I was reading an article over at Wretchard’s Belmont Club when a comment leaped out at me, smacking me upside the cerebrum with its insight. Peter Boston, speaking about the Middle East, said the following:
The entire region is overflowing with young men who have no jobs and
no prospects. Local economies are already worse than they were before
the awakening. When does disappointment turn to rage?
What better way to direct the energy of those young men away from
regime change than to put them in uniform and march them off to some
mythical border drawn in London 80 years ago by some Englishman?
That got me thinking. The Muslim world is incredibly sexually segregated. In the most extreme cases, unrelated men and women are forbidden from any contact, often resulting in serious punishment for the woman. Women are second-class citizens at best, valuable property on average, and occasionally slaves. Courtship is largely forbidden and seriously punishable; marriages are most often arranged by families, usually without the consent of the folks getting married. Hell, in most cases “marriage” is less about a “blessed union” and more of a transfer of ownership. In some countries, women are the “responsibility” of their guardians — husbands, fathers, or other male relatives — for their entire lives. They never get to be independent, to be responsible for themselves. Should a married woman become single again (divorce or widowhood), she reverts to the property of her original family.
Toss in the acceptance of polygamy in many Muslim societies — always a man with multiple wives, never a woman with multiple husbands (it would cause confusion about ownership, I guess) — and you have large numbers of young Muslim men who have little or no hope of marrying — let alone marrying someone of their own choice.
It’s a stereotype, but that’s because there’s a lot of truth in it: marriage — and being around women in general — has a civilizing effect on men. It tends to make them less prone to violence, to engage in wanton destruction, to be so willing to kill and die for some abstract cause like… oh, I dunno, “the glory of Allah” or something.
Another data point is the current chaos in Egypt. Egyptians are tasting freedom for the first time in their lives, and they are going through fairly typical rough patches such events cause. They are expressing their freedom in the form of anarchy and license. Which is why the few times women have shown up to the protests, there have been mob sexual assaults on women. These are the actions of men who have never routinely interacted with women, who are for the first time utterly free of any kinds of restraints or controls, and giving free rein to their basest impulses.
And it ain’t pretty.
A similar time bomb is ticking away in China. For decades, their “one child” policy has resulted in parents favoring a son — culturally, a son will support the parents, while a daughter will grow up to marry and leave the family. Sex-selection abortion has seriously thrown the balance of the sexes out of kilter, and Chinese adoption trends — the majority of Chinese infants put up for adoption abroad are girls — has only aggravated the situation. The most recent numbers I’ve seen put the current birth ratio to be about 55% boys, 45% girls. (For the adoption angle, I’m going on purely subjective experience — I’ve encountered quite a few Chinese children of decidedly non-Chinese parents, and I don’t recall a single boy in that situation.) That’s a very bad situation for China’s future — literally millions of young men will grow up with essentially no chance of ever marrying, or having children (well, a child — we’re talking China, after all) of their own.
In all of history, I’ve only heard of one example that would help resolve this sort of problem — the removal of a very large number of its population in a very gender-unbalanced fashion. And there just might be some rather ruthless people who might look on what happened in Europe during World War I as a model.
The feminist movement, for all their wrong-headed ideas here in the US, have one point that they don’t play up anywhere near as much as they should: the better the conditions are for women in a country or region or culture, the better it is generally for everyone. (This is similar to the “Jews as canaries” theory — when things start getting bad for Jews in a country, it will soon get bad for a lot of other groups, and is usually a harbinger that the nation in question is heading for very bad times.) One of the best things we’ve done in Iraq and Afghanistan is in educating and protecting and advancing women, as that quite possibly could do more to improve the future of those nations.
I know whereof I speak. I’m a lifelong bachelor (and just about resigned to that fate), and I’ve caught myself on many occasions letting slip a lot of the general civility that I’d learned in my younger days. And the “freedom” I enjoy is best encapsulated in the words of the classic song: “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”
In that context, there are millions of “free” young men in the Muslim world and in China, among other places. And that’s a kind of “freedom” that often ends in bloodbaths.