The long road home

In the film "Nowhere in Africa," a tribesman stands on a hill somewhere in Kenya and tells a German Jewish refugee: "They" can take your cattle and kill them or your food and eat it, but "if someone steals your land, it will always be there. You can always visit it."

It's a story about starting over, adapting and constantly redefining the concept of home - a human story, the latest version of which is playing out in Iraq's dusty cities.

Today, Monitor writers take a look at two aspects of it - the effort to salvage the country's ancient artifacts now that looters have gutted its largest museum; and the challenge of restoring its legal system after three decades of perversion under Saddam Hussein's rule (see stories).

In both cases there are hints of progress. Some sheepish looters have returned smaller artifacts, dropping them off at mosques, museums, or even the US military. And exiled Iraqi attorneys and judges point to a fundamentally sound legal code before Mr. Hussein's sinister tinkering.

But the torching of the National Library and the Ministry of Religious Affairs in Baghdad destroyed a piece of collective memory that can never be recovered. The buildings burned to the ground - and with them centuries of manu-scripts, telling the complex story of civilization's evolution. For many, they embodied the nation's identity.

What remains is the land - intrinsic wealth and permanence - and the prospect of justice.

Like the refugee in "Nowhere in Africa" who returns to postwar Germany to become a judge, Moniem al-Khatib, an exiled Iraqi lawyer, told the Monitor he hopes to return to his homeland, restart his law practice, and be a part of his country's reconstruction.

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