Every day we are blessed to have the freedom and safety that our soldiers overseas and at home so selflessly defend. We have lost many of those brave men and women to hostile extremists. There may be yet another way to help, though. In Indonesia, the government is doing something radical – allowing American volunteers from the Peace Corps to enter their nation for the first time in 45 years.
Two hundred million of the world’s Muslims reside in Indonesia – more than all off Islam’s followers in the Middle East. According to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Lewis Simons, four million of the are radical extremists. The government of Indonesia is beginning to accept that America is not fighting Islam, but the radical extremists who have hijacked the religion for the sake of violence.
The move also reflects acknowledgment by the American government that the Peace Corps represents a critical component of a new ‘smart power’ policy toward engagement abroad. The Peace Corps volunteers in Indonesia will be critical to helping decrease the appeal of radical extremism.
By assisting citizens escape crushing poverty, the Peace Corps will hopefully give the youth a better option than extremism. This peaceful approach to reducing the influence of radicals will help both countries without messy religious debates or the installation of troops.
The extremists are beginning to thrive in Indonesia. Though their population is only two percent of the Indonesian Muslims, they account for 4 million people. These 4 million people are recruited from the lowest levels of poverty, where options are seemingly nonexistent, with the promises of rewards in the afterlife.
Bombings by these extremists have killed hundreds of Indonesians, Americans and other travelers. Hopefully, the education and support provided by the Peace Corps will help teach the youth that options are plenty and extremism is not as appealing as it sounds.
The Peace Corps is ready and willing to try new strategies in Indonesia. They plan to help young students learn English and advance their educational opportunities. The majority of Indonesians welcomes the help, but it is imperative that volunteers keep a low profile and respect the traditions and religion of their hosts. Both the Peace Corps and the Indonesians think that new strategies will have to be devised based on the diverse people and situations in the area.
Volunteering is strong in America and will always be an integral part of our culture. With governments opening their doors to friendly Americans, we now have another option to fight terrorism. By wearing jeans and sandals instead of combat boots and camouflage, the volunteering spirit will be able to spread its wings even farther.
Hopefully, the support offered to the Indonesians will be embraced in other nearby nations and the loss of American soldiers can be lessened. If this new ‘smart power’ is successful, peaceful forces may take the place of troops in securing a safer world for people of all religions.
Rogers is a member of
the class of 2012.