Simon Cottee

Academic and Author

The Atlantic

Is There Any ‘Logic’ to Suicide Terrorism?

In his edited collection on “suicide missions,” the sociologist Diego Gambetta described his childhood admiration for Pietro Micca, a solider in the artillery regiment of the Duke of Savoy in what is now northern Italy.
“In 1706, as the French were besieging Turin,” Gambetta wrote, Micca “realized that a party of the besiegers had succeeded in penetrating the network of tunnels that were part of the city citadel, and would have no doubt been able to take it.”

Flemming Rose: The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Flemming Rose is a marked man. To his liberal-left detractors, he is a bigoted Islamophobe, stirring up racial and religious hatred against an already embattled minority. To his defenders, he is a brave and unflinching advocate of Enlightenment values. To his jihadist persecutors, he is a blaspheming infidel fit for slaughter.

Reborn Into Terrorism

In 2014, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the organizer of the November 2015 Paris attacks, appeared in a video, driving a pickup truck with a mound of corpses in tow. Speaking to the camera before driving off, he said: “Before we towed jet skis, motorcycles, quad bikes, big trailers filled with gifts for vacation in Morocco. Now, thank God, following God’s path, we’re towing apostates.” This was a derogatory reference to his victims, who, in his mind, were renegades from the Muslim faith and thus legitimate targets for slaughter. But it was also a telling allusion to his own irreligious past, before he found God and joined ISIS and started murdering people.

The Shadow of Jihadi John

On Tuesday, in issue 13 of its online magazine Dabiq, ISIS confirmed the death of Mohammed Emwazi (a.k.a “Jihad John”), the group’s notorious British-accented, ninja-suited, knife-wielding executioner in HD—and poster boy of the jihadist jet set. This isn’t exactly news: Emwazi’s death was widely reported last November, after the Pentagon announced that it had targeted him in an air strike in Raqqa, Syria on November 12. “It’s still a little early, but we are reasonably certain we killed the target that we intended to kill, which is Jihadi John,” said Colonel Steve Warren.

The Challenge of Jihadi Cool

If you want to get a sense of what attracts westernized Muslims to ISIS, you could do worse than listen to one of its sympathizers, as opposed to its legion of opponents, who are liable to pathologize the group’s appeal as an ideological contagion that infects the weak, instead of taking it seriously as a revolutionary movement that speaks to the young and the strong-minded.

The Pre-Terrorists Among Us

Philip K. Dick’s The Minority Report is a short story about a dystopian future in which there are “no major crimes,” but a mass of imprisoned “would-be criminals.” This is thanks to “Precrime,” a criminal-justice agency whose preventive efforts are directed by a trio of mute oracles called “precog mutants.” The inherent and dark illiberalism of this approach is not lost on Precrime’s chief John Anderton, who concedes, “We’re taking in individuals who have broken no law.” The film adaptation of the story was described by the film critic Peter Bradshaw as an “allegory for a hi-tech police state which bullies villains and law-abiding citizens alike with self-fulfilling prophecies of wrongdoing.”

‘I Am Strange Here’: Conversations With the Syrians in Calais

In his memoir Hitch 22, the late Christopher Hitchens, recalling his early forays into journalism at the British tabloid the Daily Express, confessed that the “unofficial motto of our foreign correspondent’s desk was, when setting off to some scene of mass graves and riven societies, ‘Anyone here been raped and speaks English?’” It is also the title of a book by the foreign correspondent Edward Behr, who wrote for American news magazines and who attributed the phrase to a reporter covering the war in eastern Congo in 1964.

Pilgrims to the Islamic State

In Political Pilgrims, the sociologist Paul Hollander exposes and excoriates the mentality of a certain kind of Western intellectual, who, such is the depth of his estrangement or alienation from his own society, is predisposed to extend sympathy to virtually any opposing political system.
The book is about the travels of 20th-century Western intellectuals to the Soviet Union, China, and Cuba, and how these political travelers were able to find in such repressive countries a model of “the good society” in which they could invest their brightest hopes. Hollander documents in relentless and mortifying detail how this utopian impulse, driven by a deep discontent with their own societies, led them to deny or excuse the myriad moral defects of the places they visited.

What Motivates Terrorists?

One of the most frequently asked questions about terrorism is also the most intractable. Why? Why do they do it? Why do people join terrorist groups and participate in acts of terrorism?
There are as many answers to this question as there are terrorist groups, and everyone from clerics to caustic cab drivers seems to have a confident opinion on the subject, as though the interior world of terrorists can be easily mined and mapped. But this confidence is often misplaced, given how little scholars actually know about terrorism and the people who are involved in it.

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