The human need for connection leads young people to be especially vulnerable to extremist groups who promise deep connection, comradeship, brotherhood and belonging.
Even a cursory glance at recent books on extremism makes clear the kinds of emotions that most scholars and policymakers see as central to the appeal of the radical right. Titles like Age of Anger, Strangers in Their Own Land and Angry White Men point to negative feelings like alienation, isolation, anxiety, anger and frustration. But what if love matters more?
Love — the subject of countless ballads and Greek tragedies — is among the most powerful emotions of the human condition, making us feel we belong and are connected to others, and that we are valuable, important and desired. But love also makes people behave irrationally. Falling in love, or any varying degrees of infatuation and desire, is even described as lovesickness — an emotional and physiological state of yearning that can cause individuals to lose sight of reality.
Love inspires violence too. Since the dawning of the ages, love has motivated duels, honor killings, suicides and even wars. The decade-long Trojan War was caused by a passionate love triangle: Ten years after the prince of Troy stole Helen, the wife of Menelaus, the Greeks claimed victory by winning Helen back. More recently, Islamic State militants recruited dozens of young women after they fell in love online with foreign fighters.
It isn’t only the romantic love of operatic arias and Shakespearean sonnets that can motivate people to move toward extreme ideologies. Psychologists Harry Reis and Arthur Aron argue that companionate love — the intimate affection we feel for our children, siblings, best friends, mentors and others whose lives are deeply entwined with our own — is an even more powerful bond.
Two centuries ago, the terrorist Amrozi Nurhasyim was radicalized as part of desperate quest for love, acceptance and approval from his older brother, who was a leader of a terrorist group. Tracing this and other historical cases of radicalization, the scholars Clark McCauley and Sophia Moskalenko conclude that the “pull of romantic and comradely love can be as strong as politics in moving individuals into a underground group.”
The human need for connection leads young people to be especially vulnerable to extremist groups who promise deep connection, comradeship, brotherhood and belonging. Recruiters capitalize on these desires. T-shirts marketed to radical-right youth in Germany display messages declaring consumers part of “the unbreakable brotherhood” and advocating “loyalty, respect, solidarity.” The radical right thus becomes a means of connecting with others and being part of something bigger than themselves, even if, paradoxically, those connections are forged through hate and violence against others.
– Cynthia Miller-Idriss & Daisy Gebbia-Richards, Fair Observer
Read more: How Love Drives Extremism
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