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Iraqi Boy Scouts

By Hans Zeiger
web posted September 13, 2004

It is no surprise that Iraq is unstable at the moment. There's a war on terror going on still, but the Left doesn't seem to be gaining much ground against President Bush by rambling on about the lack of Iraqi stability as evidence of a failed war. In fact, there are good reasons to expect greater peace and prosperity in Iraq in due time.

The final prosecution of Saddam Hussein in Iraqi courts will be the ultimate repudiation of the late regime. Then, as Michael Mandelbaum of the Council on Foreign Relations suggests, the occurrence of free, fair Iraqi elections next year will help to "vindicate the investment, in blood and money, that the United States has made in Iraq." Further, the cultivation of civil society is vital to proving the rise of stability in Iraq.

When we think of civil society in America, we are sure to consider among our finest institutions the Boy Scouts. As an Eagle Scout, I am convinced that the Scouting movement is one of the most important modern programs for the molding of boys into men of character, conscience, and courage - and not merely in the United States, but around the world. And so the Boy Scouts of Iraq are shaping up, a sure sign that better things are to come for the Middle East.

Symbolic of the mighty hope of post-Saddam Iraq is the present transition of an old Ba'ath Party terror camp to a Boy Scout camp. A vacant secret police compound that sits on 40 acres along the Tigris River is the object of fundraising and volunteerism efforts by American Scouts who want to turn it into recreation and learning facilities for Iraqi Scouts. Planning is underway to recruit Iraqi Boy Scout and Girl Scout leaders and send them to leadership training conferences.

The Boy Scouts of Iraq were established in 1954, but under Saddam Hussein's despotic rule, severe restrictions were placed on the Scouting program and a separate, corrupt pro-Saddam youth movement was founded. Though the Iraqi Boy Scouts faded away, the spirit of Scouting did not.

Retired U.S. Navy Commander Chip Beck, advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority on the resuscitation of Iraqi Scouting, finds the Iraqi people ready for the return of the Boy Scouts. Since Scouting celebrates faith and patriotism and integrity, universal values to distinguish right from wrong, and aspiration to higher ideals than self, Beck says that he has yet to encounter resistance to his efforts.

American critics of the Boy Scouts of America could learn a lesson from the simple idealism of the Iraqi people. In Iraq, radical atheist and homosexual activists don't seem to be much of a roadblock for the new pioneers of Scouting.

While Beck is on the ground in liberated Iraq working with the new Scouting leaders as well as several international organizations, Texas businessman Michael Bradle is working in the United States to raise millions of dollars and to raise public awareness of the Iraqi Scouting Initiative. Together, Beck and Bradle are co-chairs of the Iraqi International Foundation which is building partnerships with American and international Scouting organizations to make their dream a reality.

Bradle is excited about the growing American movement to assist the Iraqi people as they bring back Scouting. "We need to get all of the Eagle Scouts and Scouters we can involved in this project," says Bradle, "not just for scouting and restarting the scouting project, but to show Americans that scouts rise to the occasion to make a difference in people's lives! Not since WWII has there been this kind of high spirit of scouts coming out of the woodwork!"

One such Scout is 18-year old Eagle Scout Josh O'Brien of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania who is organizing community leaders across his state to build support for the Iraqi International Foundation. "This Initiative is a big undertaking and is on an International scale," O'Brien told me.

Thanks to the efforts of Josh O'Brien and many other American Boy Scouts, Iraq will rejoin the global movement begun by Lord Robert Baden-Powell in 1908. The World Organization of the Scout Movement claims 28 million Scouts, which includes both Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts and adult leaders, in 216 countries. Sadly, in many of those countries, like Canada and Baden-Powell's Great Britain, the Boy Scout Oath and Law have been rejected. In those countries, females and homosexuals and atheists are given equal access to Scout troops with boys.

While in some parts of the world, the Scouting movement withers, in other parts like the United States and our new ally Iraq, it thrives and grows.

This is an effort that anyone can get involved with. Volunteer or contribute to the Iraqi International Foundation at www.iraqiinternationalfoundation.org.

Hans Zeiger is president of the Scout Honor Coalition, a Seattle Sentinel columnist, and a student at Hillsdale College.

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