Why politicians around the world are getting on the radical love train

Rashmee Roshan Lall
4 min readJul 2, 2019
Istanbul’s new mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, who won the election on a platform of ‘radical love’, addresses from atop a bus the crowd of supporters gathered outside Istanbul’s town hall. AFP/Bulent Kilic

Populism of the most hateful sort has had a baleful presence in the headlines for the past two years, but now a very different political perspective is challenging it, without animus. It’s called “radical love” and had its first electoral win on June 23, when Ekrem Imamoglu was elected mayor of Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city.

However, much before then, on the other side of the world, US Senator Cory Booker was speaking of “radical love”. Mr Booker, who represents the state of New Jersey, is one of the crowded field of Democratic Party candidates seeking to replace Donald Trump in the White House. He has chosen to do it by talking of a new way of politics. And in the days since Mr Imamoglu’s stupendous victory in Turkey’s financial capital, a UK-based political platform called The Alternative has been talking up the idea. It has expressed admiration for “the emotional, poetic language that’s being used in the radical love strategy” in Turkey and suggests it could have powerful appeal in a country polarised by Brexit.

So, what is radical love and can it really remake politics? In itself, it is an attractive concept. In Istanbul, radical love radiated a message of optimism and undiscriminating regard for everyone — including voters with a propensity to support Turkey’s long-time president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Mr Imamoglu’s campaign steadfastly eschewed criticism of Mr Erdogan’s authoritarian tendencies, his divisiveness, fear-mongering and repeated onslaughts on Turkey’s institutions and on the checks and balances of Turkish democracy.

Instead, Mr Imamoglu took an upbeat approach and the Republican People’s Party steered a determinedly high-minded path. It was described by the party’s national campaign manager Ates Ilyas Bassoy as follows: “We had two simple rules: ignore Erdogan and love those who love Erdogan. The whole strategy depended on this.” In fact, that was the core message of Mr Bassoy’s Radical Love Book, which was distributed to party activists some months ago and stressed the need to let go of “the language of rage” and speak the “language of love”.

In the US, Mr Booker’s campaign of radical love has been similarly focused on what he calls the “revival of civic grace, having a more courageous empathy” and recognition…

Rashmee Roshan Lall

PhD. Journalism by trade & inclination. Writer. My novel 'Pomegranate Peace' is about my year in Afghanistan. I teach journalism at university in London