In just over an hour, international journalist and columnist Gwynne Dyer was able to synthesize hundreds of years of conflict in the Middle East for Ponoka students on Wednesday, Feb. 24.
Students of Social Studies at Ponoka Secondary Campus (PSC) heard from Dyer on the effects of those years and how it shaped the Arab world into what it is today. Dyer told students there is an important distinction between the Muslim religion and terrorists who use the name of Islam as a means to an end. That goal is to be in power.
He calls Islamism, not Islam, a political or revolutionary doctrine.
Dyer, who lives in London, England but grew up in Canada and was invited for the lecture by the PSC, has columns running in newspapers around the world, including Ponoka News. He has been reporting on issues in the Middle East and on other global affairs for decades. “The job (reporting) is really making sense of stuff while it’s still happening,” he explained.
He said the best way to deal with terrorists is to understand their end goal.
Referring to the two incidents in Canada in 2014 — the shooting of two armed soldiers by a man in Quebec and the shooting incident on Parliament Hill — Dyer said the intense media coverage of those events, especially the shootings in Ottawa, created a need or desire for then Prime Minister Stephen Harper to take action; “Bill C-51, which will never do anything to protect us from terrorists.”
He said a terrorist attack is designed to gain the attention of national and international news outlets to then get a further reaction from the leaders. This is exactly what terrorists want. “Basically being wicked does not make you stupid.”
When United States President George W. Bush asked “Why do they hate us?” after the 9/11 attacks, Dyer said this was the wrong question. He suggests the question of “What do they want us to do?” should have been asked.
Despite that, the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York created such a powerful need to do something to retaliate that whoever was president at the time would have little recourse but to attack.
Terrorism is not Islam
Dyer clarified that terrorism is not a religion or ideology but a tool that has been used for thousands of years in revolutionary systems. It is not a result of Islam.
“I’m not saying Muslims are terrorists. This is very important,” stated Dyer.
He clarified that where the issues are is in much of the Arab world of the Middle East where many of the countries are a mess with dictators running the show. “Many of them are police states and they are also very poor, and getting poorer.”
Syria is a good example of the state many of the people are in. Dyer said with 21 million people in Syria, 11 million are out of a home because of the conflicts. Approximately 70 per cent of the population is Sunni, a sect of Islam, with Kurds and four Christian sects and three other Muslim sects making up the rest of the population.
Hundreds of years of invasions and oppressive rule in the Middle East has taken a toll on the people who live there and Dyer said it was the military leaders in the 1970s who looked for a way to change that. Many of those same leaders are still in power today.
However, it took some time before they could make that happen. Add to that there were five wars from 1948 to 1982 with Arabs fighting the Israelis as they settled right in the middle of the Arab world. Dyer said losing all five of those wars didn’t help morale.
“I mean that takes really creative incompetence,” said Dyer.
Coming back to the idea of the Islamists, Dyer said their goal is to bring the Middle East back to what it once was. Hundreds of years ago the area was a haven of technology and commerce but those days are no longer. Islamist use this idea as their focus. Dyer suggests Islamists see this returning if everyone follows the exact same doctrine, whether they want to or not.
There are “endless little details about how you must behave.”
Terrorism accomplishes two things
First it gets the message out, especially in countries where the media is controlled by those in power.
Second, and more subtle, says Dyer is how visible the actions are and how it affects people and leaders. “You both frighten and infuriate.”
Frightened people do stupid things and governments become brutal and repressive in their responses. It drives people into the hands of the terrorists, stated Dyer.
It was in the 1980s that a man known as Osama Bin Laden became radicalized by the Islamists and the idea formed to get some notice from United States to help their cause. After several small scale terrorist attacks, which did not get them the international outcry they looked for, plans for the 9/11 attacks began.
The retaliation from the United States ended up being a masterful tactic, however, with minimal oppressive action on the Afghanistan people. It wasn’t until operations began in Iraq that Bin Laden and the other Islamists got what they wanted. Dyer says they flocked to Iraq to gain support and it worked.
Estimates suggest 500,000 people died during that time and it was the beginning of what is now the Islamic State. Many of these new leaders can be traced back to the 1980s and 1970s.
Now, seeing that they are in power in Syria and Iraq, there are two factions, which grew in 2014: the Islamic State and Al-Qaida. Dyer says they don’t care too much about revolution as they are in control. They use relatively small terrorist events to gain allegiances over the other.
The attacks in Paris, France, while tragic were relatively small events in a country of 65 million people, but gave terrorists a means to an end.
“We’re still a tool; not the target,” stated Dyer.
“They’re competing furiously for recruits,” he added.
He suggests understanding terrorists’ motivation will help when responding to their actions.
Dyer recently wrote a book called Don’t Panic: ISIS, Terror and Today’s Middle East, explaining his research and reporting experience on the issues in the Middle East.