Many pixels have been spent on the Mohammed cartoons and the vandalising of embassies in the Middle East. Everyone has one opinion or another predicated on freedom of speech, clash of civilisations, multiculturalism, or the civility not to offend.
But I haven't seen anyone raise the youth issue yet.
The events leading to the Cronulla riots were between kids from different parts of Sydney who should have known better than to choose violence. The riots, which targeted people of Middle Eastern appearance, were dominated by images of kids, tanned and strong - again, people who should have known better.
The riots in the Middle East haven’t been much different - kids again, perpetuating the violence and vandalism.
Rapid growth in the youth population - or youth “bumps” - such as occurred in Britain during the Industrial Revolution, can lead to turbulent times, sometimes for the positive, and sometimes just chaotic.
During the Industrial Revolution the young and poor gathered together in cities that couldn’t handle them. Without work, they took to violence and crime. Part of Britain's response was to send as many as they could to Australia. The youth bump became middle-aged, and society settled down again.
America and Europe faced a similar bump with the baby boomers after World War II. During the Vietnam war US boomers protested the war’s violence, civil rights and other issues - sometimes violently, sometimes passively. Through their activism they achieved many liberties modern society now takes for granted, such as sexual liberation. On the downside, the boomers also popularised much of the modern drug culture.
The Middle East will be an issue for the world for some time to come. In most European nations about 20 per cent of the population is under the age of 15: in the Middle East, the percentage is much higher as the table below shows.
The Middle East shares the world’s highest regional unemployment figures with sub-Saharan Africa. Unemployment is estimated to be as high as 50 per cent in Gaza and 30 per cent in Iran - not to mention Iraq where it may be as high as 60 per cent. The Middle East’s growth rate is about 3 per cent, meaning the Middle East will double its population every 20 years: in Yemen the growth rate is over 4 per cent.
The effect of the confluence of large numbers of youth, high unemployment rates and fundamentalist religion means the Middle East will be a hotspot for some time to come.
The baby boomers left their activism behind when they became fat and happy through consumerism. Oil, monarchy, oligarchy, theocracy and inequality will ensure Middle Eastern youth have no outlet for their fears, angers and frustrations other than the violent religious-backed demonstrations.
The Middle East will change the world in the same way the baby-boomers did. Whether conservatives or Western cultural elitists like it or not, population demographics are ensuring the Middle East will have a massive effect on the globe. We will have to wait and see if it is positive.
My money is still on Iran's youth redefining the global dialogue on freedom, despite the United States clumsily parking its military next door. Freedom has to come from within, not without.
Iran has recently witnessed the naked, undemocratic entrenchment of the theocracy. Paul Keating once stated that when a government changes, the nation changes. Such is the political, media and economic power of government. Iran recently got a new prime minister who is opposed to change, unfortunately making the task much harder for the youthful Iranian democrats. It’s likely their success, or failure, will define the world's next 50 years.
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