Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Youth Bulge Principle

Christopher Caldwell of the Financial Times presents an amazing theory in

Youth and War, A Deadly Duo


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 (Söhne und Weltmacht, 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.

...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.

Mr Heinsohn's view, reflects an inability to wage war, not a disinclination.

Mr Heinsohn's theory accounts for the way "idealistic" wars of national liberation can shift imperceptibly into "pointless" civil wars - as in Ireland 90 years ago or in Africa after decolonisation or in Latin America in the 1980s or in Palestine in recent months...

In an interview with the Neue Zürcher Zeitung last autumn, Mr Heinsohn noted that if Germany had had the same kind of population growth as Gaza (9 children per woman) over recent decades, it would now have 550m people and 80m young men aged 15 to 30. "Do you think these 80m young Germans would be 10 times as pacifist as the 7m we have today?" he asked. "Or is it not much more likely that they would be throwing bombs in Prague and Gdansk and Wroclaw and - just like the Palestinians - saying: 'This is our land, and it was taken from us for historical reasons that we had nothing to do with'?"

Nice theory but, still, I have this premonition that Arab/Islamist animosity to Jews/Zionism will not fade once the demographic wave passes.

(Kippah tip: KC)

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