Does Segregation lead to interethnic violence or interethnic peace?

That’s an important question, because it not only gives us an indication of the potential to stem inter-ethnic violence in places like Iraq, Myanmar, and South Sudan, but it also provides clues as to where the next “hot spots” of inter-ethnic violence may be. For decades now, scholars have debated the answer to the question. There is empirical evidence to support bot the “yes” and “no” sides. For example, in a recent article in the American Journal of Political Science [which is pay-walled, so access it on campus or through your library’s proxy] Bhavnani et al. list some of this contradictory evidence:

How to create peace between Protestants and Catholics in Belfast? Erect 18-ft high "peace lines"
How to create peace between Protestants and Catholics in Belfast? Erect 18-ft high “peace lines”

Evidence supporting the claim that ethnic rivals should be kept apart:

  • Los Angeles riots of 1992, ethnic diversity was closely associated with rioting (DiPasquale and Glaeser 1998),
  • That same year, Indian cities in Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar, each of whichhad a history of communal riots, experienced violence principally in locales where the Muslim minority was integrated. In Mumbai, where over a thousand Mus-
    lims were killed in predominantly Hindu localities, the Muslim-dominated neighborhoods of Mahim, Bandra,
    Mohammad Ali Road, and Bhindi Bazaar remained free of violence (Kawaja 2002).
  • Violence between Hindus and Muslims in Ahmedabad in 2002 was found to be significantly higher in ethnically mixed as opposed to segregated neighborhoods (Field et al. 2008).
  • In Baghdad during the mid-2000s, the majority displaced by sectarian fighting resided in neighborhoods where members of the Shi’a and Sunni communities lived in close proximity, such as those on the western side of the city (Bollens2008).

Evidence in support of the view that inter-mixing is good for peace:

  • Race riots in the British cities of Bradford, Oldham, and Burnley during the summer of 2001 were attributed to high levels of segregation (Peach 2007).
  • In Nairobi, residential segregation along racial (K’Akumu and Olima 2007) and class lines (Kingoriah 1980) recurrently produced violence.
  • In cities across Kenya’s Rift Valley, survey evidence points to a correlation between ethnically segregated residential patterns, low levels of trust, and the primacy of ethnic over national identities and violence (Kasara 2012).
  • In Cape Town, following the forced integration of blacks and coloreds by means of allocated public housing in low-income neighborhoods, a “tolerant multiculturalism” emerged (Muyeba and Seekings 2011).
  • Across neighborhoods in Oakland, diversity was negatively associated with violent injury (Berezin 2010).

Scholars have advanced many theories about the link between segregation and inter-ethnic violence (which I won’t discuss right now), but none of them appears to account for all of this empirical evidence. Of course, one might be inclined to argue that segregation is not the real cause of inter-ethnic violence, or that it is but one of many causes and that the role played by segregration in the complex causal structure of inter-ethnic violence has yet to be adequately specified.

Hope for a united Iraq?

Apropos of one of the paper topics I assigned my class this past semester, here is an article that addresses the potential for a shared sense of community and destiny in Iraq. Based on this article, however, it seems that the basis for unity in Iraq is, in fact, the presence of the US military in that country. If this is true, then it leaves the Bush administration–and any future US president–caught between a rock and a hard place. Here are some snippets:

“raqis of all sectarian and ethnic groups believe that the U.S. military invasion is the primary root of the violent differences among them, and see the departure of “occupying forces” as the key to national reconciliation, according to focus groups conducted for the U.S. military last month.

That is good news, according to a military analysis of the results. At the very least, analysts optimistically concluded, the findings indicate that Iraqis hold some “shared beliefs” that may eventually allow them to surmount the divisions that have led to a civil war.”

Ethnic Cleansing and Violence in Baghdad

The Washington Post carries a story on the front page of its Sunday edition, which describes the changing nature of residential segregation in Baghdad, from the perspective of returning refugees and displaced persons. Included is a compelling map [click the link on the left for a larger view] of Baghdad showing the dynamics of the process of ethnic cleansing (and ethnic consolidation) of Baghdad’s map_ethnic_cleansing_baghdad.gifneighborhoods between April 2006 and November 2007.

This could have something to do with the decreasing levels of violence in Baghdad over the last six months or so. (Of course, the increased US troop presence helps, but a more compelling argument comes out of work by many political scientists on the rational, or strategic, nature of inter-ethnic violence. The violence that is perpetrated by the respective sides during episodes of inter-ethnic conflict is rarely random.

In my own work in Croatia, there was a compelling strategic logic to the violence perpetrated by both sides. Territory–towns, regions, cities, etc.,–that was deemed strategically important was targeted, while territory that was not strategically important was left alone. A similar dynamic may be occurring in Baghdad. With the task of segregation of Baghdad’s neighborhoods a fait accompli, the need and desire, on the part of the sectarian militias, to use violence has diminished considerably.