Casual Evangelist

A mission to learn a little about a lot…

Will the Next Generation of Muslims Reject Violent Extremism?

Posted by Andrew on May 28, 2008

Lately, I’ve been very intrigued with the theories put forth by William Strauss and Neil Howe regarding generational cycles that all societies and cultures experience. In short, the two assert that there are four “archetype” generations (Prophet, Nomad, Hero, and Artist). For example, the Millennial Generation (born starting in 1982) are “Heroes,” Generation X are “Nomads,” Boomers are “Prophets,” and the Silent Generation (think John McCain) are “Artists.” There are also corresponding “turnings,” or phases of society that enable each generation to make its mark. The cycle repeats, and the order is always the same. Each archetype has its own characteristics that distinguish it from the others.

While the focus of their work is on European and American generations starting with the Arthurian (b 1433-1460), the assumption is that this theory can be applied universally. Is it possible to apply these theories to the Muslim world and make forecasts regarding the future strength of violent fundamentalism? Might new generations of Muslims turn away from the extremism of their parents?

Generational marketing consultant Jessie Newburn recently posted on Twitter (I’ll link to her post when Twitter gets their act together) that the Millennial generation is at a turning point, and we should expect to see a general shift of priorities among that group. I thought about that post when yesterday I read Lawrence Wright’s piece in The New Yorker, “The Rebellion Within,” explores the current revisionist movement in radical Islam led by Sayyid Imam al-Sharif (AKA Dr. Fadl). Dr. Fadl has been engaged in a very public debate with Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Ladin‘s right hand man over whether many of Al Qeada’s terror tactics are in line with the Koran. Fadl’s movement to disavow many of the terror tactics of jihadism is gaining acceptance among many in the Muslim world. Might the next generation in much of the Muslim world be undergoing a similar “turning point?”

There may already be another example of Strauss and Howe’s theory in the Muslim world (I’ll link if there’s already information on this). In Iran, it was the young generation in the sixties and seventies that embraced religious fundamentalism, rebelled against the social and political structures of their parents and previous generations, and ousted the Shah and instituted a theocracy. Their children – Iran’s next generation – reject much of this fundamentalism and are in many ways sympathetic to the West and America.

It may be a stretch to connect the theories of Stauss and Howe with the current revisionist movement in Islam, but it sure is interesting to ponder. Notions that violent fundamentalism in Islam will continue to rise unabated are likely incorrect. But it won’t necessarily be because the West has “defeated it,” but that this cycle will run its course and the next generation will chart a new one.


4 Responses to “Will the Next Generation of Muslims Reject Violent Extremism?”

  1. JessieX said

    Hi Andrew. I don’t have enough information on this particular subject to provide much additional perspective here. I did happen to read, just yesterday, that the Islamic world was less synched to generational cycles than the Western world impacted by WWII.

    From Millennials Rising, by Strauss and Howe, page 293, in discussing how generational cycles are becoming aligned across the globe: “The only significant exception appears to be in the Islamic world, where World War II did not create similar generations, and whose cultural defenses are stronger. Islamic nations have joined neither the downward global fertility trend nor the trend toward market-oriented individualism.”

    I do have an opinion, and it’s this: Millennials are soooo much about including all of their peers in their movement, they believe deeply in their collective power to make the world a better place, and they are very good at receiving and including profound racial/cultural/ethnic diversity in their groups. My sense is that their collective, emerging teen/young adult pop culture will spread easily and rapidly through online, traditional and social connections. The culture will be so compelling, because it will be upbeat and do-good action-oriented, that young adults in the Islamic world will feel drawn in, rather than rejected by “The West.”

    That is just an opinion and belief. Time will tell.

  2. Andrew said

    Thanks Jessie. I haven’t yet read Millennials Rising, and I wonder if the differences are that generational cycles in the Islamic world are not similar or synched up with Western ones, but that they do experience such cycles. I hope you’re right about the Millennial generations inclination towards “inclusion” of their peer groups world-wide, and that this reaches those in the Islamic world.

  3. JessieX said

    Andrew, As I understand things from studying Strauss and Howe’s work: America, in particular and more than any other country/culture, is heavily influenced by generational cycles and The Turnings, which you mention in your original post.

    The two primary archetypal cycles – 1) Secular Hero youth saves the day from the collapsing empire and brings about prosperity and stability and 2) Indulged Prophet youth saves the day from a financially abundant but morally decrepit world — are played over and over again in epic stories and in real life. Either of these two archetypes tend to appear in times of crisis. But in most cultures that have strong traditions and little freedom given to youth, once the cycle completes one full turn, it dies back down.

    America typically provides lots of freedom to youthful expression and has been constantly shifting with its various waves of immigrants. It holds little as culturally traditional and, resultantly, is fertile ground for generational cycles.

    So, to your question, I offer this: It’s not so much that the Islamic world isn’t synched up with the same cycles, it’s that the cycles don’t repeat there (at least not now) because they have strong cultural roots.

    MY OPINION and forecast is this: The Islamic world is ripe for the Hero archetype to come forth. But probably not exactly in alignment with American Millennial years. The Hero generation comes together in young adulthood to collectively challenge the collapse of functional structures and lack of public will toward the good of society. They are BUILDERS. They are oriented toward PHYSICAL STRUCTURES and that which serves the good of the (re)Public. Math, science, technology, engineering. These are there strengths. Upbeat, can-do, collective power.

    Were I doing any “nation building” or such things, I’d be focusing on the youth in such nations, getting them trained in math and science and engineering, and making them HUNGRY to use those skills and to experience the collective power of their generation. The Hero brings hope to an adult world that sees no solutions. This is why they are Heroes.

    Anyway, I could write much more. And this is conjecture and future-think, but I’d say there might well be some surprises on the horizon.

  4. Jonathan Trenn said


    I wanted to let you know of a project I’m working on. The firm I’m with is promoting an online event for a large marketing company called LoweWorldwide. One of their clients is running a contest on Facebook called LifeChangingBox.

    Here’s the site for it:

    You’ll have to download the application on Facebook at:

    There’s also a Fan page:

    There’s three weeks and a ton of prizes left. If you invite a friend to play and they win, you win the same prize! Prizes like a new home theater system, a trip to NYC to see the Yankees play.

    One guy, Markus Baskerville of Sacramento, already won himself a home theater system.

    Let your friends on Facebook know. Maybe they – and you – will win!

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