand over his heart, he said, "you have made me so very, very happy. We thought all Americans hated us." And I thought to myself, "Well, if you read the media, it is the impression you would get." I assured him that was not the case. But another Madrasa leader came up and said 'you know, the situation in our village," in which a young woman was caught talking on her cellphone at two o'clock in the morning to a young man in an adjacent village in whom she had an interest, and the village elders thought this violated their code of honor. So she was to die, and the boy was to lose his nose and his ears. And so, this Madrasa leader said, and he was a very young man, he said, "ordinarily I would not get involved but after our discussion on human rights I feel compelled to go challenge this on religious grounds." So he did, with some trepidation, because as I say he was pretty young and he went up against the village elders, but he went there with an open Qur'an and pointed out that there was nothing in the Qur'an that prohibited women from talking to men, and he also urged the peaceful resolution of differences that many passages encouraged. And he pulled it off. Nobody was hurt, the thing was resolved. And hopefully that can be a precedent for that village and perhaps other villages around it, but this is a case where religion trumps tribalism in a context where most Muslims can't tell you where one ends and the other begins. And I will tell you this that a lot of the bad rep that Islam gets is really tribalism and has nothing to do with religion. It is not always a given that religion is always going to trump. Because as they will point out to you, their tribal customs date back 3000 years. Islam is only 1400 years. So you have to work at it basically.
Another situation: In one of our workshops, one of the participants was a Taliban commander of some renown. And we were surprised. We always partner with indigenous folks to help hit the ground running so we don't have to build credibility from scratch, but we partner with organizations or people who already command the respect and credibility with the folks we need to reach. So in this case, it was a Taliban commander who had been recruited by our partners. And he shared with his project director, he was very despondent, he had lost two sons in the fighting, and he said, "We don't know what America wants." They come here with guns; we have no recourse but to respond in kind. So this led for an invitation for me to come to the mountains to meet with their senior leadership to tell them what America wants, which I did two months later. In the interim, I made the rounds at the state defense agency to make sure that whatever I said was consistent with US state policy. So I find myself again in a room about this size, in a compound up in the Malakand Agency
which is the North West frontier of Pakistan in the mountains, pretty near the Swat valley, and right across the border from Nuristan
which is in Afghanistan. And most of these were Afghan commanders who had brought across the border for this meeting. 57 Taliban commanders, several tribal and religious leaders, and it was obvious by the look on some of their faces that some of them were less pleased to be there than others. But I told them, I gave them the business about not being a government organization, and I said, "Frankly, if our government had its way, this meeting would never take place." I'm just trying to disabuse them of any feeling that we controlled what our government did, and I said, "We're here to see if we can build on the religious values we share in common to develop a confidence building measure we can point towards peace." I said, "To do that we need to stay on the western perspective on what's going on here." So I told them that what America wanted was for them to lay down their arms, distance themselves from Al-Qaeda, and to reconcile with the Karzai
government. And then we went into about two and a half hours of dialogue. A lot of venting took place, as you can imagine, and there were a number of penetrating questions that emerged, I'll just share two of them with you, one was "what do the American people want?" and with that I breathed a sigh of relief because that meant they were still cutting us some slack even though we had reelected the administration that was causing all their problems. But then the other one was "why are you attacking Afghanistan?" I said, "I'll put this in terms that you hold dear, hospitality, loyalty, and revenge," and those are the driving factors, "I said before we recognize certain members of Al-Qaeda as a threat, we welcomed them into our country. We gave them hospitality, and then without warning on 9/11 they struck." I said, "We wanted revenge, so we went to the Taliban government and asked them to turn over the Al-Qaeda leadership so we could bring them to justice, they refused, so we attacked." I said, "But we did so with a heavy heart. Most Americans have great admiration and respect for the Afghan people stemming from our common struggle against the Soviet Union. Furthermore, you have to recognize that your tribal leaders are now banding together against Al-Qaeda because they violated your hospitality." So, then we, after the two and a half hours, we broke for prayer and came back in a smaller group and came up with a confidence building measure. In the course of that two and a half hours of dialogue, at one point, one gentlemen, though I learned later that some of these folks were Al-Qaeda and I didn't know that but I'm glad I didn't know it. He was a very rough looking guy and he stands up and points his finger at me and says, "I can't talk to you unless you become a Muslim." And so I said, "Well, I really don't see a problem. Muslim means submission to God, we all submit to God, therefore we are all Muslims." Everybody laughed and we went on with our show. And later on, my project director told me that he and a Wahhabi partner who had spent the better part of a month rounding these folks up, got very uptight because that scenario is often you convert or you die, and I, of course, was totally oblivious to all that, and I thought to myself, "you know, the Lord really does look out for fools and incompetents." So, well, we came up with this confidence building measure, and I won't go into detail as to what it was, but it failed because I was unable to get NATO's concurrence to do what they would have to do to help make it happen. But where it did bear fruit was three months later when the Korean ambassador called me and asked if there was anything our center could do to help secure the release of the 21 Korean missionaries being held hostage by the Taliban. And because of the networking associated with that first meeting in the mountains, we were ultimately able to play an instrumental role in getting those missionaries freed. It is a fascinating story. We don't have time to go into it here, maybe in the question and answers, but, like I say, you never know.
Now, two other really quick anecdotes to seal this off. In on workshop in Punjab, this is known to be an Al-Qaeda theater. 22% of the graduates went on to be Al-Qaeda. But they didn't go to Afghanistan to fight Americans, they went up to, because of their geographic proximity, they went to Kashmir to be a part of the militant movement there. But towards the end of the workshop, one of the Madrasa leaders said "is leading
conflict in Kashmir sanctioned by Islam?" And our project director said, "No, but I'm not a religious leader," so he turned to our Wahhabi partner who enjoyed at least honorary mullah status, and he says, "No, only to defend the faith, never to acquire territory." Well, this then led to a very, sometimes heated discussion or debate among the Madrasa leaders. They finally came up with a consensus conclusion, that the fighting in Kashmir was politically motivated but not religiously sanctioned. So then they started thinking about "how can we tone down the militancy of our graduates?" And, this gets those ideas behind the guns business that I was talking about. And I was surprised two trips later to find that episode had been carried in the newspapers all the way to Balochistan which is half the country away. It was really amazing how fast it traveled.
But the final one, and here again I think this illustrates better than anything this ideas behind the guns thing, back when the Taliban had taken over the Swat valley and lots of heads were rolling, and Swat valley, if some of you don't remember, is kind of a resort area up in the mountains of Pakistan and a very nice place, but not when the Taliban took over, and so we were having a workshop for 16 madrasas surrounding the Swat valley and toward the end a madrasa leaders stood up, it turned out he was not only a madrasa leader, he was a terrorist commander in the Lashkar-e-Taiba
, the folks who brought you Mumbai, and he said, "I came here for one reason, and one reason only, that is to discredit everything you have to say." And he said, "But now I find myself standing here full of rage, rage because for 26 years I have studied and taught the Qur'an the way it was taught to me," he says, "for the first time in my life, I feel I have now sensed the soul of the holy Qur'an and its peaceful intent. I now see that the right way to advance Islam is through peace and not through conflict. I'm going to change what I teach my students and I'm going to tell them why." Well, we came back a month later and he was doing exactly as he promised and there was a CNN team in tow. They had been after us for three years to document our work so we had them along and he said it on CNN for God and the entire world to here. I guess he got away with it because he was a terrorist commander, but even he finally realized he was on thin ice. He said, "Enough, enough, enough." But, here is somebody who is a madrasa leader who has been studying and teaching the Qur'an for 26 years. It is sort of like any of our holy scriptures. You can find references to justify just about anything you want to. So if you are looking with a hostile intent, you will overlook the passages or just skim them, but he finally looked at them and he changed his tune. Well, these are all anecdotes just to give you a flavor. But systemically, we did some things as well. One of the things we tried to do was to bring the government and Madrasa leaders closer together. There is a thing called the Madrasa oversight board, five religious leaders of the five sects that sponsor the schools, there is a deep distrust between the two primarily because the government never delivers on its promises. And I don't think that's accidental. The elephant in the room that nobody talks about in Pakistan is it's a feudal country and the people on the top are absolutely not interested in empowering the people on the bottom. They want them to stay there. And in fact, I don't think it is an accident that Pakistan has one of the lowest percentages of GDP in the entire world devoted to education. The illiteracy is very high, and when they're illiterate they can't vote. So this is one of the things we're up against. I think that the, I'm trying to recapture my thought here, but when you look at the end game of all this and where it is going to come out, I think that you have to really realize that there is only so much you can do, but bombs and bullets are not the way to drain the swamp of extremism. They have their place, but if you really want to do it, you have to win hearts and minds. One of the things we did in trying to develop a model curriculum for the Madrasas is we took that national Madrasa oversight board to Turkey and Egypt to expose them to how they deal with Islamic education. And they went with a bit of an attitude. What can these secularists teach us religious purists? And they came back very humbled because what they found was that Egyptian and Turkish students could handle religious questions every bit as ably as any Pakistani Madrasa student, but they could also handle contemporary problems because they had had these other subjects and both countries offered to help the Madrasa oversight board with its challenge of bringing these Madrasas into the 21st century. And they made as a condition on their willingness to help that they would teach about other religions and other sects. So, when Muslims hear that from Muslims, it really goes a long way. Now, just to end all this, at one point, I told you I was going to tell you about our project leader. His name was Azhar Hussain. Azzi was a really incredibly capable fellow. When I met him, before I hired him, he was a diversity trainer at AARP of all places, but he had spent his youth in Karachi and attended a Madrasa, best trainer I'd ever seen, truly, and one of the most likeable people on the face of the planet. So that combination was like a hot knife cutting through butter. He was really a hero twice over. Not only did he bear the burden of being and American, but he was also a Shi'a and we were doing business with people who do unmentionable things to Shi'a. And, fortunately, he was so likeable that by the time anybody figured out he was Shi'a, nobody wanted to hurt him so he had friends everywhere, and our work was very dangerous. Sometimes you would get calls that people were laying and waiting for you and so you would make alternative arrangements, but then what happened was later on I sat down with him one day and I said, "Look, from this day forward I don't want to ever mention our center's name in Pakistan again. We are too widely known and we are too targeted." I couldn't believe the timing, but three days later out comes an online seven page jihadist journal article going to all the cells in Pakistan and Afghanistan, specifically targeting our work. So, the good news is we were having an impact. And the bad news is we were having an impact. And so our partners over there, one was Dioband, and the other was Wahhabi, who are absolutely fearless in taking us into the most difficult places, but when this article came out, they fled the country. They're back now. What we did in response to this unwanted publicity was partially two years earlier we had laid the legal framework for an indigenous NGO that we would one day staff up and pass the baton to, because our job is always to work ourselves out of a job by creating capacity, not dependency. So we did that. We energized it, staffed it up, let Azzi
go, he was also our senior Vice President for Operations, so we made him the president of that, eh moved with his family to Dubai where they are only an hour flight away, too dangerous for him to live in Pakistan, but we found some good space in a discrete area, and the beat goes on. And one of the really nice things is that the state department, who had actually ben opposing our work for five years, we never could quite figure it out, I think it had to do with church, state separation business, but we never could get a straight answer, they finally came around and they put up a half a million dollars to support the project work of this indigenous NGO because they finally figured out that what we were doing with the madrasas was every bit as strategic as anything else taking place on or off the battle field. So again it gets to how do you drain the swamp?
So with that, I'd like to just close and invite your questions.