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The Left’s War on Martin Kramer

Posted on March 3 2010 12:33 pm
Jacob Laksin is managing editor of Front Page Magazine.
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By and large, a strong indication that someone is losing an argument is their readiness to resort to ad hominem attacks. So it is with the Left’s campaign to smear the eminent Middle East scholar Martin Kramer as a racist and an advocate of “genocide” against Palestinians.

At incendiary issue are some brief remarks that Kramer delivered last month at a conference in Herzliya, Israel, while taking part in a panel called “Rising to the Challenge of Islamic Indoctrination.” Taking issue with the panel’s theme, Kramer suggested that some of the standard explanations for the rise of radicalism – religious and political indoctrination, the lack of democratic instructions – were inadequate to explain the prevalence of extremism in, for instance, Palestinian society. Referencing the work of German sociologist Gunnar Heinsohn, Kramer suggested another possible explanation: a high fertility rate that gives rise to masses of unemployed and impressionable men ripe for radical recruitment. Here is Kramer:

But the indoctrination explanation and the lack-of-democracy explanation also underestimate the problem, by suggesting that our policies can go far to change the dynamic. They can’t, and let me explain why.

The societies in which radicalism thrives differ from ours in many ways, but one way is crucial. The median age in Germany is 44, in the United Kingdom it is 40. In the United States, it is 37. In Israel, it is 29, in Turkey it is 28. That’s for perspective. In Iraq, it is 19. In Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, and Gaza, the median age is 17. Where the median age drops below 20, Islamist radicalization takes place on a massive scale. The biggest radicalizer is fertility that hovers at 6 or 7, and masses of economically superfluous young men of fighting age, between 15 and 29.

A German demographer, Gunnar Heinsohn, has a rule of thumb, that when 15- to 29-year-olds make up more than 30 per cent of the population, violence ensues. I would put it higher, at 40 percent—which is exactly where it stands in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen and Gaza. If the state can’t control these young men, someone else will; if society can’t offer dignified pursuits for the fourth and fifth and sixth sons, someone else will. And it isn’t just the frustration of poverty; it is just as much the shortage of status. Osama bin Laden lacked for nothing, but his father, Saudi Arabia’s biggest contractor, married 22 times and had about 55 children. Osama was number 17. Radical Islam is a way for the superfluous sons to enter history.

So radical Islam answers a demand among frustrated young men, it doesn’t create it. How should that affect the West’s approach to the problem? First, let us not delude ourselves about the prospects of counterradicalization techniques. Afghanistan and Yemen will almost double their populations between now and 2030. What will 28 million more Afghans and 20 million more Yemenis do? What about the nearly 80 million more Pakistanis who will be added by 2030? This explosive growth will drive radicalization through another generation at least, and push it into Europe and America through emigration.

Second, there is hope. By 2030, these societies will have passed through the youth bulge. Fertility is already falling, in some places steeply. And when it falls, the radicals will lose their pool of recruits. A present example is Iran, where a revolt is brewing against the agenda of Ahmadinejad and the hardliners. It is also a place where fertility has dropped from 7 to below replacement, below 2—as steep a drop as China’s. Aging populations reject radical agendas, and the Middle East is no different.

Now eventually, this will happen among the Palestinians too, but it will happen faster if the West stops providing pro-natal subsidies for Palestinians with refugee status. Those subsidies are one reason why, in the ten years from 1997 to 2007, Gaza’s population grew by an astonishing 40 percent. At that rate, Gaza’s population will double by 2030, to three million. Israel’s present sanctions on Gaza have a political aim—undermine the Hamas regime—but if they also break Gaza’s runaway population growth—and there is some evidence that they have—that might begin to crack the culture of martyrdom which demands a constant supply of superfluous young men. That is rising to the real challenge of radical indoctrination, and treating it at its root.

Now, there are several possible objections one could make to Kramer’s remarks. One could argue, for instance, that he underestimates the pull of ideology generally and Islamist ideology in particular. But that would mean having a substantive debate about Palestinian radicalism, something that, naturally, Kramer’s disputants on the Left are uninterested in having.

Thus you have the unedifying spectacle of Media Matters’ M.J. Rosenberg insisting that Kramer’s remarks are “tantamount to a call for genocide,” insofar as they violate the Convention on Genocide’s prohibition against “imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.” Rosenberg then goes on to suggest that Kramer’s position vis-à-vis the Palestinians would be an act of genocide on par witheliminating subsidies (food stamps, etc) to prevent live births of African-Americans, Latinos or American Indians.”

The stupidity here is too deep to plumb in its entirety, but start with the obvious point that Kramer did not actually call for preventing Palestinian births or anything remotely like it. What he opposed was the policy of international relief agencies of linking aid to the size of Palestinian refugee families – that is, of actively encouraging the growth of the Palestinian population and thus actively contributing to the large number of economically disenfranchised men who, as he sees it, are drawn to radicalism. One doesn’t have to agree with that argument; but a basic rule of civil debate is that you should at least state it accurately. As for Rosenberg’s apparent belief that American minorities are so dependent on government welfare that they would be incapable of rearing families in its absence, I can think of no more despicable recent example of liberal condescension cloaked as humanitarian concern.

Another example of condescension, this time toward Palestinians, comes from Yousef Munayyer, the executive director of the Palestine Center in Washington. Munayyer is particularly aggrieved at Kramer’s suggestion that Palestinian society, in his summary, “cannot offer dignified pursuits for their children.” In fact, the point is self-evident, and Munayyer does not really attempt to dispute it. He simply offers the rote response of Palestinian apologetics: namely, that Israel and the Israeli occupation is to blame for the lack of economic opportunities in the Palestinian territories.

But if Munayyer is really so incensed at the notion that Palestinians may have contributed to their own economic misfortunes, his argument is not properly with Martin Kramer. It’s with Palestinian finance minister Salam Fayyad, who in 2007 revealed that millions of dollars in foreign aid to the Palestinian government has been lost, squandered, or otherwise misallocated through official corruption. It’s with the late Yasir Arafat, who left behind a crippled Palestinian economy even as he was survived by millions in Swiss bank accounts. And it’s with Hamas, which came to power in part on the strength of its argument that the corruption-mired Palestinian Authority had bankrupted the Palestinian people while enriching itself.

But of course it’s easier to attack someone’s motivations than to grapple with their arguments – especially when an honest reckoning would force the self-styled champions of the Palestinian people to confront some difficult truths about the woeful state of Palestinian society.

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