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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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