Simon Cottee

Academic and Author

The Islamic State’s Shock-and-Bore Terrorism

“It was the advent of the second plane, sharking in low over the Statue of Liberty”, wrote the novelist Martin Amis. “That was the defining moment.” He was referring to United Airlines Flight 175: the second plane that smashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. “That second plane looked eagerly alive, and galvanised with malice, and wholly alien,” Amis ruminated, adding:. “For those thousands in the south tower, the second plane meant the end of everything. For us, its glint was the worldflash of a coming future.”

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.”

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.

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