Gwynne Dyer, journalist, syndicated columnist and military historian, spoke on modern terrorism and ISIS at the Chautauqua lecture, Thursday, Oct. 20 in the EKU Center for the Arts.
Before discussing modern terrorism specifically, Dyer spoke on terrorism in general and described terrorism as a poor man’s tool to spread a message. He also said terrorism isn’t usually intended to be an attack to hurt someone, but is instead an attack to draw attention and spread a message.
“Terrorism is always smaller than it looks,” Dyer said. “But the media will expand it until it feels bigger than it is.”
Through terrorism, relatively small efforts receive a drastically out of proportion response from the media, Dyer said, drawing more attention to the terrorists and their cause.
The lecture then moved from general terrorism to modern terrorism. Modern terrorism, including ISIS, resides largely in Arabic countries, Dyer said. He emphasized that modern terrorism is not in all Muslim countries and is not related to Muslim beliefs, but is instead in a smaller group of Arabic countries.
Arabic countries are rapidly becoming the poorest countries on the planet, with their populations growing much more quickly than their economies, Dyer said. These countries are also currently in a police state that’s only existed since the end of the second World War. He said poor countries in police states make the quality of life for citizens fairly low, leading many of those citizens to crave a revolution, to overthrow the government that is hindering them.
This is where modern terrorism, like ISIS, finds its roots, Dyer said.
In this police state citizens have no access to the media and have no easy way to spread their message of revolution to a mass group of people. The first revolutionary ideology that was able to make an impact, and continues to do so, was Islam.
Originally, Islamists tried to fight and overthrow their governments and they used terrorism internally, Dyer said. There were hundreds of bombings, starting a civil war in Arabic countries in the 1970s leading to the deaths of 150,000. These deaths resulted in little success, with Arabic governments still in control and no attention from countries outside of the Arabic world.
Then came along Osama Bin Laden. Bin Laden was converted to Islam in college, where he was inspired to be part of a revolution to overthrow the Arabic governments he hated, Dyer said.
Until this point, terrorism by Islamists had been internal, with Islamists attacking their Arabic governments.
Dyer said Bin Laden changed that invading Afghanistan, a Muslim country, not an Arabic country. Islamists had their first victory in Afghanistan, finally gaining some political power after taking over the country.
After taking over Afghanistan, Bin Laden needed to move his revolution further, Dyer said. He decided to attack America, hoping that would lead to a retaliation that included an attack on Arabic countries as well.
This attack was 9/11, where Bin Laden made a statement by making a point to kill many Americans, very publicly and on American soil. Dyer said President Bush had no choice but to invade, if anything to make a statement that the U.S. wouldn’t stand for this. Before the invasion, however, Bush received a tip that this was giving into what Bin Laden wanted. Because of this tip, Bush was able to insert CIA agents to communicate with Northern tribes in Afghanistan who didn’t like the Islamists who invaded.
Teaming up with the Northern tribes, the number of Americans sent to Afghanistan was greatly reduced and they were able to make a difference without a full invasion.
Bin Laden had been stopped and his attack hadn’t gotten the result he had fought for, Dyer said. Sixteen months later, Bush decided to invade Iraq, an Arabic country, with no clear intent. This gave Bin Laden precisely what he wanted: an outside group attacking an Arabic country, and now seemingly unwarranted, which only inspired more radicals to fight back.
This attack ultimately led to the founding of ISIS by empowering Islam like never before, Dyer said.
“So, what do we do about terrorism?” Dyer asked, rhetorically. “We should do as little as possible about it.”
Arabic countries currently account for about three percent of the global economy, Dyer said, and they have no real sway in the world. These terrorists, as scary as they can seem, pose no real threat to the world. Overreacting just gives them what they want.
Dyer concluded by saying when a country declares a “war on crime,” it’s obvious that there is no ultimate end goal. You can’t win a war where crime will always exist regardless, and the “war on terror” is the same; it cannot be won.
“Accept that it will happen,” Dyer said. “Deal with it in proportion to the threat that it creates, which is very little.”