Simon Cottee

Academic and Author


The Apostates

The Apostates is the first major study of apostasy from Islam in the western secular context. Drawing on life-history interviews with ex-Muslims from the UK and Canada, Simon Cottee explores how and with what consequences Muslims leave Islam and become irreligious.

Apostasy in Islam is a deeply controversial issue and features prominently in current debates over the expansion of Islam in the West and what this means. Yet it remains poorly understood, in large part because it has become so politicised — with protagonists on either side of the debate selectively invoking Islamic theology to make claims about the ‘true’ face of Islam. The Apostates charts a different course by examining the social situation and experiences of ex- Muslims. Cottee suggests that Islamic apostasy in the West is best understood not as a legal or political problem, but as a moral issue within Muslim families and communities. Outside of Muslim-majority societies, ex-Muslims are not living in fear for their lives. But they face and must manage the stigma attached to leaving the faith from among their own families and the wider Muslim community.

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The Apostates at Oxford University Press

‘Free people should be able to abandon their religion without being punished. Simon Cottee brings us the stories of British and Canadian ex-Muslims who live in the shadow of stigma and with the threat of ostracism. Wider society has ignored them, and the most disgraceful elements of the Left have denounced them, but here they can speak for themselves. Books are too often described as “important” or “original” when they are neither. The Apostates is both.’ — Nick Cohen, columnist and author of You Can’t Read This Book: Censorship in an Age of Freedom

‘The Apostates is not about religious freedom or religion that poisons. It is about some “ordinary” British and Canadian ex-Muslims who struggle to find themselves. They ask others to respect, as also mirror, their anxieties, their hesitant belongings, and their irrepressible longings. If there are pathways to empathy, an affirmation of humanity as the largest circle of belonging, then The Apostates is that bridge to a brighter future, hazy but still discernible, that makes us all prisoners of hope.’ — Bruce B. Lawrence, Nancy and Jeffrey Marcus Humanities Professor of Religion, Duke University, and author of Who is Allah?

‘An excellent new study …. The Apostates shows how elements in the left and academia are happy to denounce Muslims who exercise their freedom to abandon their religion as ‘native informers’ who have gone over to the side of western imperialism.’ — The Spectator

‘[Cottee’s] book is certainly an invaluable contribution to making sure that the experiences of ex-Muslims in the West will be better understood. … Cottee has done a great service to the community of ex-Muslims out there in imploring his readers to “lend an empathetic ear to the voices expressed in these pages”.’ — New Humanist

‘Exiting any social group is typically costly and traumatic. Quitting religious groups of whatever persuasion is even more so. In recent years there has been much critical attention towards Muslim apostates, but the debate is characteristically prejudicial and ill informed. Simon Cottee’s carefully researched empirical study will do much to inform, clarify and correct public opinion. Proper sociological knowledge is the first step towards better understanding.’ — Bryan S. Turner, The Graduate Center, CUNY; author of The Religious and the Political: A Comparative Sociology of Religion

‘Full of touching stories, The Apostates is a passionate and powerfully rendered account of what it’s like to leave Islam and how this fateful transformation impacts on the lives of those who experience it.’ — Ziauddin Sardar, Chair of the Muslim Institute and author of Mecca: The Sacred City

Christopher Hitchens and His Critics

Christopher Hitchens—political journalist, cultural critic, public intellectual and self-described contrarian—is one of the most controversial and prolific writers of his generation. His most recent book, God Is Not Great, was on the New York Times bestseller list in 2007 for months. Like his hero, George Orwell, Hitchens is a tireless opponent of all forms of cruelty, ideological dogma, religious superstition and intellectual obfuscation.

Once a socialist, he now refers to himself as an unaffiliated radical. As a thinker, Hitchens is perhaps best viewed as post-ideological, in that his intellectual sources and solidarities are strikingly various (he is an admirer of both Leon Trotsky and Kingsley Amis) and cannot be located easily at any one point on the ideological spectrum. Since leaving Britain for the United States in 1981, Hitchens's thinking has moved in what some see as contradictory directions, but he remains an unapologetic and passionate defender of the Enlightenment values of secularism, democracy, free expression, and scientific inquiry.

The global turmoil of the recent past has provoked intense dispute and division among intellectuals, academics, and other commentators. Hitchens's writing during this time, particularly after 9/11, is an essential reference point for understanding the genesis and meaning of that turmoil—and the challenges that accompany it. This volume brings together Hitchens's most incisive reflections on the war on terror, the war in Iraq, and the state of the contemporary Left. It also includes a selection of critical commentaries on his work from his former leftist comrades, a set of exchanges between Hitchens and various left-leaning interlocutors (such as Studs Terkel, Norman Finkelstein, and Michael Kazin), and an introductory essay by the editors on the nature and significance of Hitchens's contribution to the world of ideas and public debate. In response, Hitchens provides an original afterword, written for this collection.

Whatever readers might think about Hitchens, he remains an intellectual force to be reckoned with. And there is no better place to encounter his current thinking than in this provocative volume.

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“Most of Hitchens’s reasons for keeping the hawkish faith can be found in this collection.” — New York Review of Books

“The controversial pundit dishes out and takes punishment in this anthology of rancorous essays by him and the leftist comrades he abandoned to embrace the invasion of Iraq. . . .There'’s red meat aplenty for pro- and anti-Hitchens readers.” — Publishers Weekly

“Hitchens’s style is so dazzling it is easy to forget that it is rooted in a solid belief in secularism, feminism, and reason. These are the core principles of the Left and we have no choice but to defend them. As they are assaulted by psychopathic Islamists abroad and betrayed by empty headed phonies at home, it is good to know that Hitchens is on our side.” — Nick Cohen, columnist, The Observer

“The 52 essays, articles, and exchanges are among the best in post-9/11 literature, and shimmer with pugilistic intelligence and wit.” — Capitol File Magazine

“Cottee and Cushman have produced not only a priceless collection of Christopher Hitchens’s key writings over the past few years; they have also documented wonderfully the most essential characteristics of the post-9/11 Anglo-American left. Christopher Hitchens and His Critics is must reading for anybody interested in the big topics befalling our lives.” — Andrei S. Markovits, University of Michigan

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