Simon Cottee

Academic and Author

The calypso caliphate: how Trinidad became a recruiting ground for ISIS

Trinidad and Tobago (T&T), a small twin-island republic in the Caribbean, has one of the highest rates of foreign fighter radicalization in the western hemisphere. According to official estimates, around 130 Trinidadian nationals migrated to ISIS-controlled territory in Syria and Iraq between 2013 and 2016. This article seeks to make sense of these migrations, placing them in the broader historical and social context in which they occurred.

“What ISIS Really Wants” Revisited: Religion Matters in Jihadist Violence, but How?

In his influential and provocative article on “What ISIS Really Wants,” published in The Atlantic in March 2015, Graeme Wood argued that “the Islamic state is Islamic. Very Islamic.” He also sought to challenge what he diagnosed as a “western bias” among academics and policymakers toward religious ideology, whereby religious doctrines or beliefs are relegated to the status of epiphenomena rather than taken seriously as causal properties in their own right. Wood's article sparked a wider—and still ongoing—debate over the relationship between Islam and jihadist violence.

What’s the Right Way to Think About Religion and ISIS?

In his Atlantic article on “What ISIS Really Wants” last March, Graeme Wood insisted that “the Islamic state is Islamic. Very Islamic.” Wood’s detractors have been similarly emphatic, arguing that ISIS is a perversion of the Islamic faith. For Wood’s critics, secular politics, far more than religion or religious ideology, is the key to understanding the existence and appeal of jihadist violence.

The Jihad Will Be Televised

In Memoirs of an Italian Terrorist, the author, who purports to have been a member of a left-wing militant group, vividly conveys the excitement and pressures of living underground as a secret operative. There are questions about the book’s authenticity—the author, who identifies himself only by the pseudonym Giorgio, declares that “what I write here can’t be true, it can only be truthful”—but there’s a telling detail in his description of mission preparation.

What ISIS Women Want

What do Western women who join Islamic State want? One prominent theory is what these women “really” want is to get laid. Another is that they don’t know what they “really” want, because what they want has been decided for them by male jihadi “groomers.” Both theories are meant to resolve a seeming paradox: How can any woman who enjoys democratic rights and equality before the law join or support a group which actively promotes her own oppression?

What If Some Suicide Bombers Are Just Suicidal?

When Brahim Abdeslam bespattered himself in a restaurant in last November’s Paris attacks he didn’t much look like a man, to borrow the title of Mia Bloom’s seminal study of suicide bombing, Dying to Kill. He looked, rather, like a man killing to die. If there is a script for doing a jihadist suicide mission, as there now assuredly is, Brahim Abdeslam wasn’t following it.

Europe’s Joint-Smoking, Gay-Club Hopping Terrorists

Last month, CNN released video footage of Brahim Abdeslam and his younger brother Salah dancing in a nightclub alongside a blond woman, with whom Brahim, the report claimed, was flirting. “This was life before ISIS,” the voice-over to the report says. “It’s Feb. 8, 2015. Just months later, Brahim would blow himself up at a Paris cafe; Salah becomes Europe’s most wanted man.”

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.

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