March 4, 2007

Baghdad On the Pacific

Two news stories I read on the Web this morning seem connected to me.

The Gray Lady reports on the strife in Baghdad, which has led to neighborhoods becoming predominantly Shi'a or Sunni, because if one enters or lives in the wrong neighborhood, he will end up very dead, probably in some gruesome way:

But even in neighborhoods that are improving or are relatively calm, borders loom. Streets once crossed without a thought are now bullet-riddled and abandoned, the front lines of a block-by-block war among Shiite militias, Sunni insurgents, competing criminal gangs and Iraqi and American troops.

Some Americans who have seen both Bosnia and Iraq say Baghdad has come to resemble Sarajevo as it began to unravel in the 1990s, latticed with boundaries that are never openly indicated but are passed on in fearful whispers among neighbors who have suffered horrific losses.

Like jagged wounds, the boundaries mark histories of brutal violence. And for Iraqis, they underscore a vital question at the heart of the new plan: can scarred neighborhoods ever heal?

The story goes on to describe the violent process of separation in depressing detail:
Um Shaima, 48, a garrulous Sunni widow who used to sell yogurt in the Sadriya market, lives just north of Sybaa Street in Fadhil. She said she used to visit the stores there for clothes. Her cousin Samir worked for years on the Sadriya side of Sybaa Street as a mechanic without any trouble.

Then a few months ago, Ms. Shaima said, he received a threat. “They told him, ‘You are a Sunni, and all Sunnis are infidels and their women are prostitutes, so stop coming to Sadriya or you will be killed,’ ” she said.

“He didn’t listen,” she added.

The next day, he was kidnapped. Witnesses said Shiite militants yanked him off his motorcycle and threw him in the trunk of a sedan.

“They called his wife at 9 a.m. the next day,” Ms. Shaima said, “telling her that they will kill all the Sunnis, and your husband is dead.”

A Shiite nephew of Samir’s later recovered his uncle’s mutilated body from a trash pile east of Baghdad.
Meanwhile, the Whale describes what has been going on in a decade in a neighborhood called Harbor Gateway.
From 1994 to 2005 in Harbor Gateway, there were nearly five times as many homicides, assaults and other violent crimes by Latinos against blacks as by blacks against Latinos, according to Los Angeles Police Department statistics.

Cheryl's shooting — allegedly by two 204th Street gang members as she and friends talked on a street in broad daylight — underscored a new reality: that since the mid-1990s, according to the L.A. County Human Relations Commission, Latino gangs have become the region's leading perpetrators of violent hate crimes.

"It took this girl's death to show what's going on," said Khalid Shah, director of Stop the Violence, an anti-gang nonprofit group that has worked in Harbor Gateway.

Two weeks after Cheryl's death, the gang allegedly struck again, stabbing 80 times a white man they believed to be a witness to her shooting death. Five gang members were charged last month in his slaying.

None of this makes sense to Cheryl's mother, Charlene Lovett.

"My daughter's dead and I don't know why," Lovett said at her kitchen table after Cheryl's killing. "That's the question I would like answered: Why?"

The answer goes well beyond a single slaying or a single neighborhood. Packed into the 13-block area where Cheryl Green lived and died is a story of many of the forces fueling gang and racial violence in Los Angeles and the region today.

It is a story of civic neglect and the rise of the low-wage economy, of immigration, changes in federal housing policy and the street influence of a prison gang.
Iraq has to live with the juxtaposition of Shi'a and Sunni, which is hundreds of years old. The Saddam solution was tyranny. The new solution, no doubt, will be separation, as has happened the world over as nationalism has developed.

The United States still has a chance to mitigate this problem, but to do so it must give up the illusion that people are infinitely malleable, and hiring a few diversocrats and preaching tolerance will make it possible for any group to live happily with any other group.

First, do no harm: Close the border.

Second, insist upon Americanization of immigrants.

Third, gang violence, especially racial and ethnic, must be rooted out. If this could be done with the Mafia, which was sophisticated and rich, it can be done with small-time teenage hoods. Only, however, if we do away with the illusion that all this is just a "cry for help" or simply the result of not enough social services.

We've had ethnic turfs in our cities before. There were Irish neighborhoods in Manhattan that were no-go zones for blacks. For years, white people were afraid to walk around in Harlem. Bad enough, but the lines were clear and stable. In Los Angeles these are efforts at expelling particular groups, and in fact blacks have been on the losing end of struggles for jobs and space.

A major threat to the stability of our society. During Vietnam, the far left used to prate about "bringing the war home."

The beginnings of war are here. If we do not stop it, we are doomed to live in interesting times.

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