Simon Cottee

Academic and Author

Watching Murder: ISIS, Death Videos and Radicalization

“Watching Murder fills a conspicuous gap in the literature by providing an authoritative dissection of one of the more prominent—and chilling—features of contemporary terrorism: so-called jihadi snuff videos. Cottee brings his usual perspicacity, verve, and clarity to explain how ISIS harnessed social media to manipulate global opinion and communicate a carefully constructed image of the group designed simultaneously to repel and appeal to its multiple target audiences.”

Professor Bruce Hoffman, Georgetown University and author of Inside Terrorism

"In this book, Simon Cottee interrogates himself, and his readers, about why some people find terrorist atrocity films both repulsive and irresistible. These films often contain important information for counterterrorism, but not all of us are willing to risk PTSD in order to decode them. As we have come to expect of Cottee, he is perpetually, provocatively sceptical of any and all received wisdom. Lushly written and researched."

Professor Jessica Stern, Boston University and author of Terror in the Name of God Buy Watching Murder at Amazon

The Marxist who recognised evil

Norman Geras, who died 10 years ago today, was an unusual figure on the Western Left: he was a Marxist who steadfastly and unequivocally opposed militant Islamism and jihadi terrorism. As a free-thinking political theorist, he was as strident in his opposition to the abuses of Western imperial power as he was in his support for individual human rights, especially free speech. But he was also a formidable critic of the worst tendencies of his own side, often making him a pariah in that quarter.

Incels are the new jihadis

It is hard to know exactly when it happened, but, at some point over the last three years, the word “jihad” vanished from the news. Did anyone notice? There was a time, not so long ago, when jihadists seemed to be everywhere, seizing territory abroad and sowing terror at home. We were even on first-name terms with them: “Jihadi John”, “Jihadi Jane”, “Jihadi Jack”.

The hypocrisy of America’s terror debate

What is terrorism? And who is a terrorist? Two recent attacks in America — one carried out by a 39-year-old black man and another by a 15-year-old white teen — sharply illustrate just how polarised and confused the country is over these two seemingly straightforward questions.

Our ritual response to Islamist terror

Our responses to terrorist incidents have a ritual quality — they serve what sociologists call a “sense-making” purpose.
One ritualised way of responding to an atrocity is to blame and punish the terrorist’s family and the wider community to which he belongs. We wisely try to avoid this — as well as being counter to our belief in individual responsibility, punitive revenge is usually counterproductive.

Incel (E)motives: Resentment, Shame and Revenge

This article provides a framework for thinking about incels and incel-inspired terrorism. Incels are part of a fringe online subculture that trades in misogyny, victimhood and fatalism. The aim of the article is to describe these aforementioned orientations and the emotions associated with them. Only a tiny minority of incels commit acts of incel-inspired terrorism. Research on shame and revenge provides a useful starting-point for understanding these acts.

The theatre of terror

Perhaps it is shameful to admit it, but when 9/11 happened I felt a keen desire to watch the carnage. I was working as a labourer at the time and had knocked off early after hearing the news on the radio. I sat in front of the television and didn’t move from my father’s tobacco-stained living room until early evening.

Massacre made-to-order

Was Jake Davison’s rampage in Plymouth really, as one article described it, “Britain’s first ‘incel’ mass shooting”? This isn’t an academic question: while Devon and Cornwall Police initially ruled out terrorism as a motive, it has recently signalled that it may revise this, as more details emerge about the killer’s links to the incel subculture

ISIS and the Banlity of Evil

I used to think there was something demonically profound about Hannah Arendt’s diagnosis of Adolf Eichmann. He was “neither perverted nor sadistic… but terribly and terrifyingly normal”; he epitomised the “banality of evil”. Eichmann, in effect, was a bespectacled gimp who you wouldn’t look twice at in the street.

The Word ‘Radicalization’ Has Lost All Meaning

In 2008, back when politics in America and Western Europe was polarized but not completely unhinged, the terrorism scholar Peter Neumann nicely summarized radicalization as "what goes on before the bomb goes off." While this left a lot of blanks to fill in, it had the distinct merit of underscoring the link between radicalization and political violence: If you want to figure out how someone commits an act of terrorism, you need to understand how, prior to this, they became convinced that killing people for politics is a good idea.

The Beauty Queen Who Became an ISIS Bride

On the 9th of January, 2019, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, issued a statement reporting that they had captured eight foreign fighters in the town of Hajin in eastern Syria – where the last remnants of ISIS were holed up – including a 16-year-old American named Soulay Noah Su (AKA Abu Souleiman al-Amriki). The YPG also released a poster with mugshots of all eight captives.

25th Mar 2021

The Trivialisation of Trauma

Among academics and reporters who make it their business to watch horrifically violent material, there is a consensus that a propaganda video released by ISIS in September 2016 is the very worst of the worst: it shows alleged spies being killed in the most inhuman way.

We need to talk about terrorism

When, earlier this month, a 16-year-old boy became Britain’s youngest person to be convicted of terrorism offences, the British press responded with a mixture of disgust and incredulity, inquiring how someone so young could have become so fanatical. By all accounts, his career in violent extremism started at a remarkably early age: he joined a far-right internet forum when he was just 13. A year later, he had become a fully-fledged terrorist “mastermind” running a “Neo-Nazi cell” from his grandmother’s house in Cornwall.


Subscribe to Front page feed