Youth and Islamic Fundamentalism

[Ed. Note: The following essay is an excerpt from Bill Bonner and Addison Wiggin’s 2002 bestseller, Financial Reckoning Day: Surviving the Soft Depression of the 21st Century.]

One of the complications of a declining population in the West is a political one. The War on Terrorism, declared on September 13, 2001, promises to be expensive, simply because there are so many potential terrorists to fight.

Westerners constitute a decreasing minority of the global population: In 1900, they amounted to 30 percent of humanity; in 1993 that number had dropped to 13 percent and by 2025, following current trends, the percentage will fall to 10 percent. At the same time, the Muslim world is growing younger and increasing in numbers.

In fact, Muslims’ market share of the global population has increased dramatically throughout the twentieth century and will continue to do so until the proportion of Westerners to Muslims is inverse that of the 1900 ratio. By 1980, Muslims constituted 18 percent of the world’s population and, in 2000, more than 20 percent. By 2025, they are expected to account for 30 percent of world population.

In his Clash of Civilizations, Samuel Huntington considers these demographics to have been a major factor in the Islamic resurgence of the late twentieth century. “Population growth in Muslim countries,” he says, “and particularly the expansion of the 15- to 24-year-old age cohort, provides recruits for fundamentalism, terrorism, insurgency, and migration…demographic growth threatens Muslim governments and non-Muslim societies.”

Islamic resurgence began in the 1970s and 1980s, just as the proportion of young people in the 15- to 24-year-old age group in Muslim nations exploded. Indeed this proportion peaked at more than 20 percent of the total population in many Muslim countries during these decades.

Muslim youth are a potential supply of members for Islamic organizations and political movements.

The Iranian Revolution, for example, in 1979 coincided with a peak in the youth population of Iran.

“For years to come Muslim populations will be disproportionately young populations,” Huntington explains, “with a notable demographic bulge of teenagers and people in their 20s.”

What are we to make of it?

Huntington suggests that the most accurate analogy in Western Society to this youth bulge in Muslim populations is the Protestant Reformation.

Ironically, both the rise of the fundamentalist movement in the Muslim world and the Protestant Reformation came about in reaction “to the stagnation and corruption of existing institutions,” says Huntington. Both advocate a “return to a purer and more demanding form of their religion; preach work, order and discipline; and appeal to emerging, dynamic middle-class people.” Both challenge the political and economic order of the time; and where the threat of the former is concerned, major defense spending on the part of the West would not seem appropriate.

“The Protestant Reformation,” writes Huntington, “is an example of one of the outstanding youth movements in history.” Citing Jack Goldstone, Huntington continues, “a notable expansion of the proportion of youth in Western countries coincides with the Age of Democratic Revolution in the last decades of the 18th century. In the 19th century successful industrialization and emigration reduced the political impact of young populations in European societies. The proportion of youth rose again in the 1920s, however, providing recruits to fascist and other extreme movements. Four decades later the post-World War II baby boom generation made its mark in the demonstrations of the 1960s.”

Whereas young people generally exhibit a rebellious and revolutionary influence on society, what happens when people grow old?

The exact opposite.

Fearfulness and loss of desire commonly accompany aging. Older people tend not to want as many things in life as young people. They lose their desire to impress friends, relatives, and partners. Instead of buying items they don’t need, they tend to become fearful that they will not be able to obtain what they do need. There is nothing peculiar about this; it is just nature’s way of recognizing diminishing opportunities. A man in his forties can start over. But in his late sixties, he no longer has the energy or the desire to do so. He therefore starts saving everything – tinfoil, money, rags – for fear he will not be able to get them when he needs them. This is how an elderly individual tends to behave. But what does an aging society look like? Again, we need only look across the ocean – to Japan.


Bill Bonner and Addison Wiggin
for The Daily Reckoning

The Daily Reckoning