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.

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

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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