Matt Ridley: Polygamy Partly to Blame for Islamic State’s Violence

AP Photo
AP Photo

Science writer Matt Ridley argues in today’s Times that polygamy has a long-established link to violence, saying that much of the violence in Islamic society can be explained through single men being unable to find wives. The brutality of Islamic State and the enslavement of Yazidi women is a case-in-point.

When the Kurdish peshmerga forces broke the siege of Mount Sinjar last week, there was no trace of the 5,000 Yazidi women and children abducted from the area in August. It is thought that they have been mostly sold as concubines to jihadist fighters of Islamic State. When The Times posed as two British girls interested in joining Islamic State, they were told: “The only way to guarantee being together is marrying the same man.” The 219 girls still missing in Nigeria after being abducted in April have been “married off”, according to the leader of Boko Haram.

My point in connecting these incidents is that throughout history polygamy has fuelled violence. Might it be worth suggesting to Muslim leaders, religious and secular, that they push for monogamous norms as one way to reduce violence and bring more peace to the Middle East and to north and west Africa? Of course, polygamy is not the only or the main cause of violence in such places, but it almost certainly contributes.

The correlation between violence and polygamy (strictly, polygyny — being married to more than one wife at the same time — as having more than one husband is much rarer) is not just about violence to women. It is also about violence among men. From Troy to Brigham Young, from Genghis Khan to Islamic State, there has been a tendency for nations that allow polygamous marriage to exhibit more crime and more warfare than those that do not. The cause is increased competition for mates. Polygamy results in more unmarried young men, and these commit most violence.

Even moderate polygamy can produce large imbalances. Imagine that in a village of 50 men and 50 women, two men have four wives, four men have three wives and fourteen have two wives: that leaves 30 men chasing the remaining two women. A recipe for trouble.

Read the rest in The Times