When I first went to school in 1947 in my native Kurdish highlands of western Iran, I learnt that my country’s population had reached 12million.
Only 32 years later, by the time of the Islamic revolution of 1979, the figure had shot up to 38million. According to the United Nations (UN), there are today some 70million Iranians inside the country, and an estimated 10million or so have fled to, or settled in, the West.
This new Iranian nation – some 65 percent of whose inhabitants are reportedly under the age of 20 – is also poorer, ill-educated, frustrated and paranoid. The government in Tehran estimates that there are over 200,000 ‘street children’ living in the country, while the number of drug addicts is estimated to be in the millions.
Could these startling changes in the demography and society of Iran have nothing to do with the instability that the country has experienced in the past half-century?
What caused a sleepy, traditional society that looked towards the modern world for inspiration to switch suddenly to the myths and visions of seventh-century Arabia as its ideal? What turned a member of the Western military alliance into the sponsor of Hezbollah hostage-takers in Lebanon?
The best reason I can see to explain the trauma that has come over Iran and much of the Islamic world in recent times is a young, semi-literate population exploding in numbers and exposed to original, official militant Islam. This had made possible a re-discovery of this original, militant Islam. More and more ill-educated and angry young people, led on by a new breed of fire-breathing mullahs quoting from the Koran and denouncing local sects as heretical, took over the streets in search of salvation.
Elsewhere in the Islamic world, such as in Egypt, ‘socialism’ and ‘nationalism’ had been tried and found unable to answer the dreams of the young. Now, the West, the old crusader enemy was resurrected as ‘the Great Satan’ to explain the failure of the Islamic polity of all variances. ‘All variances’, that is, except democracy, for in the whole world of Islam, some 40 countries with over a billion people, there is not a single state, including Turkey, a member of the Council of Europe and NATO, that can be described as allowing freedom of speech and association. That surely has everything to do with the legacy of Islam.
So I believe that the present jealousy and hatred in much of the Islamic world for the West has both an ancient, religious source and a new, social one, populations that the land cannot sustain, caused by the influx of cheap Western medicines over the past century that was not, however, accompanied by true democratic reform and economic advancement to provide the new extra mouths with employment and education.
I have little hope for the future, and can only recommend that Western societies immediately curb immigration from the world of Islam in order not to force their own electorates to seek refuge in the arms of the far right. However, along with many others, I have been sounding such warnings for many years.
Hazhir Teimourian is a writer and broadcaster on Middle Eastern history and international politics, and is speaking at the spiked conference After 11 September: Fear and Loathing in the West, on Sunday 26 May at the Bishopsgate Institute in London. See here for full details.
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