Has Polygyny Spawned Islamic Violence?


Perhaps the strongest drive that mankind feels is to procreate. Catholic theologians say the drive to continue the species is one of the few aspects of natural law that humans know without being taught.

But what happens if circumstances make it unlikely or even impossible for large swaths of the male population to ever get the chance to marry and reproduce?

The Puzzle of Monogomous Marriagepublished two years ago in Philosophical Transactions B, suggests some answers that are not pretty and, according to Matt Ridley in The Times of London, have a direct bearing on the growth and brutal violence of the radical Islamic movement.

According to the researchers, a lack of available women results in a growing cohort of young men who pursue “risky, high-stakes, strategies” to get a mate but likely fail. These young men “will heavily discount the future and more readily engage in risky status-elevating and sex-seeking behaviors. This will result in higher rates of murder, theft, rape, social disruption, kidnapping (especially of females) sexual slavery and prostitution.”

What does this have to do with Islam? Muslim countries are just about the last places on earth where polygyny is still allowed. Japan outlawed it in 1880, China in 1953, India in 1955, and Nepal in 1963. And even in Islamic countries, it has been regulated. Saudi Arabia limits the number of wives to four.

Besides taking part in risky behavior to get a mate, and besides entering into harmful personal pathologies that harm the individual and society, researchers suggest that polygynous societies “engage in more warfare, often with the goal of capturing women.” Much of the violence connected to ISIS and Boko Haram have been related to stealing Christian women and girls and forcing them into marriages.

Ridley, writing in The Times, reminds us, “The 219 girls still missing in Nigeria after being abducted in April have been married off.” Moreover, “when the Times posed as two British girls interested in joining the Islamic State, they were told: ‘The only way to guarantee being together is marrying the same man.’”

But that is not all, Russian scholars, cited in the monogamy paper, found there is “statistical linkage between democratic institutions and normative monogamy” and that “dissipating the pool of unmarried males weakens despots, as it reduces their ability to find solider or henchmen.”

Here’s how Ridley in The Times explains the brutal math of polygyny: “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.”

What we tend to see in Islamic radicals—those who fly planes into buildings, blow up buses, and cut off the heads of Westerners—are young, unmarried men. While obviously not impossible, it is more difficult to get a married man with children to strap on a suicide vest, or fly into the World Trade Center than it is to get an angry unmarried man who has no prospects of ever finding a mate and whose head has been filled with the glory of the Caliphate and the prospect of 70 virgins.

When the Catholic Bishops met in the Extraordinary Synod in October, they thought a document dealing with cohabitation and LGBTs was not dealing with the problems they face. What did they repeatedly bring up as a serious problem? Polygyny.

Follow Austin Ruse on Twitter @austinruse.