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Policing the Past in the Middle EastFrom left: George Irani, Ann Kerr, Laurie King-Irani

Policing the Past in the Middle East

Are truth and reconciliation possible? Two Fulbright scholars offer some thoughts.

By Ann Kerr-Adams

Dr. Laurie King-Irani is an anthropologist and teaches at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada. She is a founder of the Middle East news website "Electronic Intifada." George Irani is Lebanese and a professor of conflict management and analysis at Royal Roads University, Victoria, BC. The husband and wife team are currently Fulbright scholars in Los Angeles. On February 23 they presented a lecture to their fellow Fulbright scholars in the International Institute's Bunche Hall conference room on the topic "Policing the Past in the Middle East: Are Truth and Reconciliation Possible?"

In their presentation and discussion about how best to treat protracted conflicts in the Middle East, George Irani and Laurie King-Irani examined different approaches, which they described as the truth and reconciliation model, and the legal prosecution of grave violations of rights. Neither has been tried in the Middle East, they said, although the conflicts of this region are omnipresent in daily news reports. Reflecting on an attempt to begin a truth and reconciliation process in postwar Lebanon ten years ago, Irani and King-Irani noted that acknowledgement of past wrongs is necessary, but not sufficient, for halting violence committed with impunity in the Middle East.

On a possible legal approach, the two suggested that although international humanitarian law and a wide variety of UN Security Council resolutions have not been adequately enforced in the region, be it in Iraq, Lebanon, or Israel-Palestine, legal intervention might prove to be healing and decisive for bringing cycles of victimization and counter-victimization to a close. The speakers mentioned the upcoming trial of Saddam Hussein as well as the current efforts at the International Court of Justice in the Hague to ascertain whether Israel's Separation Barrier/Wall is illegal, as events that may presage a new role for law in a troubled region.

Fulbright Program