Simon Cottee

Academic and Author

ISIS Will Fail, but What About the Idea of ISIS?

The Islamic State is claiming responsibility for the London attack that left three people and the attacker dead on Wednesday. “It is believed that this attacker acted alone,” Prime Minister Theresa May said, adding that the British-born man, already known to authorities, was inspired by “Islamist terrorism.” For its part, ISIS called the attacker its “soldier” in a report published by its Amaq news agency in both Arabic and English. The caliphate, it seemed, was eager to signal to a broad audience that it was as busy and effective as ever. The facts, however, tell a different story.

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."

‘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.

Why would anyone join ISIL?

ISIL is an abomination. Since capturing large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria last summer, it has slaughtered thousands of defenceless Iraqi soldiers and Shiite civilians. It has raped and enslaved hundreds of Yazidi women. It has brutalized children by forcing them to watch scenes of horrific cruelty and violence. It has presided over public crucifixions in its stronghold of Raqqa, Syria. It has coerced boys as young as 14 to carry out suicide missions. It has launched a campaign of murderous aggression against gay men. It has stolen and vandalized ancient and irreplaceable artifacts. And it has created a vast library of snuff movies that degrades not only the defenceless victims whose deaths they depict, but also the viewers who watch them.
Why on earth, then, would anyone wish to join it?
This question was asked with renewed urgency last week after it emerged that three sisters from Bradford, U.K., together with their nine children, may have fled to Syria to join the so-called Islamic State or the “Caliphate,” as it also calls itself.

What Motivates Terrorists?

One of the most frequently asked questions about terrorism is also the most intractable. Why? Why do they do it? Why do people join terrorist groups and participate in acts of terrorism?
There are as many answers to this question as there are terrorist groups, and everyone from clerics to caustic cab drivers seems to have a confident opinion on the subject, as though the interior world of terrorists can be easily mined and mapped. But this confidence is often misplaced, given how little scholars actually know about terrorism and the people who are involved in it.

The Zoolander Theory of Terrorism

Who knew that Zoolander would eclipse The Siege as the most prescient Hollywood movie about jihadist terrorism?
The Siege, scripted by Lawrence Wright—who went on to author a groundbreaking study of al-Qaeda called The Looming Tower—is a pre-9/11 drama about a wave of jihadist atrocities in New York and the human-rights catastrophe thereby entrained, including the introduction of martial law and the internment of Arabs across the city. Zoolander, released just weeks after the 9/11 attacks, is by contrast a comedy about an imbecilic male model who is brainwashed by an outlandish criminal organization to carry out an act of international terrorism.

Pages

Subscribe to Front page feed