Simon Cottee

Academic and Author

Muslims don’t need special praise for doing good. It’s patronizing

Not all Muslims are terrorists. Indeed, most Muslims are good and decent. These two propositions are so monumentally obvious and incontestable that you’d think they barely need enunciating, let alone repeating. But you’d be wrong, because every time some band of jihadist losers goes on a suicide-murder rampage in a western city you can bet your house on encountering them in the news coverage that inevitably and feverishly follows.

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.”

Terrorist (E)motives: The existential attractions of terrorism

This article describes a number of possible existential motivations for engaging in terrorism. Three in particular are identified: (1) the desire for excitement, (2) the desire for ultimate meaning, and (3) the desire for glory. Terrorism, according to the argument set out here, is as much a site of individual self-drama and self-reinvention as a tactical instrument for pursuing the political goals of small groups. The conclusion explores the concept of “existential frustration,” and suggests that terrorist activity may provide an outlet for basic existential desires that cannot find expression through legitimate channels.

Fear, boredom, and joy: Sebastian Junger’s piercing phenomenology of war

This article explores the emotional attractions of war and military combat. Using Sebastian Junger's recently published book War as a central point of reference, it elucidates and supports the idea that, for combatants, war is often experienced as a profoundly exciting and existentially rewarding human activity. By bringing into focus and helping to conceptualize the raw appeal of combat, Junger's account of war can be enlisted as a resource for understanding the positive emotional drives behind acts of terrorism.

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