What’re we gonna do about ISIS? The question has elbowed its way into casual conversations at an inopportune time. Just as the year-end party circuit is getting underway, we can’t stop ourselves from talking about a decidedly uncheery topic.
For those moments when the line at the punchbowl is too long to leave a conversation already underway, I offer you three new angles on an already tiresome topic, using history, demography, and marketing. Happy holidays!
Mark Twain said once that history does not repeat itself, but it rhymes. Christianity has been through straits similar to what Islam currently faces. Muhammad received his first revelation in 610 and died in 632, which means Christianity has a six-century head start on the third Abrahamic religion. What was Christianity struggling with 600 years ago?
1400 AD marked a halftime between two of Christianity’s most violent episodes. The Crusades consumed western Christianity for 250 years until they petered out around 1350. The Spanish Inquisition lay ahead (1478), as did Martin Luther’s Protestant revolt (1517). Christianity was roughly at the midpoint of 700 years of internal convulsions — purity purges — beginning with the East-West Schism (1054) and the Salem witch trials (1692).
ISIS rhetoric refers to Westerners and modernists as crusaders. They certainly resent and fear modernity’s encroachment on their lives and values. But it may also be understood as a term of twisted admiration, as they endure violent purges, following in the footsteps of their older sibling.
There’s another historical correlative that may be easier to accept, because it’s seated in our own lifetime. Demographers can tell us with unnerving accuracy when social unrest will likely occur in any society.
Any time a society sees a sudden surge in birthrates, trouble is likely 20 years later unless there’s an economic boom that produces something close to full employment. Violent upheaval most often originates with a very specific subset of a society’s population — unmarried, unemployed, young men.
Too many men with nothing to lose will spell trouble for any power structure. We saw it in America in the 1960s, when all those babies born after soldiers returned from World War II became disaffected teenagers. Hormonal rage will find an adversary as sure as a cat will create a scratching post — whether it’s an unpopular war, sexual repression, gender rights, or religious purity. It’s practically baked in the cake.
Our own history tells us that education and self-awareness alone tamp down the violence, but that’ll take centuries. War and political pressure could hasten the process, but only if we put ourselves in the middle of it for decades. As the recent tragedies in Paris gut-wrenchingly demonstrated, we can’t afford to wait that long.
The only force that makes change happen quickly enough is commerce. Fortunately, we have a couple of dozen billionaires who could not only quell the violence in the Middle East, but make money doing it. Remember that the region’s struggle is essentially sectarian and its combatants are mostly young men with free-floating bloodlust.
Greece had its Olympians. Rome had its gladiators. We’ve got Sunday football.
Launch a Middle East division for the NFL, six teams battling every Sunday for regional and world dominance. It’s keeping our own underemployed young men happy. Why couldn’t it work there too? Soccer is wildly popular across that region, but it’s not violent enough for the vicarious thrill young men crave. The NFL’s marketing machine can repurpose all that anti-crusader rhetoric to sell merchandise and build a planetary brand.
Once Middle Eastern young men feel the adrenaline rush that comes from wearing the designated color to a stadium, or souvenir jerseys on game day, or emblazoned ball caps in solidarity with their heroes, we’ll be able to contain the violence onto the playing field and away from the rest of us.
“Death to America!” will slowly be replaced by “Beat the Packers!” or whoever their favorite team is playing that week. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s good enough to occupy a conversation while you refill your party glass.
Don Kahle (firstname.lastname@example.org) blogs at www.dksez.com.