Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Somber reflections on what is "real" versus what is claimed

In a world in which American policies have been a series of blunders, one upon another, when now one more General is telling us that we are doing well in Iraq – again “the enemy” is on its last throes -- on a day when we remember tragic events that awakened the world to a new and threatening situation, let us consider some simple statistics.

Here are some population figures on the key states in Central Asia, a region of strategic importance to not only Americans but also the rest of the world because of the vital resources there (oil, gas, and the other vital product of the region, heroin).


68,688,433 (July 2006 est.)

Median age:
total: 24.8 years
male: 24.6 years
female: 25 years (2006 est.)


31,056,997 (July 2006 est.)

Median age:
total: 17.6 years
male: 17.6 years
female: 17.6 years (2006 est.)


165,803,560 (July 2006 est.)

Median age:
total: 19.8 years
male: 19.7 years
female: 20 years (2006 est.) PAKISTAN


7,320,815 (July 2006 est.)

Median age:
total: 20 years
male: 19.7 years
female: 20.4 years (2006 est.)


27,307,134 (July 2006 est.)

Median age:
total: 22.7 years
male: 22 years
female: 23.3 years (2006 est.)


5,042,920 (July 2006 est.)

Median age:
total: 21.8 years
male: 20.9 years
female: 22.7 years (2006 est.)

So, roughly half the folks growing up in these countries are under the age of 21. They will grow up and form their understandings of the world in circumstances of repression (Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Iran, Pakistan), civil war (Afghanistan, parts of Pakistan), internal tensions over governance (Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan), rising claims of Islamism (all over). What kind of world will they have to deal with as adults?

These numbers tell a tale that I scarcely want to think about. On the one hand I worry about a bumbling, truth-distorting, evidently incompetent administration managing the one dominant power in the world, an administration that justifies what it is doing in the Middle East and Central Asia by aspiring to grand achievements that exceed any reasonable possibility. On the other hand, there is a world with properties that have their own inherent force, exerting constraints on the course of affairs that will have their effect no matter what we, any of us, are imagining. History tells us that when the imagination of nations strays too far from reality they face disaster.

And here is another statistic worthy of concern, not unrelated to the above: In Pakistan there are 200,000 graduates of degree granting institutions who cannot find work. And in the mean time, Islamist groups are providing “a salary, a mission and a purpose in life, the prospect in the long run of a better life and in death the joy of martyrdom” (H. Abbas 2005, Pakistan’s Drift into Extremism, p106). A young man arrested for his involvement in bombing plots in Pakistan had this to say about himself: “I was doing nothing, walking around, playing cricket and football,” adding in reference to a senior cleric: “The maulavi sahib talked to me and showed me a cassette, so I got involved. They were talking on the cassettes and telling us to do this and that, telling me to kill Americans. … I heard from the clerics there that if you fight jihad, you would go to paradise,” he said. "There are cassettes there and they say: 'There is jihad against non-Muslims.' ” (NYTimes C. Gall Feb 15, 2006)

Today we are faced with promises made by officials in power; at the same time the world has properties that exist no matter what we try to tell ourselves. Granted, we don't exactly know what they are, and will never know all the forces at work on our society.

But I wonder, not only what could be in store for those young people growing up all across Central Asia: But what is in store for us?


JJ said...

I had previously known about how the average age of populations in places such as Central Asia were so low, but had never considered that it could have such significant ramifications. I feel like you have opened my eyes to a major concern. I am both fascinate and terrified. But thank you for opening my eyes.

Bob said...

Hi JJ,
Thanks for your comment. The issues implied in these population figures are compelling. Already, of course, as the latter part of my post above suggests, there are signs of what these conditions mean for the way folks work out their affairs in those countries, the Pakistan young man, for instance.

Thanks for your comment