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.”

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.

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.

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.

ISIS and the Intimate Kill

It isn’t all shock and gore. Sometimes, it’s mock and bore. Consider the video that ISIS released a few weeks ago of the British hostage John Cantlie “reporting” from the besieged town of Kobani on the Syrian-Turkish border. The video’s theme is the unreliability of Western media coverage of the conflict in Syria and Iraq, expressed in a tone of mocking contempt. The larger theme is the invincibility of ISIS and the duplicity and weakness of the West. The video opens with some striking aerial footage of war-ravaged Kobani, filmed from a drone. But it’s a big yawn thereafter.

Is ISIS Funny?

ISIS is a disgrace. In recent months, it has slaughtered hundreds of defenseless Iraqi soldiers and Shiite civilians, gunning them into trenches. It has raped and enslaved hundreds of 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. And, of course, it has staged the executions of James Foley, Steven Sotloff, David Haines, and Alan Henning.
But is ISIS also funny? Or, rather, can it be made funny? The Lebanese satirist Karl Sharro evidently thinks so.

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