Fwd: When rage fuels world's 'lost boys'

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    When rage fuels world's 'lost boys'

    By Caryl Rivers, Globe Staff, 2/24/2002


    History and current demographic trends give us a new warning: Beware the
    wrath of boys.

    Journalists who covered the fleeing Taliban in Afghanistan commented on
    how young they were. ''They all look about 12 years old,'' one reporter
    said. But boys can be deadlier than men, with no life experience to
    temper their impulses, especially if those impulses are manipulated by
    older people with a violent agenda.

    The Taliban are hardly unique; youth was a hallmark of two other extreme
    movements of the recent past. In the 1970s, boys barely out of their
    teens marched urban dwellers from the cities of Cambodia out to the
    countryside, where 2 million of them labored until they died or were
    murdered by the Khmer Rouge. During the Cultural Revolution in China in
    the l960s, Mao's Red Guards were a cadre of mainly teenagers who forced
    intellectuals, writers, and poets into hard labor and made them confess
    their ''sins.''

    Chaos and instability in society and young men who lack access to good
    jobs make an incendiary mixture - especially when you throw in messianic
    ideology or fundamentalist religion. And this may be the forecast for
    much of the world: boys who inculcate rage against the West, against
    their own societies, and against women at a very early age.

    For example, the religious schools that are springing up all over
    Pakistan create societies in which young boys are indoctrinated in a
    fundamentalist brand of Islam that teaches hatred of the West and of
    Jews. The schools are all-male societies in which the boys have no
    contact with girls or women - except maybe a mother or an aunt. They
    develop few social skills and come to regard the opposite sex as alien,
    the source of sin, uncleanness, and a temptation to male virtue.

    But boys don't have to be isolated in such schools to catch the virus of
    violence. Mohamed Atta, believed to be the pilot of one of the planes
    that hit the World Trade Center, came of age in an Egyptian society torn
    between secularism and modernism. A shy, quiet boy, he had a demanding,
    arrogant father who called him weak and who demanded that he achieve.
    But the university degree he earned couldn't get him a job. He
    ultimately turned to a fanatic brand of religion.

    ''I almost know Mohamed Atta,'' writes Foujad Ajami, professor of Middle
    Eastern studies at Johns Hopkins University, himself Egyptian. With
    turmoil at home, ''He drifted in infidel lands, but could never be at
    ease. He led an itinerant life. The magnetic power of the American
    imperium had fallen across his country. We had intruded into his world.
    He would shatter the peace of ours.''

    The world outside the West is filled with boys who could become Atta.
    ''They are the lost boys,'' says feminist critic Robin Morgan, ''but
    they want nothing to do with Wendy or Tinker Bell.'' Some of these young
    men are being raised, like those in the religious schools, to be
    alienated from women. Some become so when they are converted to extreme
    religiosity, like Atta. In times of great upheaval, women become
    surrogates for society as a whole. The behavior of women is not seen as
    the action of individuals; women become symbols, surrogates, stand-ins
    for a host of issues, public and private.

    The Afghan woman, who was beaten on the street if her veil slipped an
    inch, was barred from schooling, work, and not allowed to leave home
    unless accompanied by a male, is perhaps the extreme example of the rage
    of boys against women. Many Taliban young men lost their fathers in
    decades of war. Were they in effect turning on their mothers, the
    symbols of their fathers' absence and failure?

    More of this rage may confront us. In the Arab world, 50 percent of the
    population is under 25 - much of it composed of restless, angry,
    alienated, unemployable young men. The demographic picture in many
    non-Western nations adds to the problem. There are more boys in many
    places, these days, than girls. In India, the 2001 census shows that
    only four states out of 28 are not seeing a dwindling number of girls.
    Bias against girls, and selective abortions of female fetuses (but not
    male) are common. In rural China, there are 117 boys born for every 100
    girls, and many girl babies are abandoned. A trade in kidnapped women
    for men who can't find brides is thriving.

    At the same time, in the Arab world, young men leave their villages to
    go to the cities and find, too often, underemployment and misery. They
    also see unveiled women who are educated, who work, and who speak up. To
    these disaffected young men, the appeal of an Osama bin Laden, with his
    flowery language about a great and pure Muslim world that is more noble
    than the one created by the infidels of the West, has great appeal. And
    in this scenario, women become, once again, not individuals but symbols.
    Freedom of women becomes the powerlessness of men. Veiled women become
    the defeat of the West and all that is un-Islamic.

    Whether it's the kidnapped young woman in China or the powerless woman
    in a society that follows strict Islamic law, women have growing reason
    to fear for their rights in much of the world.

    For those who believe the feminist revolution is over, a glance around
    the world reveals a sobering reality. If poverty, misery, and the
    failure of democracy mark much of the world, we have a great deal to
    fear. And angry, displaced, woman-hating boys may be the weapons that we
    must fear most. If the rage of boys becomes the rule, we are all in for
    terrible times - but women most of all.

    Caryl Rivers is a professor of journalism at Boston University.

    This story ran on page E2 of the Boston Globe on 2/24/2002.
    Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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