Support This Website! Shop Here!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Islam's Youth vs. the West

Mark Steyn has a very good piece on the fact that Islamic youth do not appear to be integrating into Western society - they are not becoming Westernized.

While Mr. Steyn's comments are not to be ignored, there is a further aspect of Westernization that has to be considered - falling fertility rates.

As Mr. Steyn knows very, very well, in any state that gets rich, the fertility rate falls - this is the famous  demographic transition. Muslim countries are going through precisely this demographic transition right now. And this may explain part of what is going on.

The Great Awakening in the West, i.e., in the US and Europe, began in the mid-1700s and ran through about the mid-1800s. The demographic transition of the West also began to be felt in England in the mid-1700s, and had spread throughout the Western world by the mid-1800s. 

Prior to the mid-1800s, every country in the world was an agrarian, honor-based society. 80% of America's population lived in very small farm communities, where family reputation ruled every interaction. If you did not have an honorable name, you had a hard time staying alive. Thus, the signers of the Declaration of Independence pledged their lives, their fortunes and their "Sacred Honor", in that order.  Life was not as important as the fortune that was to be passed on to one's heirs. Fortune was not as important as preserving the sacred honor of the family name. In 1804, honor was so important to Americans that a former Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, was killed in a duel with sitting Vice President Aaron Burr over a point of honor. Preserving honor was so crucial that, even though dueling was illegal and Aaron Burr was charged with murder, he was not found guilty.

But, with industrialization and increased wealth, the agrarian life in the West slowly faded away, and with it, the honor-based society. The religious awakening was arguably an inchoate understanding that the age of honor was passing away. Recalling the honor of God in the religious awakening was a valiant but failed attempt to prevent the loss of an honor-based society. 

Ultimately, the West's religious awakening did not prevent the urbanization and Westernization (as it were) of the West. Today, America is 80% urban, and family reputation plays a very small role, if any, in most interactions. Today, it is impossible to imagine any politician who worries about his or her "sacred honor", much less is it possible to imagine a politician, or anyone else, willing to fight a duel to the death to preserve it. Duels of honor now happen only in micro-communities, cash-less societies the West regards as immature: the alleys behind local schools or the turf of street gangs. But, were we to look at the crowds gathered at the revivals of the early 1800s, would this result be obvious?

Because few people take note of religious history, few histories notice that that the demographic transition and the Great Awakening were nearly simultaneous. Now, of course, this might be a coincidence. But then again, it might not be.

One reason to think the two events may not be coincidence is found in today's headlines. Salafism started about the same time as the Western Great Awakening, but it didn't really take off until the 1970s - when the Arab states started making money hand over fist in oil. By wildest coincidence, the early 1970s was about the same time Arab fertility rates also began to fall and oil states began to urbanize. And, of course, Islam is a famously honor-based society, willing even to execute its own young women if they dare to darken family honor.

These correspondences raise interesting questions. Are religious awakenings and demographic transition really linked? Is Salafism a reaction to the inchoate perceived loss of the honor-based society?

If so, we have precedent through which we can look at the Salafist awakening. Specifically, if the Western Awakening is any guide, we can be fairly certain that there is no guarantee the Eastern Salafi movement will be any more effective than the Western Great Awakening in halting the demographic transition. And there is every reason to think the demographic transition will dramatically impact Salafism.

Certainly today's Arab youth want sharia, and sharia poses no small threat to the West. But the demographic transition guarantees there will be fewer and fewer Arab youth with each passing decade. When it comes to fertility, Muslim countries work just like Western countries. As Muslim countries become rich, they stop having children - this is already demonstrated by the falling fertility rates throughout the Arab world over the last 40 years.

As the proportion of old people rises, violence necessarily falls. The old tend not to be as violent as the young, if only because the old aren't as physically fit. Destroying a mausoleum with picks under the hot sun when you are 20 does not carry the same attraction when you are 50. People who use canes and walkers tend not to throw Molotov cocktails, if only because their throwing arm no longer guarantees avoidance of self-immolation.

Similarly, it is hard to stone an adulteress when you can barely throw the stone, and the aged will find it harder to locate an adulteress to stone if only because mature years are not subject to raging hormones, mature minds are better at assessing risk vs. reward. But in that very lack of action lies our hope, for, as one stops practicing the bits and pieces of one's own theological tradition, the enthusiasm for that tradition necessarily wanes.

So, today we have the very problematic "Arab Spring." But, we can should not forget that the Arab Spring is carried along under the hot sun by the banners of a dwindling Arab youth. Similarly, much of the energy for implementing sharia comes from the fact that the Muslim population is still substantially youthful. That won't last much longer. Indeed, one cannot help but notice that Melinda Gates is pushing her contraceptive mentality in areas of the world that currently riot in the streets. It is, if nothing else, another fascinating coincidence.

It will be interesting to see if the energy for Islam remains when the vigor of youth disappears.

No comments: