Simon Cottee

Academic and Author

The Western Jihadi Subculture and Subterranean Values

This article draws on the criminological work of Gresham Sykes and David Matza as a starting point for theorizing the nature and appeal of the western jihadi subculture, defined here as a hybrid and heavily digitized global imaginary that extols and justifies violent jihad as a way of life and being. It suggests that at the centre of this subculture are three focal concerns: (1) Violence and Machismo; (2) Death and Martyrdom; and (3) Disdain of the Dunya. More critically, it argues that these three focal concerns have immediate counterparts in the shadow values of the wider society with which western jihadists are in contention. This argument has important implications for debates over radicalization and the attractions of jihadist activism.

ISIS in the Caribbean

This summer, the so-called Islamic State published issue 15 of its online magazine Dabiq. In what has become a standard feature, it ran an interview with an ISIS foreign fighter. “When I was around twenty years old I would come to accept the religion of truth, Islam,” said Abu Sa’d at-Trinidadi, recalling how he had turned away from the Christian faith he was born into.
At-Trinidadi, as his nom de guerre suggests, is from the Caribbean island of Trinidad and Tobago (T&T), a country more readily associated with calypso and carnival than the “caliphate.”

Did the Terrorists Win in Denmark?

For someone so unassuming and affable, Flemming Rose, the former foreign affairs editor of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, has a prodigious talent for making trouble. And trouble, for its part, has a special talent for finding Rose. On Sept. 19, 2005, Rose, the then culture editor at Jyllands-Posten, invited 42 Danish cartoonists and illustrators to draw the Prophet Muhammad “as they see him” for publication in the newspaper. Twelve artists took up the challenge, and on Sept. 30, that year, Jyllands-Posten duly published 12 editorial cartoons under the title, “The Face of Muhammad.” Of the 12, the most notorious was by Kurt Westergaard, depicting the prophet with a bomb in his turban. Another showed the prophet in heaven, remonstrating suicide bombers with the words, “Stop, stop, we have run out of virgins!” The purpose of this exercise, Rose later explained in a Washington Post article, “wasn’t to provoke gratuitously,” but rather “to push back self-imposed limits on expression that seemed to be closing in tighter.”

What It Feels Like to Lose Your Kids to ISIS

In February of 2015, three east London schoolgirls absconded to Syria and vanished into the block caps of international headline news. Less than three months earlier, in November of 2014, Qadirah and Muhammad Roach just vanished. The three east London schoolgirls prompted a global outcry, and not a little hysteria about the power and potency of Islamic State propaganda. But Qadirah and Muhammad – whose journey to Syria began from the Caribbean Island of Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) – didn't even make it onto the front page.

13th Oct 2016

Comment la religion transforme des petites frappes en terroristes

Entre le terroriste et ses crimes, le fossé est énorme. Les actes terroristes sont souvent monstrueux et défient toute compréhension humaine. Mais, comme le montrent plus de trois décennies de recherche, les terroristes sont en très grande majorité normaux sur un plan psychologique: nous n'avons pas affaire à des fanatiques aux yeux révulsés et à la bouche écumante, mais à des assassins ordinaires, avec des vies et des personnalités manquant, pour reprendre la célèbre formule d'Hannah Arendt au sujet d'Adolf Eichmann, de «la moindre profondeur diabolique ou démoniaque.

Anjem Choudary and the Criminalization of Dissent

There is something unsettling about the conviction of Anjem Choudary, and the chorus of approval that has followed it, from Muslims and non-Muslims alike. A disciple of the Islamist cleric Omar Bakri Mohammed, who fled Britain for Lebanon in 2005, the 49-year-old former lawyer was a founding member of al-Muhajiroun, a banned Islamist group that had once called for jihad against India, Russia, and Israel and defended the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Africa. For 20 years, Choudary had made a career out of Islamist activism, becoming a rent-a-quote radical the British media have been only too willing to enlist.

The Salvation of Sinners and the Suicide Bomb

The gulf between the terrorist and his atrocity is a wide one. Terrorist deeds are often monstrous and defy all human comprehension. But, as over three decades of research on terrorism shows, terrorists, by and large, are psychologically normal: not crazy-eyed, furious fanatics, but ordinary killers, with lives and personalities lacking, as Hannah Arendt famously said of Adolf Eichmann, in any kind of “diabolical or demonic profundity.”

“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?

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