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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
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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