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Make Love Not War

June 27, 2022
Tyler Kustra


In analysis for Political Violence At A Glance, an IGCC-supported blog dedicated to political violence and its alternatives, Tyler Kustra, assistant professor of politics and international relations at the University of Nottingham, analyzes the relationship between marital status and terrorism.

The conjecture that being single drives young men to commit political violence is compelling. It has been presented in academic articles and the popular press. It’s been discussed in classified diplomatic cables, unclassified strategic planning documents, and reports to Congress.

The idea is intuitive—and, one might note, heteronormative. Young men face a choice between kissing and killing. The realities of life as a terrorist or a guerilla mean that they cannot do both. For a young man with a wife, the choice is obvious: he would rather stay home with his bride than abandon her to go and become a rebel or a terrorist. Young men without wives do not face the same quandary; they have no partners to leave behind. In fact, they may benefit more from participating in political violence than married men, in so far as doing so increases their economic and social capital, thereby increasing their chances of finding a mate.

Observational studies of individual terrorists and guerillas support this theory. They are almost always single. This applies whether we are talking about Palestinian suicide bombers today or Chinese rebels 172 years ago.

The implications are substantial. Across Asia, from India to China, there are approximately 1.10 young men for every young woman, thereby dooming millions of men to go through life alone without the possibility of finding a heterosexual partner. If being single caused young men to commit political violence, then Asia should be a powder keg ready to explode with terrorism and civil war. Men in the Muslim world tend to marry much later in life. Could this provide an explanation for the higher levels of political violence in Islamic countries? And if being single causes young men to engage in civil war and terrorism, might this provide a novel solution to the problem of political violence: finding these young men wives.

Yet does having a surfeit of single young men increase the level of political violence in a country?

Read the full blog post at Political Violence At A Glance.