This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Monday, November 16, 2015

ISIS and the Youth Bulge

Today's Morning Edition on NPR has an interview with the journalist who put together a new Frontline report that will air on PBS tomorrow (Tuesday) night on "ISIS Gains a Foothold in Afghanistan". As I listened to the story of young men posing as teachers and trying to instruct children about Jihad, I could only think about the impact of the Youth Bulge that Debbie Fugate (now Chief of the Humanitarian Information Unit at the US Department of State) and I have written about. Here's how we started the book, which was published in 2012:
In January 2011, the Middle East was jolted awake by a revolution in Tunisia that was sparked by the self-immolation of a street vendor. The subsequent collapse of the Tunisian government was followed by the overthrow of the Egyptian and Libyan governments and by popular and often violent demonstrations in Syria, Yemen, Jordan, Bahrain, and Morocco, to name the more notable places. A common thread in the press from the beginning was that these demonstrations and revolutions were the result of the region’s youth bulge. Here is a representative quote from the National Journal:
"Like Egypt, most countries in the Middle East are experiencing an unprecedented youth bulge. In countries from Morocco to Iran, people ages 15 to 29 make up the largest share of the population. Ominously for the region’s rulers, neither Tunisia nor Egypt, the epicenters of the uprising, is particularly unique in its demographic tilt. Young people represent 29 percent of the population in both Egypt and Tunisia, compared with 28 percent in Bahrain, 30 percent in Jordan, 31 percent in Algeria, and 34 percent in Iran, all of which have faced their own protests. The comparable number in most Western countries is around 20 percent."
And here is our punch line, of sorts:
No matter how you have defined a youth bulge, the underlying reason why it matters is that the young adult ages are unsettled, even tumultuous, in every society, especially for men. It has been said that the “dogs of war” (with no disrespect meant to dogs) are young and male, and, since in most traditional societies males are routinely accorded higher status than females, an increase in the number and proportion of young men in a population creates conditions for change. When that change is revolutionary and violent, young men are almost invariably involved. Christian Mesquida of the LaMarch Research Center on Violence and Conflict Resolution at Toronto’s York University and Neil Wiener, a professor of psychology at York University, note that “[M]en with few material assets may be more inclined to undertake risk in order to increase their access to resources, and competition can be driven to lethal levels.”In other words, men who feel materially oppressed may be more likely to rebel. This is not a new phenomenon, of course. Moller reminds us that “Egypt’s first modern party composed of the youth who rioted in 1919 and became the driving force in the Wafd were, between 1946 and 1952, reproached by the young street fighters and guerrillas, especially students, who themselves were preparing the way for the coup d’etat of the young military intelligentsia.”
The ISIS terrorists are not a random sample of the population. The rapid drop in child mortality throughout the Middle East that was not accompanied by a commensurately rapid drop in fertility has produced this bulge of young people (some of whom, of course, have successfully migrated to Europe and elsewhere), and that is the underlying source of the problem we're facing.  

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