Demography is destiny, Inshallah

I just finished doing a quick edit of an interview by some of my fellow Brown Punditeers with some fellows at the Middle East Forum (I posted for Patrons, should be live on the podcast in a few days). Listening I felt like I was being thrown back to 2005. All the talk about Islamism, and radicalism, etc.

From an intellectual perspective, I’m still interested in these issues, but they are not as live and salient as they were a decade ago. In the 2000s we spent a lot of time trying to understand violent Islamic radicalism. A lot of analysis of ideology. Reading of history. Modeling of various social factors.

But at the end of the day, I wonder if it’s a basic structural-demographic dynamic. The fuel of political and religious radicalism are young men. Is there enough fuel today to make Islamic radicalism the problem it was even a decade ago? Will we see ISIS as the last hurrah, the sendoff of a late 20th-century social movement that ran out of recruits?


14 thoughts on “Demography is destiny, Inshallah

  1. The primary difference between 2005 and 2020 is 2015. Of course, they’re every bit as live and salient as they were a decade ago, more so even, thanks to the 2015 migrant crisis. Now they’re ubiquitous, so (1) they’re no longer subject to the scarcity effect, and (2) their sufficiently large population presents as well as comparatively high replacement rates have reduced the incentive salience for more radical measures of the past. Condition are such that now they can simply breed Europeans out.

  2. could be but idk much about that. Noah Smith was talking about this last week and one thing i’ve noticed that often gets left out of this conversation (maybe it’ll be in the podcast) is the massive change in surveillance that came about after 9/11. basically, DARPA/NSA types decided that they were going to develop the ability to literally monitor the entire world whether it was legal or not. and they did!
    Annie Jacobsen wrote about this and, surprisingly, Netflix’s “Terrorism Close Calls” depicted this pretty well. cut their funding and catch people before they act by collecting insane amounts of data…it’s a behind the scenes thing that made a big difference imo.
    i recently read a piece about how the shift in islamic terror is moving to africa and doing pretty well. And I remember one extremist just laughing at the suggestion they’d have trouble operating in France cuz they have so many options there.

  3. Remember when it seemed like Middle East Peace (whatever that is) had to go through a resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict in the 2000s? That stuff never even makes the news anymore, and nobody pretends it would resolve anything else.

  4. What worries me most from the islamic world is what happened a few years ago in Indonesia with Ahok, the Christian governor of Jakarta.

    I remember you writing about it. These days we also have Erdogan giving openly islamist speeches about Turkish conquest bringing the justice of Allah, and turning Hagia Sophia back into a mosque. So, the two classic examples of moderate islam, Turkey and Indonesia, have fallen.

    It makes me think moderate Islam is impossible, both at the national level and at the individual level. It can only exist in an unstable equilibrium that can’t last for long naturally, in Turkey the survival of that equilibrium used to be the job of the army.

  5. the visibility of atheists and irreligious from the Muslim world is way higher than it was 20 years ago. i think a lot of the secularism is just positive feedback loop of visibility + hoovering up ‘low hanging fruit’ of nominal muslims.

    some of the Islamist rxn is because of this ‘challenge.’

    the revival of Zoroastrianism among Iranians and kurds is part of this too. it’s kind of anachronistic LARPing, but also illustrates the loosening of the hold of islam

  6. I wouldn’t be surprised if the avg Turk is less religious than republican Americans at this point. Still the decline of the religion doesn’t fix the problems. Way weaker asabiya in Turkey so the corruption is rampant and even with zero religion population would find a way to polarize tribalize and try to steal the resources of the other side.

  7. Doesn’t seem too different from how birth rates throughout the former Soviet Union have collapsed as the great, confessional ideology of Communism collapsed.

    Would be interesting to see if those ‘pagan’ revivals in any way parallel the rise of mystery religions in the Roman Empire.

  8. Is the fuel just young men, or is it young men without wives?

    I am interested in your thoughts on China and the no-wife problem. Why haven’t we seen unrest there too? Or has there been, and I just have not noticed?

  9. You need 2 things for terrorism. Ideology and money. The ideology comes from Islam and the money comes from oil

    If oil collapses terrorism will decline but it does not much difference in the long term as Europe will be increasingly under Sharia rule

  10. There seems to be a negative correlation to some level between the Islamization of states and that of societies in the Muslim world; while some states have increasingly become Islamic, their societies have increasingly become secular. Turkey and Iran are the most clear examples of this. This negative correlation, in turn, seems to be partly due to a cause and effect relationship and partly due to the changing global and local trends. When the Islamists came to power in Iran and Turkey (in 1979 and 2002 respectively), the social media revolution had not yet begun, the WWW and smartphones either did not exist or were in an early stage of development with a much smaller consumer base, the education levels and per capita income of those two countries were lower too.

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