Diplo­macy via re­li­gion

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Kris­ten Chick

Barely a month ago, Douglas M. John­ston was in Afghanistan, meet­ing with Mus­lim Tal­iban, tribal and re­li­gious lead­ers and ex­plain­ing the U.S. war on ter­ror­ism in terms the Afghans could com­pre­hend: hos­pi­tal­ity, loy­alty and re­venge.

He painted a pic­ture of the United States as a na­tion ex­act­ing ret­ri­bu­tion against al Qaeda mem­bers who had vi­o­lated its hos­pi­tal­ity, not a na­tion out to de­stroy a re­li­gion.

The United States, he told the Mus­lim cler­ics, had not de­clared war on Is­lam.

And there, face to face with him, Mr. John­ston said, “they un­der­stood.”

Build­ing trust, which he hopes will lead to mea­sures to­ward peace, is the latest project for the In­ter­na­tional Cen­ter for Re­li­gion & Diplo­macy (ICRD). The Wash­ing­ton-based non­profit works to re­solve and pre­vent con­flicts by in­cor­po­rat­ing re­li­gious con­sid­er­a­tions into in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions and peace­mak­ing.

Mr. John­ston, who re­ceived the in­au­gu­ral Found­ing Spirit Award for Faith at The Wash­ing­ton Times’ 25th An­niver­sary Gala on May 17, is ICRD’s founder and pres­i­dent.

“I’ve come to view this work as some­thing of a call­ing,” said Mr. John­ston, 68. “Since leav­ing the Navy, I’ve had 15 jobs in half a dozen dif­fer­ent ca­reer fields and all of them, in some way, have helped bring me to this point.”

ICRD works in hot spots such as Su­dan, Kash­mir, Iran, Syria and Pak­istan to bridge the gap be­tween the po­lit­i­cal and the re­li­gious, lay­ing a frame­work of trust and mak­ing re­li­gion a part of the so­lu­tion.

Mr. John­ston is an evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian who is in­flu­enced by the bib­li­cal phrase “blessed are the peace­mak­ers.” His back­ground gives him cred­i­bil­ity with gov­ern­ment lead­ers that oth­er­wise might not be at­tain­able for the di­rec­tor of a re­li­gion-based or­ga­ni­za­tion.

A dis­tin­guished grad­u­ate of the U.S. Naval Academy, he worked in the pres­i­dent’s of­fice of emer­gency pre­pared­ness, as di­rec­tor of pol­icy plan­ning and man­age­ment for the sec­re­tary of de­fense, and as ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent and chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer of the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies (CSIS), a Wash­ing­ton-based think tank.

He rec­og­nized the im­por­tance of re­li­gion to in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions long be­fore the ter­ror­ist at­tacks of Septem­ber 11, 2001, made his ar­gu­ment clear.

At CSIS, he led a seven-year re­search project to pro­duce the 1994 book “Re­li­gion, The Miss­ing Di­men­sion of State­craft.” Its se­quel, “Faith-Based Diplo­macy: Trump­ing Re­alpoli­tik,” was pub­lished in 2003.

“We’ve let our sep­a­ra­tion of church and state, and our com­mit­ment to it, serve as a crutch for not do­ing our home­work in un­der­stand­ing how re­li­gion in­forms the world­views and po­lit­i­cal as­pi­ra­tions of oth­ers who do not sim­i­larly sep­a­rate the two,” he said. “We have no abil­ity to deal with re­li­gious dif­fer­ences in a hos­tile set­ting.”

Though Mr. John­ston in­sisted he was not a prophet, Am­bas­sador John W. McDon­ald, a 40-year vet­eran of the For­eign Ser­vice, said the idea of re­li­gion in diplo­macy never crossed his mind un­til he read Mr. John­ston’s first book. He is con­vinced Mr. John­ston’s work has had a ma­jor ef­fect in gov­ern­ment and be­yond.

“It res­onated,” he said. “We’ve got to learn about other reli­gions and na­tions. Re­li­gion might not al­ways be the root cause of a con­flict, but it’s al­ways there.”

Mr. John­ston said the re­sponse to his work has gone from tepid to en­thu­si­as­tic at the State De­part­ment, the De­fense De­part­ment and the CIA. He is think­ing about writ­ing a third book, ad­mon­ish­ing the United States for fo­cus­ing on symp­toms, rather than causes, be­hind the Septem­ber 11 at­tacks.

One of ICRD’s most re­ward­ing projects, he said, is its work to re­form Is­lamic ed­u­ca­tion in Pak­istan, where schools known as madras­sas have been cited as breed­ing grounds of ter­ror­ism.

“Ev­ery­body talks about the madras­sas,” he said. “As far as I know, we’re the only ones on the ground ad­dress­ing the prob­lem.”

ICRD has forged part­ner­ships with even “hard-core” madras­sas, he said, help­ing them ex­pand their cur­ric­ula and re­leas­ing stu­dents from the grip of ex­trem­ism.

The group also is work­ing in Syria, bring­ing to­gether Mus­lim cler­ics, West­ern evan­gel­i­cals, and even­tu­ally Jewish re­li­gious lead­ers, to es­tab­lish a re­li­gious frame­work for Mid­dle East peace upon which po­lit­i­cal lead­ers could build.

“We seek to bring the tran­scen­dent as­pects of per­sonal re­li­gious faith to bear in over­com­ing the sec­u­lar ob­sta­cles to peace,” he said. “We’re try­ing to fill a need that’s des­per­ately in need of fill­ing.”

Al­li­son Shelley / The Wash­ing­ton Times

Dr. Douglas M. John­ston

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