Simon Cottee

Academic and Author

Studies in Conflict & Terrorism

“What ISIS Really Wants” Revisited: Religion Matters in Jihadist Violence, but How?

In his influential and provocative article on “What ISIS Really Wants,” published in The Atlantic in March 2015, Graeme Wood argued that “the Islamic state is Islamic. Very Islamic.” He also sought to challenge what he diagnosed as a “western bias” among academics and policymakers toward religious ideology, whereby religious doctrines or beliefs are relegated to the status of epiphenomena rather than taken seriously as causal properties in their own right. Wood's article sparked a wider—and still ongoing—debate over the relationship between Islam and jihadist violence.

Terrorist (E)motives: The existential attractions of terrorism

This article describes a number of possible existential motivations for engaging in terrorism. Three in particular are identified: (1) the desire for excitement, (2) the desire for ultimate meaning, and (3) the desire for glory. Terrorism, according to the argument set out here, is as much a site of individual self-drama and self-reinvention as a tactical instrument for pursuing the political goals of small groups. The conclusion explores the concept of “existential frustration,” and suggests that terrorist activity may provide an outlet for basic existential desires that cannot find expression through legitimate channels.

Fear, boredom, and joy: Sebastian Junger’s piercing phenomenology of war

This article explores the emotional attractions of war and military combat. Using Sebastian Junger's recently published book War as a central point of reference, it elucidates and supports the idea that, for combatants, war is often experienced as a profoundly exciting and existentially rewarding human activity. By bringing into focus and helping to conceptualize the raw appeal of combat, Junger's account of war can be enlisted as a resource for understanding the positive emotional drives behind acts of terrorism.

Subscribe to Studies in Conflict & Terrorism