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.

What exactly is the allure of Islamic State?

“She used to watch ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians’ and stuff like that, so there was nothing that indicated that she was radicalized in any way — not at home.” So said Sahima Begum in her testimony before the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee in London this month. She was speaking about her sister Shamima, 15, who together with Kadiza Sultana, 16, and Amira Abase, 15, absconded from England last month to Turkey, eventually crossing the border into Syria.

Taking off the veil

As young Islamists hog headlines by revelling in slaughter, a procession of other young Muslims, often women, are risking all — even their lives — to abandon the faith, writes Simon Cottee

Terrorism With a Human Face

It’s all in the face, apparently. Just check out that terrifying mug shot of Mohammad Atta, the so-called “ringleader” of the 19 hijackers who staged the 9/11 attacks. His face, wrote the novelist Martin Amis in a short story about Atta, was “gangrenous” and “almost comically malevolent.” Hateful, too:

Why It’s So Hard to Stop ISIS Propaganda

“We are in a battle, and more than half of this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media,” Ayman al-Zawahiri, then al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, purportedly wrote in a 2005 letter to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian who led al-Qaeda in Iraq at the time. The previous year, Zarqawi’s network, originally known as Tawhid and Jihad, had publicly released more than 10 beheading videos, including a video believed to show Zarqawi himself beheading the American businessman Nicholas Berg. This was bad PR, Zawahiri cautioned his hotheaded field commander, and risked alienating Muslims.

I Escaped an Arranged Marriage

A few months ago, Amina left home. She was due to marry her father's friend: a man from Yemen nearly three times her age. The thought of it terrified her. She had expressed deep reservations from the start, but her father – a well-known sheikh in Canada with a large international following – was adamant that she was to be married and had initiated the sponsorship process to bring her prospective husband over from the Middle East.

ISIS and the Logic of Shock

On Tuesday, ISIS released another snuff movie: the ritualized burning to death of a captured Jordanian pilot. It is arguably the most shocking ISIS video to date. But then every major video ISIS puts out is arguably the most shocking ISIS video to date. The film of the mass beheading of some 20 Syrians last year, which ended with the display of the severed head of an American aid worker, was, at the time it was released, arguably the most shocking ISIS video to date. And so was the video, released last month, featuring a child as chief executioner in the slaughter of two men confessing at gunpoint to be Russian spies.

Why Ex-Muslims Pig Out

To your averagely profane, carnivorous unbeliever, it is a thing of beauty. An object of unvarnished pleasure. A pretext, even, for a national day of celebration. Whereas to your averagely devout Muslim, carnivorous or otherwise, it is an abomination. A vomit-inducing object of disgust. I’m talking about the bacon sandwich.

For ISIS and its ilk, children are now fair game. What hideous innovation will come next?

So this is the new face of jihadist terror: an angelic-looking boy, with a tiny frame and delicate features, no more than 10 years old. In the video, in some ways arguably ISIS’s most shocking yet, we see him, shadowed by a bearded jihadist, walk toward two men — and shoot them in the back of the head. The men, who identify themselves in the video as Jambulat Mamayev and Sergey Ashimov and whom ISIS accuses of spying for Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), are at least three times the age of their assassin. The video, which is entitled “Uncovering an enemy within” and has yet to be independently verified, ends with the young executioner raising his hand up in triumph before trampling over the corpses and walking away.

How Islam Inspired the 'Charlie Hebdo' Attacks Doesn't Matter

Unlike recent jihadi hits in the West, where lone – or, as Max Abrahms perhaps more accurately calls them, "loon" – wolves have carried out terrorist attacks in a bid for death and martyrdom, the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo last week was a hit-and-run, not a suicide mission. A hit-and-run where the emphasis was on the killing, not the dying.

Boys of Pleasure: Sexual abuse of children betrays Isis hypocrisy

On Boxing Day last month, the New York Times published a story about an Islamic State (Isis) defector: a 14-year-old Syrian boy named Usaid Barho. According to Tim Arango, the journalist who wrote the story, Barho had been recruited by Isis via a mosque in his hometown, Manbij, near Aleppo. But within months of joining he began to have serious doubts about his decision and wanted to escape, volunteering to undertake a suicide attack so that he could sabotage the mission and surrender himself to security forces.

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