Angry Young Men, Veiled Young Women: Constructing a New Population Threat

Current public and policy debates about "terrorism", particularly in the United States and Britain, often setup a sharp divide between East and West. On the one side lies Islamic "fundamentalism" and a supposed Arab "envy" of US "wealth and freedom", on the other the liberating force of the US and its allies. There is "no neutral ground in the fight between civilization and terror," declared President George W. Bush in a March 2004 White House address, "because there is no neutral ground between good and evil, freedom and slavery, and life and death." On this view, terrorism emanates from the "Third World", with the history and politics of the West forming no part of the story.

Increasingly contributing to this tidy divide is a discipline known as "strategic demography", which uses population characteristics such as age, ethnicity, geographic location and numbers to help locate terrorist or criminal threats. Strategic demography's statistics both lend legitimacy to, and derive meaning from, the alarmist images and narratives that are today so often used to describe enemy "others", particularly in the Islamic South.

One example is so-called "youth bulge" theory, which refers to the large proportion of the world's population aged 27 years old and under, the majority of whom live in the South. In the eyes of many Western demographers, military analysts and intellectuals, this "youth bulge" -- now 50 per cent of the world's people -- has a double aspect. In countries that provide formal education and employment for large proportions of their young people, the youth bulge is a "demographic bonus". In the South, on the other hand, it often spells a "political hazard" and a threat to social and economic stability and security.

This briefing sets out a short history and critique of youth bulge theory in the context of the attack on New York's World Trade Center on 11 September 2001 and the subsequent growth of US militarism at home and abroad. It aims not only to call attention to how the theory reflects, and is reflected in, racial, gender and age discrimination, but also to suggest how it is being contested.

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