It’s fair to say that Nicholas Kristoff isn’t anyone’s idea of a conservative, but his excellent column today picks up on a theme that incensed some on the Left when it was earlier explored by Middle East scholar Martin Kramer (I wrote about that controversy yesterday).
Kristoff’s column is actually about the moving plight of a 12-year old Yemeni girl, Nujood Ali (pictured above), who at the age of 10 was forced into a marriage with a 30-something man who violated and abused her. Against all odds, she became the rare case of a Muslim child bride successfully winning a divorce from her husband. That story is told in her internationally selling book, bracingly titled I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced. Nujood’s story is compelling on its own terms, but Kristoff also makes a larger point. It’s no coincidence, he argues, that Yemen is home to child marriage and a burgeoning hotspot for al-Qaeda and affiliated jihadists.
There are a couple of reasons countries that marginalize women often end up unstable.
First, those countries usually have very high birth rates, and that means a youth bulge in the population. One of the factors that most correlates to social conflict is the proportion of young men ages 15 to 24.
Second, those countries also tend to practice polygamy and have higher death rates for girls. That means fewer marriageable women — and more frustrated bachelors to be recruited by extremists.
This more or less the same point Kramer made about radicalism in Palestinian society, which he suggested was fueled by the overabundance of economically maladjusted young men of fighting age, though I don’t expect to see Kristoff denounced as a racist and supporter of genocide for echoing the point. Of course, Kristoff might have added another element that would seem to connect the phenomena of child brides and jihadist terrorism – a certain religion with deep roots in the region comes to mind — but insofar as he’s used his prominent piece of journalistic real-estate to tell young Nujood’s story, the omission may be overlooked.