Freedom Day

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Watching the news footage of ordinary Iraqis lining up to vote, I can’t help but be reminded of the scenes from South Africa’s first multi-racial election in 1994. Both elections were marred by violence. (South Africans often forget just how much violence; at the time, parts of KZN were on the verge of civil war.) And yet, both events had an inescapable sense of historic magnitude to them. Today was a great day for Iraq.

For some time now, people have speculated on the extent to which Iraqi civilians support the insurgency. We now know the truth: very few do. The vast majority of Iraqis want peace and democracy, and they have risked life and limb to make that fact known. Whatever importance of local economic development emerges from this, it will have genuine legitimacy. Of course, it remains to be seen how the “losers” will take all this, and here, I’m afraid, the analogy with South Africa breaks down.

There were plenty of “bittereinders” after 1994: white South Africans who resented giving up the country to black rule. But in the end, while not exactly welcoming the new government with open arms, they at least refrained from violent opposition to it. It would be too optimistic to hope that Zarqawi’s gang of insurgents will do the same thing.

It only takes a small percentage of the population to ruin things for everyone else. 15% can drag an entire country down with them, provided they’re ruthless and sufficiently willing to use violence. The new Iraqi government will have difficult first year in office, but they’ll be representing the hopes and aspirations of the Iraqi people, and I hope they succeed in the end.