This sentiment, linking young Arab men in the global South with political upheaval and potential violence, echoes through many articles in the popular press.
THE YOUTH BULGE CONCEPT
Historically, the United States has viewed youth in the South as a threat to national security. After World War II, when overall perceptions about population growth were beginning to shift, U.S. military analysts and academics began to define the growing number of youth in the South as a problem. This fear of youth in the South coincided with growing U.S. interest in access to raw materials to supply industry.
The success of the Chinese Revolution, Indian and Indonesian nonalignment, independence movements in Africa, economic nationalism in Latin America-all these contributed to growing U.S. fears of the Third World. Population growth, rather than centuries of colonial domination, was believed to fuel nationalist fires, especially given the increasing proportion of youth.
THE YOUTH BULGE AS A THREAT TO U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY
Population growth is also increasing dramatically putting pressure on natural resources, specifically water, and economic systems. This has resulted in instability, especially in countries experiencing this "youth bulge." Certain areas of this dynamic and volatile Central Region offer a fertile environment for extremists to recruit, train, and conduct terrorist operations. These extremists pose a significant and growing threat to U.S. personnel around the world and to their own people and governments as well.
In reality, a complex web of national and international political and economic forces determines the extent and availability of resources. In Egypt, for example, development problems are often framed in terms of population pressures, ignoring growing disparities in income and power between rich and poor and the role of U.S. aid in undermining basic food production, eroding public welfare institutions, and strengthening the hand of the military. In fact, no discussion of resource scarcity can be complete without addressing how swollen military budgets in many countries take much-needed funds away from health, education and job creation.
Thus, youth are characterized as having the potential to send a nation into a state of chaos.
Anthony Cordesman, a senior fellow in strategic assessment at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, remarks that neither 9/11 or the "war on terror" changed the basic reasons for the U.S. military presence in the Middle East. He charges, "...we need to remember what our key strategic priorities are. The United States is ever more dependent on a globalized economy, and the global economy is becoming steadily more dependent on Middle Eastern energy exports."
He believes that as the population of young men and women increases, "hyperurbanization and population mobility are destroying traditional social safety nets, while modern media publicize the region's weakness and at the same time present images of material wealth that most citizens can never obtain. The result is to drive many into mosques, and some toward an Islamic extremism that is at least as opposed to modernization and secular government as it is anti-Western."
He warns that the expansion of the youth cohort in Muslim countries provides "recruits for fundamentalism, terrorism, insurgency and migration." Underlying Huntington's and Cordesman's anxiety about the youth bulge in the Middle East are concerns about maintaining U.S. control over oil. Given the current political climate, the youth bulge will continue to feature highly as a national security threat, because of its potential to disrupt U.S. access to oil.
The angst surrounding the youth bulge thus contains underlying assumptions about race and religion. In addition to anti-Muslim prejudices, the youth bulge concept builds from gender stereotypes. It contends that men, particularly young men, are prone to violence. It preys on fears that when young men face challenges like gaining employment, political power and wealth, they will form alliances and find outlets for their essentially violent natures.
The gendered notion of the "youth bulge" has a parallel in the U.S. policy response to the concept of the "teenage superpredators:" young, black men from urban centers who will supposedly rise up in an unstoppable tide of crime. Superpredator theories have led to an increase in domestic militarism, resulting in increased zero-tolerance policies at schools and ever more punitive legislation for juvenile offenders, particularly young men of color.
Not all analysts position the youth bulge as a threat. Some argue for looking at the youth bulge and YOUTH uprisings without assuming a violent outcome. Jennifer S. Holmes, author of Terrorism and Democratic Stability, remarks, "I would describe demography as a challenge that the state needs to meet, whether it's developing countries with a youth bulge or developed countries with a graying population. It is not going to predetermine the outcome."
Further, in Student Resistance, Mark Edelman Boren writes, "Empowered through collective action, unruly students can challenge their institutions, societies, and governments; they can be tremendous catalysts for change." Although Boren does not address the youth bulge concept directly, his work catalogues how collective action by young people has resulted in meaningful social change movements, some of which were non-violent.
Anne Hendrixson is a freelance writer and activist. She is a member of the Committee on Women, Population, and the Environment.