Andreas Behring Breivik was 32 years old when he committed the awful act that have dominated the news the last week. Breivik made this radical act in his early 30s and the fascinating and also scary thing is that disgusting atrocities such as these are seldom made after the early 30ies. Gavrolio Princip, the guy that set the world in flames when he shot the arch duke Franz Ferdinand and his wife 1914, was only 20.
Two years older was Sirhan Sirhan when he made his name infamous with the deadly shots against Robert Kennedy, the senator on tour for the American presidentship. The high jackers of September 11 attacks then? Well as you might have guessed, or already checked up, they were also in their 20s, the youngest had barely passed 20 and the oldest had just passed 30.
The Swedish counterparts in this list of offenders were also young: Mijailo Mijailović, the assassinator of Anna Lindh was 24, whereas the suicide bomber at Drottninggatan, Taimour Abdulwahab, was 28 years old.
The young and angry men have always been a source of concern for decisionmakers of different kinds. The phenomenon is also valid on an aggregate level where scolars like political scientist Jack Goldstone has showed that demographic growth and a large share on young men was essential in the revolutionary waves in Europe in the 17:th and 18:th centuries. Samuel P Huntington, "Clash of the civilizations", also notes this demographic phenomenon as a contributing factor for the islamistic rise in the Muslim world during the last centuries.
But in what ways do these young and angry men create turmoil in societies? Well, to begin with these young men are by no means always opposed to the state or the ruling classes. Sometimes they in fact work for the state and strive to uphold some sort of order with brutal means. Just take the Islamic Taliban gangs in Afghanistan as an example. For a few years ago these young and angry men filled with religious fevour used to patrol the streets of Afghan cities as a moral police to uphold the strict fundamentalist doctrine in dressing, arts and litterature.
Looking at basic theories of why young men always seem to be vastly overrepresented as the primary perpetrators one cannot contradict that traditional biological and demographic arguments play a certain role. But social factors, definately possible to influence, are also worth noting. Research concerning why young angry men account for the lion’s share of global small arms violence has a couple of interesting conclusions. Firstly that this group frequently perceive violenceas a means to reach positions of social or economic status that they feel entitled to, for the lack of other alternatives. Secondly that by offering empowerment in the face of exclusion from socially defined masculine roles, marginalized young men can use brute force.
So, policies for jobs and belief in the future seem to be a good bet – well no big surprise perhaps. Preventing young men from obtaining guns is a no less obvious component. The last conclusion is a bit more demanding though: Countering the socially constructed association between violence, power, and masculinity should be a key component of an effective, long-term violence strategy. Well, looking at you there school and preschool teachers, and of course: Parents of the world unite! Your small young boys must not grow up to be angry young men like Breivik, Princip, Sirhan, Mijailović or Abdulwahab!
Henrik Lindberg is researcher at the Ratio Insitute.