For people in the West, the rise of Islam around the world is at times bewildering. What could motivate young men or women to strap explosives to themselves and then blow up innocent civilians in a crowded square? What prompts thousands of angry Muslim protesters to shout curses upon the United States and Israel? To compound the issue, demographic experts inform us that the birth rate of Muslims is far higher than that of the rest of the world’s population. As a result, there are large numbers of Muslims seeking to immigrate from their impoverished nations to Europe and North America. Because the current European birthrate is insufficient to maintain its population, experts estimate that Europe, as well as many other parts of the world will eventually become predominantly Muslim simply because they have more babies than other people groups. This has produced many dire warnings from those who see the growing numbers of angry, dissatisfied Muslims worldwide on a collision course with the West.
However, people in the West can be fooled by news footage of masses of angry Muslims shouting “death to Israel!” and burning American flags. At times it can appear that the Muslim population is a solid mass of anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-Israel sentiment that is unified in its determination to destroy all three. The truth is that there are more divisions between the Muslim community than merely Sunni and Shiite.
The recent developments in the Middle East have been intriguing. Why would the ouster of an unpopular dictator in Tunisia spark protests in countries such as Egypt, Jordan, and Yemen? The fact is that most Muslim nations in the Middle East are undemocratic. Under the guise of being a Muslim nation that forbids any corrupt Western influence like democracy and free speech from contaminating the nation, dictators have dominated much of the Middle East. While over half of a nation’s populace is barely surviving above the poverty line, their dictators and their family and cronies are living in opulent palaces and living in luxury. In countries that oppress freedom of speech as well as interaction with the West, it is extremely difficult to develop industry or a thriving economy. Those countries blessed with oil reserves have been able to capitalize on millions of dollars in oil revenue but even these countries have largely been unable to develop secondary industries that employ its masses of people.
How do dictators convince their people that it is OK for them to live in luxury while their people suffer in squalor with no hope of change? Convince them it is America’s fault! Blame Israel! Tell them it is due to the conspiracies of Hollywood and Wall Street. Instill such hatred in peoples’ hearts against the West that they overlook the fact that after you have governed them for thirty years, they still do not have a job or enough food to eat.
When a young man grows up in an impoverished home with eight children and no possibility of finding a job, he has little hope for his future. If a terrorist organization offers to feed and clothe him and give him respect, it can become very appealing. If they promise that if he blows himself and others up, they will provide large amounts of money to his relatives for years to come, it can appear like an appealing offer. But such brutal abuse of peoples’ lives stems from their lack of hope.
What is changing? The Internet. For years dictators have known that to control people you must control the media. Just as Hitler could dominate a sophisticated German population once he controlled the news they received, so these dictators regularly feed their people stories about how the West is conspiring to keep them poor and subjugated. But then along come the World Wide Web, Facebook, U-Tube, and Twitter. And, the high birth rate of Muslim populations has produced, not surprisingly, a massive number of young adults. Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen all have populations where over 50% of their people are under twenty-five years old. In fact, today there are over 100 million people between the ages of 15 and 29. And as we know, young adults love technology and connecting with other young adults.
For the first time, pockets of disaffected young, unemployed people have been able to connect with the tens of thousands of similar people across their country. When a young man who is angry about being unemployed for eight years sends out a text message, suddenly dozens of other angry young men can join him in a public square.
In Egypt, the protests were not against the United States or Israel, they were against poverty and unemployment. Young people can go Online and see what other young people have in Western countries. They can take pictures on their cell phone of the palaces of their government leaders and send them to young people across the country.
As a whole, young people today are appalled at many of the problems their parents have passed on to them. Today’s youth are not appeased by the worn out excuses that generally pacified their parents. This generation wants change and they are talking to one another about it.
The danger of course is that evil people can hijack a youth movement and use it for their own purposes. That is why we need to understand what is happening. Young people around the world are talking to one another and wanting to tackle problems their parents were unable to solve. That is a positive thing. For those in the West, it is an enormous opportunity to encourage and support young people. It is also a challenge to us in the West. We have our own problems we as adults have thus far been unable to solve. Our young people don’t want to accept our excuses either. Change is in the air. How we respond to peoples’ desire for change may determine whether we play a role in the world that is developing or whether we, too, are swept aside by the current of history.