Simon Cottee

Academic and Author

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:

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.”

Europe's moral panic about the migrant Muslim 'Other'

All summer and into the fall, Britain — and the wider European Union — has been convulsed by fear. Its leaders and many of its citizens are reacting — and dangerously overreacting — to an "enemy" within and without.
In the first instance, the specter is a native son or daughter, schooled in Western ways but choosing instead to follow an extreme interpretation of Islam. In the second, it is the desperate and traumatized refugee, threatening to monopolize not merely local resources but also, more unsettlingly, cultural space. Both look pretty much the same: the migrant Muslim "other."

The Cyber Activists Who Want to Shut Down ISIS

Somewhere in Europe, a man who goes by the name “Mikro” spends his days and nights targeting Islamic State supporters on Twitter. In August 2014, a Twitter account affiliated with Anonymous, the hacker-crusader collective, declared “full-scale cyber war” against ISIS: “Welcome to Operation Ice #ISIS, where #Anonymous will do it’s [sic] part in combating #ISIS’s influence in social media and shut them down.”

‘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.

Flights From Islam

Last month, a group of activists and charity workers in Britain expressed concerns over the exploitation—"grooming," as they put it—of young people. But this group wasn't talking about pedophiles and the sexual abuse of children; they were talking about jihadists and their Islamic State sponsors. This is part of a broader consensus, within scholarly and especially liberal-left circles, that jihadists are psychologically normal, and that jihadism must be contextualized, rather than simply condemned.

Not every woman is a victim. Some are just straight up defectors

In an open letter published in the British newspaper The Guardian last month, a group of activists and charity workers expressed their concerns over the “grooming” of young people, and spoke of their refusal to capitulate to those who would wish them harm. But they were not talking about pedophiles and the sexual abuse of children; they were talking about jihadists and their Islamic State sponsors.
The “grooming” narrative of jihadist recruitment isn’t exactly new.

The jihadists next door

Last month, Seifeddine Rezgui, armed with an AK74, calmly slaughtered 38 people at a beach resort near the city of Sousse in Tunisia. He was killed soon after in a shoot-out with the police.
To his surviving victims and their families, he is a monster. To ISIS, which claimed responsibility for the attack, he is a martyr. But to his parents and the people who knew him, he was just an ordinary guy. “When they told me my son had killed all these people, I said no, it’s impossible,” Rezgui’s mother, Radhia Manai, told journalist Christina Lamb.

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.

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