Simon Cottee

Academic and Author

Why Jihadists Want to Kill

On Saturday night, seven people were brutally murdered in a jihadist attack on London Bridge and Borough Market. Scores more were critically injured. It is the third terrorist attack in the UK in as many months. "Things need to change," said British Prime Minister Theresa May in a speech the morning after the carnage of the night before. May is right about that. But everything she said was a regurgitation of the same old script:

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.

Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance

Despite being a brute and massive fact of human experience, evil is often denatured within liberal-leftist discourse: it is redescribed, recalibrated, recategorised. People do unspeakably terrible things all the time: no liberal-leftist will deny that. But there is a general reluctance on the liberal-left to name these things, still less the persons who do them, as evil.

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