The cruising scene isn't too hot in Abha, a small, southwestern Saudi town.
Bored young men stroll through the dusty town or drive down the sleek Abha-Gizan highway at breakneck speeds, according to travelers' accounts. And under the watchful eyes of the muttawa — the dreaded Saudi religious police — women, clad in enveloping, all-black abayas, shop unobtrusively in the marketplaces.
Abha is a fairly typical Saudi town.
But since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, Abha has held a particular fascination for many experts.
Situated in the remote southwestern province of Asir near the Yemen border, Abha — along with the neighboring town of Khamis Mushayt — was home to at least six of the 9/11 hijackers.
The local mosques, the resident imams, the remoteness of the mountainous province have all come under scrutiny in an attempt to uncover why the young men hijacked planes that fatal day and flew them kamikaze-fashion into U.S. buildings.
But as conflicts and terrorist attacks across the world continue to wreak a deadly toll, demographers have been looking at population patterns to see if they offer some explanation for human violence.
The 9/11 attacks refocused attention on a 1997 study by two Canadian psychologists arguing that societies with a high proportion of young males are more prone to violence.
Adding a new dimension to the study of the roots of violence, Neil Weiner and Christian Mesquida argued that societies with a high ratio of males aged between 15 and 29 are more likely to be aggressive and militaristic.
And earlier this year, a new study on gender and violence hit the stands — and sent ripples of anxiety in the international community.
Skewed Sex Ratios and Security Implications
In their book, Bare Branches: Security Implications of Asia's Surplus Male Population, political scientists Valerie Hudson and Andrea den Boer discuss the alarming global security implications of a surplus of males in the world's most populated countries such as India and China.
In the past few decades, age-old cultural preferences for boys have combined with modern technology advances such as prenatal sex determination tests to increase the number of sex-selective abortions in Asia. When parents learn they are having a girl, they often decide to abort.
The result is a dramatically skewed Asian sex ratio, with males far outnumbering females. While the current official Chinese sex ratio is 117 boys born for every 100 girls, Hudson and den Boer say in the reality, the rate is about 120 boys for 100 girls. And in India, the official birth sex ratio is about 114 boys per 100 girls. But spot checks in some areas show ratios of up to 156 boys per 100 girls.
The consequences of the severely skewed sex ratio, Hudson and den Boer warn, will be a far more dangerous world than the one we now know.
The political scientists cite historical examples of societies with disproportionately high ratios of males that embarked on war and aggressive colonization. They warn that the alarmingly skewed Asian sex ratios will have disastrous implications for global stability.
For security experts, the implications of the study are immense. At a recent security conference, Hudson says CIA analysts approached the authors after they presented their paper on gender ratio and global violence.