This post is a reply to “To combat the lure of ISIL, the Muslim world needs its own Peace Corps.”
John Lydon, once upon a time the oracle for the dispossessed generation of punk rockers, exhorted that anger is an energy. Notwithstanding the abrasive delivery by which it reached its audience, Lydon’s message brought a social awareness to many who saw a way of transferring angst into action, antipathy into accomplishment. If people were upset with the world around them, they could get past their own ennui and change it for the better. Once upon a time, there were a myriad issues and imperatives that tugged on the hearts of the legions who wanted to get their hands dirty in cleaning up the world. The quest to end apartheid; the Ethiopian famine and Band Aid; nuclear disarmament; saving the whales. Despite the relative limitations of mass communications and technology 40, even 30 years ago, there were ways to connect and to fulfill the innate drive to make a difference.
Today, crises abound. Gone are the artists who refuse to play Sun City and who shepherd their fans toward causes larger than themselves. A good amount of youth activism now, when it is measurable, appears dominated by slacktivism, the sometimes frenetic, though comfortable, involvement facilitated by social media and the convenience of sitting on the couch with a laptop, or clicktivism, the ability to text a donation to a charity that builds wells or delivers aid packages.
There is no dearth of activists in the Muslim world whose youth should be the natural inspiration for those who share their age and ostensibly, their passion. Malala has attained that all important stature of being a single-name phenomenon, earning a Nobel Peace Prize for her tireless campaign to educate Muslim girls. Three college students from North Carolina were murdered, execution-style, in their apartments; they are now remembered and honored for their charity work helping the homeless in the US and war victims overseas. Mohamed Bouazizi brought attention to the injustices in Tunisia through self-immolation and self-sacrifice, thus also giving life to the Arab Spring. It would therefore seem natural that the youth can draw upon several examples of peers who have endeavored to change the world in their own way. Cultivating a culture of activism is essential to drawing from the tremendous well of human capital that is the Muslim world; a population of 1.7 billion people can yield a critical mass to address and solve its own problems. It is certainly time for a Muslim Peace Corps. The question, then, is who will start it and who will sustain it.
Existing multi-national entities within the Muslim world would appear to be the natural and most plausible organizations to advance a Muslim Peace Corps. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation, representing 57 Muslim majority nations, is one such NGO. But the OIC suffers from two serious impediments for many in the Muslim world. Its credibility is considered circumspect because it is seen as merely an extension of the perceived dysfunctionality rampant in many of the member states represented within it. Given the long list of challenges facing so many countries within its fold, the OIC appears impotent or unwilling to solve the problems, whether they reside among member states or are imposed by external actors. But ineptitude may still be forgiven because people are sadly inured to it; the specter of an illicit agenda, however, is tougher to rebut. In a world where suspicions and conspiracy theories are de rigueur, OIC sponsorship or coordination of the Muslim Peace Corps may evoke allegations and apprehensions reminiscent of the accusations of the Peace Corps being a front for the CIA.
If credibility is a challenge for the OIC to earn from Muslims, then visibility is an even tougher purchase. Most Muslims are unfamiliar with the OIC or its work. It may be an Islamic NGO, but it is lacks the public footprint that an organization like Islamic Relief or the Red Crescent has established.
Similarly, governments don’t fare very well when it comes to public confidence of providing an efficient, effective mechanism to solve humanitarian difficulties; after all, some nations have a near unlimited supply of financial resources and bureaucracies to manage any crisis; yet, there appears to be little to no improvement in the conditions of millions across the world. What existing NGO’s and governments seem unable to do, collective private entrepreneurship may have the means and the modes to achieve.
The Muslim Peace Corps needs three key components to launch it: funding; infrastructure and a mechanism to sustain passion and motivation among the youth. The youth have a spirit of social entrepreneurship, and the Muslim Peace Corps has the potential of being a startup for humanitarian good. Crowdfunding is the new telethon, a way to collect donations as an investment to a social cause. With even a dollar given, the donor can be a stakeholder in a very large project. Of course, deep-pocket seed funders can help furnish a solid, substantial base of financial stability, creating both the infrastructure on the ground and the subsidies for interested activists to volunteer their time and energy for deployment to areas of need.
While funding is a necessary primer to launch any Muslim Peace Corps, the leader of this initiative should be someone with visibility and credibility. Sadly, while there are some who have one, the other trait is often elusive. Saudi Prince Al Waleed bin Talal and the Sultan of Brunei may have a high international profile, but both may lack the appeal of authenticity for many who see them as mere plutocrats who flaunt their opulence. By contrast, Indian software entrepreneur Azim Premji and fellow billionaire philanthropist Mo Ibrahim from Sudan have a track record of generosity–both have signed onto Bill Gates’ $500 Billion Philanthropy Club–but would go unrecognized walking through most streets in the Muslim world.
Fortunately, there are individuals who are both well known Muslims who already have prominence and have the reputation to validate any project to which their name is attached. The Aga Khan is, of course, a religious leader and a philanthropist of the highest order. Cultural icons such as Bollywood’s Amir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan or football internationals like Mesut Ozil and Zinedine Zidane are globally known for their work in the humanitarian sector as well as their accomplishments on the screen or pitch. In the absence of a statesman on the level of a JFK, who called for the establishment of the Peace Corps on the steps of the University of Michigan Student Union in 1960, or a global change agent like Pope Francis I, the Muslim world needs an individual with a language and passion to galvanize and energize the youth. What we need is nothing less than a Muslim Richard Branson.