Simon Cottee

Academic and Author

Sex and Shame: What Incels and Jihadists Have in Common

As an instrument for delivering publicity, terrorism clearly works. Or at least it did last week, when the hitherto obscure term “incel” went viral after Alek Minassian drove a truck into a crowd of pedestrians in downtown Toronto. Mr. Minassian, just before carrying out his attack, wrote a post on Facebook in which he proclaimed the arrival of an “incel rebellion.” Standing for “involuntarily celibate,” the term is used as a badge of honor among a fringe online subculture of misogynists who say they hate women for depriving them of sex. So now we know.

Inside Europol's Online War Against ISIS

In January I travelled to Europol's heavily fortified HQ in The Hague to interview members of the EU's Internet Referral Unit (IRU), an innocuous-sounding name for a group that spends most of its time trawling the internet for beheadings, bomb-making manuals, hysterical incitements and all the rest of it.

10th Apr 2018

The 'Softer' Side of Jihadists

“Yes,” wrote Elie Wiesel, “it is possible to defile life and creation and feel no remorse. To tend one’s garden and water one’s flowers but two steps away from barbed wire. … To go on vacation, be enthralled by the beauty of a landscape, make children laugh—and still fulfill regularly, day in and day out, the duties of [a] killer.”

The myth of the ISIS Patsy

When ISIS announced the formation of the so-called caliphate in June 2014, the group’s contingent of foreign recruits could barely contain their excitement, rushing to social media to celebrate the passing of this historic moment. And in the frenzied and bloody months which followed many of them defended and glorified ISIS’s most heinous actions and practices, including sexual enslavement and staged mass beheadings, in brazen tweet after tweet.

Why Do We Want to Watch Gory Jihadist Propaganda Videos?

What does prolonged exposure to jihadist online propaganda do to us?
One popular answer, especially among politicians, is that it radicalizes our thoughts and transforms us into terrorists.
A more nuanced answer, put forward by terrorism scholars, is that while sustained exposure to extremist online material is not in itself a sufficient cause of radicalization, it can reinforce existing assumptions and beliefs that are already tending toward the extreme.

The Myth of the ISIS Female Suicide Bomber

In the historical pantheon of societal folk devils, few figures are as rivetingly transgressive as the ISIS female suicide bomber. Burqaed and belted-up to the nines, she is the ultimate Other, transgressing not only civilizational prohibitions against murder and suicide, but also deeply ingrained assumptions about what it means to be a woman in patriarchal societies where women are accorded lesser status.

Can ex-militants, and their redemption stories, stop anyone from joining Islamic State?

It seems like common sense — enlist disillusioned extremists as credible voices against terrorism and put them to work persuading others to rethink their flirtation with political violence.
Richard Barrett, a former counter-terrorism chief in Britain, told the Guardian: “Many of the people who have been most successful in undermining the terrorist narrative are themselves ex-extremists.” And in a recent report summarizing the stories of 58 Islamic State defectors, scholar Peter Neumann concluded that their narratives “can be important in helping to prevent young people from being radicalized and recruited.”

The Islamic State’s Shock-and-Bore Terrorism

“It was the advent of the second plane, sharking in low over the Statue of Liberty”, wrote the novelist Martin Amis. “That was the defining moment.” He was referring to United Airlines Flight 175: the second plane that smashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. “That second plane looked eagerly alive, and galvanised with malice, and wholly alien,” Amis ruminated, adding:. “For those thousands in the south tower, the second plane meant the end of everything. For us, its glint was the worldflash of a coming future.”

The death of the caliphate: Why ISIS’s huge territorial setbacks in Syria and Iraq are so devastating to the terrorist group

Now that Mosul, the seat of the so-called "caliphate" in Iraq, has fallen, ISIS has a problem: It is a self-avowedly Islamic State without a state. And although the group retains its hold on Raqqa in Syria, where it's currently encircled by U.S.-backed Syrian forces, it's likely that it will relinquish that former stronghold too by the end of the year.

Muslims don’t need special praise for doing good. It’s patronizing

Not all Muslims are terrorists. Indeed, most Muslims are good and decent. These two propositions are so monumentally obvious and incontestable that you’d think they barely need enunciating, let alone repeating. But you’d be wrong, because every time some band of jihadist losers goes on a suicide-murder rampage in a western city you can bet your house on encountering them in the news coverage that inevitably and feverishly follows.

Why Jihadists Want to Kill

On Saturday night, seven people were brutally murdered in a jihadist attack on London Bridge and Borough Market. Scores more were critically injured. It is the third terrorist attack in the UK in as many months. "Things need to change," said British Prime Minister Theresa May in a speech the morning after the carnage of the night before. May is right about that. But everything she said was a regurgitation of the same old script:

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