Stage 3

How masculinity, not ideology, drives violent extremism

I sat down with a young Minnesota teenager last year who had sold what little he owned — his sneakers, his iPhone and prized pieces of clothing — to buy an airplane ticket to Turkey. He wasn’t going for tourism. He’d decided to slip into Syria to join the Islamic State. The reason he was drawn to the group had almost nothing to do with its ideology, he told me. “In the summer of 2014 all ISIS was talking about was fighting the Assad regime,” he said. “I thought I was fighting on the side of an oppressed people.” For him, going to Syria to fight was about something much more fundamental: It was about being a man; acting like a man. “I felt like I was going to face another military — Assad’s army — I felt like I was doing something noble; it gave me meaning.”: