Day By Day

Monday, January 12, 2009

Demography and Terrorism

It is often said that demography is destiny.

Gunnar Heinsohn, a German demographer, has an interesting perspective on Palestinian terrorism. He argues that it has little to do with the historic grievances articulated by the terrorists and their apologists and everything to do with what he calls the "youth bulge".

No, this is not about teen obesity, but a tendency for some societies to produce abnormally high numbers of children, particularly young men. The social consequences of this imbalance are dire:

In ... "youth bulge" countries, young men tend to eliminate each other or get killed in aggressive wars until a balance is reached between their ambitions and the number of acceptable positions available in their society. In Arab nations such as Lebanon (150,000 dead in the civil war between 1975 and 1990) or Algeria (200,000 dead in the Islamists' war against their own people between 1999 and 2006), the slaughter abated only when the fertility rates in these countries fell from seven children per woman to fewer than two. The warring stopped because no more warriors were being born.
Interesting -- an argument analogous to that offered by Stephen Levitt in "Freakonomics" to explain high levels of criminality in urban America [too many young black males being born].

One Middle East population stands out sharply as being afflicted by a "youth bulge". That is the Palestinian refugees, among whom the average woman bears six children producing in aggregate hundreds of thousands of young men.

And why are so many young warriors being born?
The reason for Gaza's endless youth bulge is that a large majority of its population does not have to provide for its offspring. Most babies are fed, clothed, vaccinated and educated by UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. Unlike the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, which deals with the rest of the world's refugees and aims to settle them in their respective host countries, UNRWA perpetuates the Palestinian problem by classifying as refugees not only those who originally fled their homes, but all of their descendents as well.
It is Western aid, he argues, that is subsidizing the creation and maintenance of a permanent warrior class in Gaza. And a solution to the Palestinian problem would be achieved not through endless negotiations or the application of military force. A realistic accommodation could only be reached once the West dramatically reduces or cuts off aid and forces Palestinian parents to limit their birthrate.

As I said, interesting. Of course the situation is more complex than Heinsohn presents it. In many Western countries social subsidies result in a lowered birth rate. A key variable seems to be differences in the status of women as well as cultural traditions such as polygamy, which restricts the reproductive opportunities of young men. Still, Heinsohn has presented a serious argument that needs to be considered.

Read the whole thing here.

HT: Andy McCarthy at the Corner