Simon Cottee

Academic and Author

Why Do We Want to Watch Gory Jihadist Propaganda Videos?

What does prolonged exposure to jihadist online propaganda do to us?
One popular answer, especially among politicians, is that it radicalizes our thoughts and transforms us into terrorists.
A more nuanced answer, put forward by terrorism scholars, is that while sustained exposure to extremist online material is not in itself a sufficient cause of radicalization, it can reinforce existing assumptions and beliefs that are already tending toward the extreme.

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.

Beheading People Made the Islamic State

The beheading of western civilians is the cocaine of global jihadi warfare. It doesn't just inflict death and terror on its victims; it radiates a God-like potency and fanaticism, which excites and galvanises not only the jihadis who stage it but also the "wannabes" outside their ranks who are awed by the spectacle of jihadi bloodletting.

Islamic State’s willing executioners

We knew it was coming, because the masked killer in the David Haines beheading video, released three weeks ago by Islamic State, warned us that it would be. But it is still profoundly shocking. We know the purported rationale. “We take this opportunity to warn those governments that enter this evil alliance of America against the Islamic State to back off and leave our people alone,” declares the killer in the Steven Sotloff video. But a rationale doesn’t kill. A human being does, often in concert with other human beings.

The Pornography of Jihadism

In his 2008 book Blood and Rage: A Cultural History of Terrorism, the historian Michael Burleigh observes in passing that jihadist martyrdom videos have a similar structure to porn movies.

Islamic State's badass path to paradise

In his 1988 book “Seductions of Crime,” UCLA sociologist Jack Katz devotes an entire chapter to what he calls the “ways of the badass.” “In many youthful circles,” he writes, “to be ‘bad,' to be a ‘badass' or otherwise overtly to embrace symbols of deviance is regarded as a good thing.”

The Apostate

A young Muslim leaves Pakistan for Britain, discovers the wonders of science and rejects his faith. On September 11, he posts a final picture on Facebook and takes his own life

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