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April 15, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 8




global perspective

South African model offers guide to reconstructing Iraq

by Sister Rita Larivee, SSA, associate publisher of NCR

As talk concerning Iraq moves from bombing runs to that of reconstruction, the international community must look to all avenues for restoring the rightful dignity of the Iraqi nation.

Nine years ago, South Africa initiated a process for getting beyond the atrocities committed in the past. It established the Truth and Reconciliation Committee chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Though the situation in Iraq is not that of apartheid, there are similarities worth examining.

Both countries share the rebuilding of a nation out of the rubble of torture, imprisonment, and the denial of basic human rights. Both countries share the need to build a future where those who were once victims are now living side by side within communities of those who were the oppressors. Both countries share the reality of a population made up of varying ethnic and racial traditions. This list could go on.

There are differences, of course. And South Africa continues to have many national challenges. But the success of South Africa in dealing with many seemingly insurmountable problems is not insignificant when talking about a country that hopes to transition from repression and injustice to democracy and freedom; namely, Iraq.

My suggestion is twofold.

First, that the experience of South Africa be used by the international community in helping to sort out the best plan for allowing the Iraqi people the liberation they were promised. Social engineering on the part of a third party can be a very dangerous undertaking. Neither the United States nor any other country has the knowledge or the skills necessary to unscramble the demographic diversity that is the Iraqi reality. The Iraqi people themselves are in the best position to resolve the challenges facing them. They will need assistance from the international community, but only to the degree that they request it. South Africans wrestled with their problems, not third parties. So too must it be within Iraq.

Second, that the future cannot be built by ignoring the past. South Africa's ability to renew its society was and is dependent upon its ability to deal effectively with what went before. Saddam Hussein's regime may be gone, but if it is forgotten, as if to not have existed at all, this can only lead to a deep and hidden cancer that will eventually suck life from the whole. South Africa offers the world community a way for dealing with horrific situations. The memories of Saddam's gassing of him own people do not disappear because statues are torn down and murals destroyed, nor the lost lives of loved one and neighbors killed during the fighting. Reconstruction of buildings and economic systems is one thing, but the reconstruction of a people is something far different. It must include a process of healing that can only be undertaken by the Iraqi people themselves.

Where does this leave the international community? Standing off to the side and responding when the request is made, listening when the request is not made, and giving back to the Iraqi people their rightful claim to self-determination as the central force in the shaping of their future.

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