Two Holy Wars
Iraq and American Inner Cities
America is presently engaged in two diverse but interrelated wars. One is a Holy War, our theocracy against the theocracies of the Middle East.

Some call it a "War on Terror" --- but if so, it has been going on not since 9/11 but since the early 11th century. This is when Christians first invaded North Africa to punish the relatively peaceful and tolerant members of an 'infidel' religion.

In these wars, men in armor came to deliver the "heathen" of their property and their lives by means of a holy jihad in the name of Jesus. The streets of northern Islamic cities were so drenched in the blood of men, women, and children that one commentator compared it to "a red River Jordan."

Once they reached Jerusalem, the Christians outdid themselves. As the Provençal crusader Raymond of Aguilers reported, "With the fall of Jerusalem and its towers, one could see marvelous works. Some of the pagans were mercifully beheaded, others pierced by arrows plunged from towers, and yet others, tortured for a long time, were burned to death in searing flames. Piles of heads, hands and feet lay in the houses and streets, and men and knights were running to and fro over corpses."

Many in the west have forgotten the three centuries of bloodshed initiated by Pope Urban II; however, the followers of the Prophet whose ancestors lived through it (or died in it) still recall it vividly in oral histories, writings, paintings, and song.

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Meanwhile, another war, a civil war, is raging in the streets and cells of America. It is a long-lasting war between those who have and those who have not. It pits the citizens who live in their own jails ("suburbs," "gated communities") against those in the heart of our inner cities (and, by extension, those incarcerated in state, federal, and county prisons.) Nearly 42% of Americans reside in the one or other of these jails.

One of our writers recently described life in the American Baghdads we call inner-city: "Minority youth provides needed services for urban centers, the parts of inner city which have become lifetime holding tanks for Blacks, Mexican Americans, Native Americans, and new immigrants from Central and South America and the Far East.

"Powerful economic forces are in place to assure that escaping from the war zone will be expensive, if not impossible. In the Green Zone, the median home price exceeds a half-a-million dollars, and property taxes reflect this. Food and services are all proportionally expensive.

"Contrariwise, in center city, rents are cheap, living is less expensive, poverty and unemployment are the rule, so those with the will to survive must go into one of the accepted tax-free ghetto businesses: protection, dealing drugs and guns, procuring and selling stolen goods, or prostitution. These being the only well-paid jobs available, denizens of inner city are sure to be subject to the ultimate control: being stopped, undergoing body search and seizure by those from the 'Green Zone.'"

These mid-city prisons are linked closely to near-by state and federal jails. The current prison population in the United State exceeds two million men, women, and children. Ours is the largest relative percentage of incarceration in the world, topping even that of China, Russia or any of the North African countries. To make sure that 2,000,000 persons have no voting rights, not to say personal freedom, is expensive: National, state, and local incarceration costs taxpayers over four billion dollars a month. There is only one other neo-socialist intervention that taxes us more: the heavy policing of Iraq, which now costs over ten billion dollars a month.

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To suggest that being conscripted or being in prison gets minorities safely out of the mainstream may sound like the height of cynicism, but several inner-city books have confirmed the basic facts. One author tells of the day he and the members of his inner-city gang purchased several cases of guns from two "big, burly men:"

    The white man laughed at my reaction when I saw the M-1 bullets. He reached into one of the boxes, pulled out a .357 Magnum, and gave it to me. He said that it was a strong gun with not much kick so I ought to be able to handle it. It was a gift from him to me. The gun was a little bigger than the .38 I had but weighed about the same. The bullets were also bigger. I couldn't wait to shoot it ... I stuck the gun inside the front of my pants and left it there. A feeling of strength came over me. "Kill yourself one of them Dis-ci-ples, one shot will do it," the white man said.

In the now widely-respected, popular This Bloody Life (Chicago Review Press), the author reports,

    I looked inside and saw them counting money. I noticed a sticker on the windshield of the Cadillac with the initials NRA in the middle, and the words National Rifle Association in a circle on the borders. So that's where all those guns come from, I thought. I wanted to join that group when I grew up.

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How does our on-going civil war connect directly to the Holy War 7,000 miles to the east? The U. S. Military has 1,800,000 troops on active duty, with another 900,000 in reserve. 10% of these are serving in Iraq. Approximately 25% of these on the front lines are Black, Latino/Chicano, American Indian or other minorities. Troops at the lowest "grunt" level make up close to 38% of the total. Thus, whether it is the war in the east or the war in the streets, our troops --- largely American minorities --- are being given a perspective which is that violence makes right.

The human cost of our wars are well hidden. In previous wars, cameras were permitted, even thought they were controlled by the authorities and the built-in sensitivities of journalists. Dead Americans were shown only in flag-draped coffins, with appropriate stars hung in appropriate windows.

Photographs of returning coffins of those who die in the present war are now officially banned from being shown in newspapers and on television in both Canada and the United States.

Contrary to this public-relations aspect, wars have become the reality television of the new century. The usually astute public-relations operatives in Washington have not yet realized the profound change in perceptions of war.

When a soldier or a correspondent died in WWII it was but noted with generalized sorrow. Now the daily fatalities appear in the daily obituaries in newspapers, on television, and, surprisingly, even on Fox Television. The privacy of death of previous wars has been preëmpted by the dimensions of an immense national and international press-corps ... dying, as it were, for news. An example is this story, one that would have been unthinkable during the Viet-Nam War. This is from a recent L. A. Times,

    LAS ROZAS, Spain --- In her tidy living room, Maria Isabel Permuy keeps lighted candles next to photos of her dead son, Jose Couso. Consumed by grief, she believes American soldiers murdered him as he filmed the battle for Baghdad from the Palestine Hotel three years ago this month.

    Half a world away, in Kentucky, the commander of the Army tank that fired the fatal round still carries the burden of what happened as he fought to hold the Jumhuriya Bridge over the Tigris River. Sgt. 1st Class Shawn Gibson, a devout Christian, prays for Couso's family, and for understanding and forgiveness.

Suddenly, what used to be the anonymous plight of war has become highly personal. Those who die are, as always, identified by name. What is new is that those who kill are also identified by name. The family of the reporter tell their sad story; the one who fired the fatal bullet is, too, in the spotlight. Never before in the history of war has the entire process become so personal. Murder and being murdered have suddenly become everybody's business.

In this process, the dimensions of new technological interconnects have made sure that those who died violently will create a new guilt, if not violence, for those who survive. The disturbances surrounding the Green Zone echoes, and echoes loudly, throughout the heart of America. The goût de terroir will transform a distant, puzzling 21st Century "Crusade" into a comprehensible if not all-encompassing series of conflagrations raging in the domain of the minorities, the very heart of the urban centers, into the homes of those who make up the heart of America.

--- Mark Reich, PhD
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