January 13, 2007


Youth and war, a deadly duo (Christopher Caldwell, January 6 2007, Financial Times)

Gangland slayings in the Palestinian territories this week have pitted the Islamist gunmen of Hamas against the secular forces of Fatah. The killings defy civilised norms: in December even children were targeted for murder. But the killings also defy political common sense. Ariel Sharon's wall cuts terrorists off from Israeli targets and what happens? The violence - previously justified with the cause of a Palestinian homeland - continues as if nothing had changed, merely finding its outlet in a new set of targets. This makes it appear that Palestinian violence has never really been about a "cause" at all. The violence is, in a strange way, about itself.

Gunnar Heinsohn, a social scientist and genocide researcher at the University of Bremen, has an explanation for why this might be so. Since its publication in 2003, his eccentric and eye-opening Sons and World Power (not available in English) has become something of a cult book. In Mr Heinsohn's view, when 15 to 29-year-olds make up more than 30 per cent of the population, violence tends to happen; when large percentages are under 15, violence is often imminent. The "causes" in the name of which that violence is committed can be immaterial. There are 67 countries in the world with such "youth bulges" now and 60 of them are undergoing some kind of civil war or mass killing.

Between 1988 and 2002, 900m sons were born to mothers in the developing world and a careful demographer could almost predict the trouble spots. In the decade leading up to 1993, on the eve of the Taliban takeover, the population of Afghanistan grew from 14m to 22m. By the end of this generation, Afghanistan will have as many people under 20 as France and Germany combined. Iraq had 5m people in 1950 but has 25m now, in spite of a quarter-century of wars. Since 1967, the population of the West Bank and Gaza has grown from 450,000 to 3.3m, 47 per cent of which is under 15. If

Mr Heinsohn is right, then Palestinian violence of recent months and years is not explained by Israeli occupation (which, after all, existed 30 years ago) or poverty (the most violent parts of the Muslim world are not the poorest) or humiliation. It is just violence. [...]

If you follow this argument to its logical end point, then the religion of Islam, the focus of so much contemporary strategic discussion, is a great red herring.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 13, 2007 8:09 AM

Well, Duh. It stuns me that people can say that Islam is violent to the core and can't deal with civilization, ignoring the 600+ years of peace. What did you think the fallout of Mr. Wilson's "Ethnic Self-determination" was going to be? Centuries of progress destroyed by a truly stupid racist.

Posted by: Robert Mitchell Jr. at January 13, 2007 10:43 AM

Duh Nothing, Robert.

While OJ's point (and yours) are well-taken, tertiary factors like culture and religion can't be ignored.

According to the theory put forth, it is demographics that drive violence. No one argues with that.

Let us add to the demographic mix differences in culture and religion, and see if these factors don't have some impact.

Put a high population of boys in a culture with something to do (economically sound) and a basis of individual rights, and you will get a different result than placing them in culture where a crazed cadre of clerics worship and promote violence and self-destruction.

I have no problem with OJ's thesis that Islam can be a positive force in the world, but to argue that its radicalism is benign flies in the face of reason, not to mention headlines.

Posted by: Bruno at January 13, 2007 11:00 AM

Sort of a Goldilocks effect: Palestine = too hot, Europe = too cold. Does that make us just right?

Posted by: Rick T. at January 13, 2007 11:02 AM

Sort of a Goldilocks effect: Palestine = too hot, Europe = too cold. Does that make us just right?

Posted by: Rick T. at January 13, 2007 11:05 AM

Are you sure your're not a Democrat Bruno? A sane man would remember that radicals use good things as cover. The Nazis were patriots, just ask them. The communist fellow travelers were just protecting the poor and oppressed, just ask them. Quit looking at the left hand, and watch the hand with the knife in it. Do you want to end up like those Democrats who burned with fear over all the flags that came out after 9-11?

Posted by: Robert Mitchell Jr. at January 13, 2007 11:33 AM

Rick, by us do you mean the U.S.?

Posted by: erp at January 13, 2007 11:42 AM

No, the Nazis were nationalists. Europeans don't believe in patriotism.

Posted by: oj at January 13, 2007 11:51 AM

Its radicalism is no more benign than ours is. The universalists are the future because not benign.

Posted by: oj at January 13, 2007 11:52 AM

There are some areas in Asia that have similar demographics but have not experienced violence like this (Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea). Even in India, apart from the Muslim/Hindu conflict, there is not a lot of serious violence. Sri Lanka is another case where demographics is not the whole story. Much of Africa appears addicted to violence as well, which may be higher for the steepest demographic problem states. But things have been bad in Africa since after WWII, and demographics alone doesn't provide the answer.

Posted by: ratbert at January 13, 2007 4:17 PM

Hard to get more hilarious than "apart from the Muslim/Hindu conflict"

Posted by: oj at January 13, 2007 8:14 PM