Simon Cottee

Academic and Author

Why Do We Want to Watch Gory Jihadist Propaganda Videos?

What does prolonged exposure to jihadist online propaganda do to us?
One popular answer, especially among politicians, is that it radicalizes our thoughts and transforms us into terrorists.
A more nuanced answer, put forward by terrorism scholars, is that while sustained exposure to extremist online material is not in itself a sufficient cause of radicalization, it can reinforce existing assumptions and beliefs that are already tending toward the extreme.

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.”

Did the capture of a terrorist in Brussels prompt the attacks?

Tuesday's terrorist attacks in Brussels raise two key questions: Were they related to Salah Abdeslam's arrest last week and, if so, how? It seems unlikely that the attacks were revenge for the capture of Abdeslam, the top suspect in last year's Paris attacks, because not only was he a relative nonentity in Islamic State circles but also a symbolic liability to the brand: Here is a man who reportedly walked away from a martyrdom operation, leaving his colleagues to do all the dirty work, so to speak. In other words, he isn't someone whom any other militant is likely to have sacrificed himself for. In fact, it is probable that, after Abdeslam's arrest, he would have been regarded as a threat to the wider network of terrorists in Belgium.

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.

Translating ISIL’s ‘atrocity porn’

By the Islamic State’s (ISIL) customary gonzo standards, a recent video depicting the execution of five men accused of spying for the British government was relatively tame, and the gore quotient minimal. No one’s head was cut off and ceremoniously placed on their contorted and ravaged torso. Nobody was subjected to the horror of being set on fire in a cage; or drowned in a cage; or being run over by a tank; or being tied to the back of a speeding car; or having their heads literally ripped off. For ISIL, the video was, indeed, positively muted.

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.

Tracking the Online Life of a Female British ISIS Recruiter

Who is the woman in black brandishing an AK-47? She goes by the nom de guerre Umm Muthanna al-Britannia – Umm being an honorific Arabic word for mother, despite the fact it seems Umm Muthanna herself is childless.
I have been tracing her online footprint for almost a year, and it is fascinating for the light it casts on the strange and violent subculture of the approximately 600 women who have abandoned their lives and loved ones in the west for the so-called "Islamic State".

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.”

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