Thought for the Day - John Bell

There are iconic moments in recent history which are framed in our minds due to how radio and television have been able to record times of great transition.

Many of us can remember the Berlin Wall being torn down, Boris Yeltsin standing atop military vehicles urging the end of the Soviet Union, Nelson Mandela walking out of prison, Saddam Hussein’s statue being toppled when coalition troops entered Baghdad.

There’s something in us which understandably wants to cheer on the forces of liberation, the dawning of a new day for an oppressed people, the possibility of democracy supplanting dictatorship.

Years ago, I had the privilege of meeting one of my heroes. His name is Alan Boesak, an academic, a great orator and a former university chaplain in South Africa. Like many others he could tell horrendous stories of threats to his own person and his family during apartheid.

I asked him how there had been a relatively smooth transition from a white oligarchy to a multi-racial democracy. He said 'There are a number of factors. One is that black South Africans have been, in the main, people of faith. And for them this was the moment when they were given the opportunity to prove that reconciliation was more godly than revenge.’

And then he went on,‘But you must also remember that for a long time there was a government in waiting. There was a disciplined leadership core within the exiled ANC which had made flexible plans for an indigenous process of change.’

It is in this context that I think about Libya, a more confused place this morning than yesterday. Driving the strong man out is one thing, but with what will he be replaced? Given the interest and financial investment which NATO, the European Union, Great Britain and the USA have given to enable regime change in Libya, will it be the forces of Western capitalism, or the Arab League or the six month old National Transitional Council which will shape the future?

Apart from Gaddafi, there are few renowned Libyans. But, curiously, the Christian Gospels name one.

When Jesus was going to his death, there were no Europeans who helped him - though there were plenty around - nor did any local Jews or Gentiles give him a hand. But there was a man called Simon who helped carry the cross. He came from an area called Cyrene, which is in Libya, in Africa.

I hope that there will be other Simons summoned out to enable great changes to be made. And rather than the imposition of solutions favoured by either East or West, may there emerge, however falteringly, a form of government which is rooted in Libyan culture and African soil.

Release date: 23 Aug 2011

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