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.

What Motivates Terrorists?

One of the most frequently asked questions about terrorism is also the most intractable. Why? Why do they do it? Why do people join terrorist groups and participate in acts of terrorism?
There are as many answers to this question as there are terrorist groups, and everyone from clerics to caustic cab drivers seems to have a confident opinion on the subject, as though the interior world of terrorists can be easily mined and mapped. But this confidence is often misplaced, given how little scholars actually know about terrorism and the people who are involved in it.

The Zoolander Theory of Terrorism

Who knew that Zoolander would eclipse The Siege as the most prescient Hollywood movie about jihadist terrorism?
The Siege, scripted by Lawrence Wright—who went on to author a groundbreaking study of al-Qaeda called The Looming Tower—is a pre-9/11 drama about a wave of jihadist atrocities in New York and the human-rights catastrophe thereby entrained, including the introduction of martial law and the internment of Arabs across the city. Zoolander, released just weeks after the 9/11 attacks, is by contrast a comedy about an imbecilic male model who is brainwashed by an outlandish criminal organization to carry out an act of international terrorism.

What exactly is the allure of Islamic State?

“She used to watch ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians’ and stuff like that, so there was nothing that indicated that she was radicalized in any way — not at home.” So said Sahima Begum in her testimony before the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee in London this month. She was speaking about her sister Shamima, 15, who together with Kadiza Sultana, 16, and Amira Abase, 15, absconded from England last month to Turkey, eventually crossing the border into Syria.

Taking off the veil

As young Islamists hog headlines by revelling in slaughter, a procession of other young Muslims, often women, are risking all — even their lives — to abandon the faith, writes Simon Cottee

Terrorism With a Human Face

It’s all in the face, apparently. Just check out that terrifying mug shot of Mohammad Atta, the so-called “ringleader” of the 19 hijackers who staged the 9/11 attacks. His face, wrote the novelist Martin Amis in a short story about Atta, was “gangrenous” and “almost comically malevolent.” Hateful, too:

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.

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