Gwynne Dyer: Islamic State massacres aren't really about the West

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      Last Friday (June 26), in France, an Islamist named Yassin Salhi killed his employer, Herve Cornara. He attached the victim’s severed head to the fence around a chemical plant, together with a cloth saying “There is no God but God and Muhammad is his prophet”—and then rammed his vehicle into a warehouse full of chemicals hoping (but failing) to cause a massive explosion.

      In Kuwait two hours later, Fahd Suleiman Abdulmohsen al-Qaba'a, a Saudi citizen, entered a Shia mosque and detonated a bomb that killed at least 25 people. He was presumably a Sunni fanatic sent by "Islamic State" to kill Shias, who they believe are heretics who should be killed.

      In Tunisia one hour later, 38 European tourists, most of them British, were massacred by a 23-year-old man with a Kalashnikov on a beach in Sousse. The perpetrator, Seifeddine Rezgui, was studying engineering at a university in Kairouan, an hour’s drive west of Sousse.

      Islamic State, which has carved out a territory in Iraq and Syria that has more people and a bigger army than half the members of the United Nations, immediately claimed responsibility for all three attacks. Yassin Salhi may have been a lone-wolf head case, but in the other two cases the claim was almost certainly true.

      But there was another attack that you probably didn’t hear about. Kobani, the Kurdish town in northern Syria that withstood a four-month siege by Islamic State troops last year, came under attack again last Thursday. About a hundred young Islamists in Humvees and pickup trucks drove into town and shot 220 people dead in the streets and in their houses.

      So 64 murders that you heard a lot about, and 220 others you heard little or nothing about. There are hundreds of innocent people being murdered by Islamist fanatics in Syria every week, so it’s no longer news. Besides, the motive there is obvious: it’s just Islamic State trying to expand its territory in Syria. But as for the others...

      Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron, responded to the deaths of 30 British citizens in Tunisia by trotting out the same shopworn drivel that Western leaders have been peddling for the past 14 years. The fight against Islamic State is “the struggle of our generation,” Cameron declared. Indeed, IS poses “an existential threat” to the West.

      Maybe Cameron doesn’t know what the word “existential” means. Could somebody please explain to him that he is saying that Islamic State poses a threat to the continued existence of the West? Does he really think that is the case?

      Forgive me for making a cold-blooded calculation, but sometimes it is necessary. The population of the West (not counting the countries of Latin America, which don’t play in this league) is about 900 million. Thirty-nine “Westerners” have been killed in attacks by Islamist terrorists this month. At this rate, the West will have ceased to exist in 1.9 million years. If this is an existential threat, it’s not a very urgent one.

      In fact, it’s not really about the West at all. The European victims on the beach in Sousse were killed in order to destroy the tourism that provides almost 15 percent of Tunisia’s national income, and thereby destabilize the only fully democratic country in the Arab world. The extremists’ real goal is to seize power in Tunisia; the Western victims were just a means to that end.

      The bombing of a Shia mosque in Kuwait was intended to increase tensions between the Sunni majority and the large Shia minority in that country, with the ultimate goal of unleashing a Sunni-Shia civil war in which Islamist extremists could take over the Sunni side as they have already done in Syria and Iraq.

      Only the lone-wolf attack in France could be conceivably be seen as directed at the “West”—although that might also have been just a personal grievance wrapped up in an Islamist justification.

      The rest of the killing was about who controls the Muslim countries, particularly in the Middle East, as it has been from the start. Even 9/11 was about that, designed not to “bring America to its knees” but to lure it into an invasion of Afghanistan that Osama bin Laden believed would stimulate Islamist revolutions in Muslim countries. The Islamists do “hate Western values”, but they have bigger fish to fry at home.

      Islamic State and the various incarnations of Al Qaeda (the Nusra Front in Syria, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, et cetera) pose an existential threat to the non-Sunni Muslim minorities of the Middle East, and even to Sunni Muslims whose beliefs diverge significantly from those of the Islamists. The West should help governments in the region that protect their minorities, and of course it should try to protect its own people.

      But this is not the “struggle of our generation” for the West. It should be nowhere near the top of its own list of priorities.



      S H

      Jun 29, 2015 at 2:51pm

      If the West can't even build businesses in buffer states in which we have diplomatic relationships, how does it convince itself that it's possible to build armies to fight and die in states under fire?

      As an example, it was pretty obvious that if the USA let Liberia fail way back when, then it really didn't understand nation building anyway. Or more likely, the USA didn't enoughbcare to commit the necessary resources to make it work.

      If we can't get business-in-a-box to work where it's safe, government-in-a-box in a war zone ain't gonna happen either.

      But we know our western society DOES work. So what, exactly, have we been doing? And why?

      I just can't stop thinking a cabal of weapons dealers runs our world.

      annie says

      Jun 29, 2015 at 3:14pm

      Statistically, a few people on a beach aren't all that relevant. Too bad we aren't statistics. Personally, I think most people are more concerned about what happens after these loons have acquired a few countries, and then some more countries, and a nice nuclear arsenal.
      I think a shoulder shrug towards the death cults might be a hard sell in the west.

      I Chandler

      Jun 29, 2015 at 5:30pm

      Dyer: "Britain’s pm, Cameron, trotts out the same shopworn drivel that Western leaders have been peddling for the past 14 years."

      Cameron would be more credible, if he didn't send them British school girl reinforcments:

      Dyer: "Maybe Cameron doesn’t know what the word “existential” means.(continued existence of the West...) Does he really think that is the case?"

      Cameron does know what the word “existential” means. The question is - Why the drivel?
      It wouldn't be the first time NATO did this sort of thing...GLADIO 3.0? Last week,WikiLeaks released a batch of 60,000 diplomatic cables about overthrowing Assad. British author Dan Glazebrook argues (in Divide & Ruin) is part of an imperial strategy:


      Jun 29, 2015 at 7:14pm

      I think if there were any chance of ISIL acquiring nuclear weapons, you would see a much more substantial Western response. Probably something to the tune of 2-300,000 troops deployed, with a similar format to Desert Storm. So far, the only way ISIL could get nukes would be if Saudi Arabia built some, then fell to militants coming from Iraq and Syria. It's a bit far-fetched.

      O RLY?

      Jun 29, 2015 at 11:59pm

      I really can't believe that we've had two articles of such drivel in a row from Dyer. The existential threat comes from having to militarize against continual guerilla warfare. Western societies, except for a few brief moments in time have never really had to do this, and their liberty is predicated of a special sort of peace, one that is incompatible with having armed soldiers standing around everywhere to shoot crazy Islamofascists. The west has already fundamentally changed itself to deal with the islamofascist threat---and here Dyer is talking about needing to "protect minorities."

      I guess the subtext here is that the West should protect Islamists and offer them aid and comfort? What a great idea, let's allow a religion fundamentally incompatible with western civilization to take hold!

      Greg G.

      Jun 30, 2015 at 1:52am

      I can't believe I'd ever in a million years be defending David Cameron *shudder*, but as he's stated previously, the existential crisis that Da'eesh represents isn't an immediate one, just as Hitler wasn't an obvious existential threat to the Western democracies, and later the CCCP, until the Wehrmacht was too powerful a force to be easily reckoned with. Cameron is talking about nipping a problem in the bud, to avoid a truly uncontrollable mess 5, 10, 15 years from now.

      The Sunnis Islamist don't have the market on extremism, certain elements in Iran, Syria, and Lebanon have shown just as dangerous of an extremism in Shia-controlled areas. And as much as we like to pretend these folks are in the minority, polling in countries right through North Africa, including Egypt, through to Pakistan and Afghanistan and even some of the Islamic former Soviet republics consistently have shown these extremist attitudes to be in the mainstream of Islamist thought in this part of the world, excepting perhaps Turkey.

      Should an all-out Sunni and Shia civil war were to break out, regardless of which side "won", does anyone really doubt that they would just stop with their regions once one side established dominance?

      Perhaps Turkey might return to the previous regional dominance of the Ottoman Empire, but more likely that country, too, could get caught up in a general factional war. Islam had been extremely expansionist for a good part of its history, including into Europe as many of the countries that later comprised the former Austro-Hungarian empire, and places like Serbia are painfully aware.

      It can be legitimately argued that Christianity was also just as expansionist, or perhaps were fighting back to recover lands lost from the Byzantine empire, and I don't think either religion has really lost much of that character. So while Europe is primarily post-Christian at this point, there remains a major culture clash, especially with increasing populations of non-assimilating Muslim minorities in a lot of European countries that, again, based on polling, seem to carry with them the same extremist attitudes.

      Whether it is an Islamic State led by Sunni Islamists, or a Middle East dominated by Iran and their Arab Shia allies, it is not at all implausible that once regional hegemony is established that they would instinctively be looking to those old routes to the north.

      @O RLY

      Jun 30, 2015 at 1:56am

      Just a piece of advice, when someone uses a term like "Islamofascist" they instantly lose credibility with a large portion of the people that might be reading their comment. Rather than using Fox News/Rush Limbaugh-inspired pseudo-words, call them Sunni Islamists or Sunni or Shia extremists. You message might then not be prejudiced by using a loaded term when there is no need since other terms describing the same thing without the taint exist to be used instead.

      @@O RLY

      Jun 30, 2015 at 8:08am

      I agree insofar as the term fascist is meaningless, but I think that is mostly because people are ignorant of history and philosophy. To my mind, the fascist is one who believes that humanity can be united in one single society. The fascist above all does not respect diversity for its own sake; it at most respects diversity that agrees with its own prejudices. For example, I would argue that Canada is a left-fascist state and has been since the Human Rights Tribunals were installed because they require everyone to adopt a certain lefty-mode of speech, on the guise of protecting some sort of threatened group. That is typically how fascists seize power; they claim a messianic duty to protect some group and use that as an excuse to standardize everyone's behavior according to some Corporate Policy Manual they've written. I fail to see how this doesn't match Islam to a T.

      Compare that with, say, the Anglican Communion, which tolerates wide-ranging diversity of opinion amongst its members---not enough, but still, there is a mechanism by which progress can be made toward a more diverse and inclusive society.

      In the sense that I am a Canadian aboriginal person, my people have always used oral law, and if I start telling mum about some book that says how we should all behave, she just looks at me like "that is something a silly person would say." And she's right. Fundamentally all law is spoken; books are like sheet music. It would take a very strange sort of person to venerate sheet music and spit on the performers as most bookish religions do. The situation should be even more frightening for aboriginal people than it is: at least Christians have some sense that "love is mysterious, a book can't tell you what love is, tho it can maybe help bring you into community where you learn what love is." Islam has no sense of this: you memorize the book like a corporate worker and then you enact its bylaws. Islam itself is fascism because fascism is corporatism and islam is nothing more than a corporate religion based on internalizing the bylaw structure present in the Koran without questioning it.


      Jun 30, 2015 at 3:22pm

      "same shopworn drivel"
      Couldn't be all that shopworn or mundane, as Mr. Dyer thought it was worthy of his talents.

      Apparently all those Wikileaks this week regarding the Saudis, Americans, Syria, Israel, ISIS, Turkey, Lebanon, France didn't produce a single thing of interest to Mr. Dyer.

      Neither did the UN report on Gaza or the free for all Saudi bombing in Yemen (particularly historic Sanaa) or EVEN the Kurds denouncing the Turks and their collusion, financing, sheltering and outfitting (as if)...surely some of those things might have caused Mr. Dyer to question the narrative that Mr. Cameron is shoveling?

      Go for the fear...that's the ticket.


      Jun 30, 2015 at 4:32pm

      It's no coincidence that serious energy exploration started in Tunisia's Pelagian Basin then these terrorists decide to try and destabilize the country. ISIS do the bidding of Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia to consolidate those countries' influence in the region and proxy fight their political nemesis Iran, Damascus and Lebanon. They are just gangster mercenaries that can be switched on and off at will . Turkey needs ISIS to squash the Kurd uprising, Saud and Qatar royals need them to fight in Yemen and Libya, and to destabilize any regional country that threatens more oil production like Tunisia.