Gwynne Dyer: What's the purpose of "global" terrorism?

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      “We will not be cowed by these sick terrorists,” said British Prime Minister David Cameron after ISIS produced a grisly video of the mass beheading of Syrian captives by foreign jihadis who allegedly included British fighters. “We will not be intimidated,” said Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper after the recent attacks in Montreal and Ottawa.

      As if the purpose of terrorist attacks in Western countries was to cow and intimidate them.

      You hear this sort of rhetoric from Western leaders all the time, but Harper went further, and demonstrated exactly how they get it wrong. “(This) will lead us to...redouble our efforts to work with our allies around the world and fight against the terrorist organizations who brutalize those in other countries with the hope of bringing their savagery to our shores. They will have no safe haven.” Sound familiar?

      Sure enough, there are now half a dozen Canadian planes bombing ISIS jihadis in Iraq (although it’s unlikely that either of the Canadian attackers, both converts to radical Islam, had any contact with foreign terrorist organizations). But Harper has got the logic completely backwards.

      The purpose of major terrorist activities directed at the West, from the 9/11 attacks to ISIS videos, is not to “cow” or “intimidate” Western countries. It is to get those countries to bomb Muslim countries or, better yet, invade them.

      The terrorists want to come to power in Muslim countries, not in Canada or Britain or the U.S. And the best way to establish your revolutionary credentials and recruit local supporters is to get the West to attack you.

      That’s what Osama bin Laden wanted in 2001. (He hoped for an American invasion of Afghanistan, but he got an unexpected bonus in the US invasion of Iraq.) The ISIS videos of Western hostages being beheaded are intended to get Western countries involved in the fight against them, because that’s how you build local support. So far, the strategy is working just fine.

      The “Global Terrorism Index”, published annually by the Institute for Economics and Peace, reported last week that fatalities due to terrorism have risen fivefold in the 13 years since the 9/11 attacks, despite the U.S.-led “war on terror” that has spent $4.4 trillion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and anti-terrorist operations elsewhere. But it’s not really “despite” those wars. It’s largely because of them.

      The invasions, the drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Africa, the whole lumbering apparatus of the “global war on terrorism” have not killed the terrorist beast. They have fed it, and the beast has grown very large. 3,361 people were killed by terrorism in 2000; 17,958 were killed by it last year.

      At least 80 percent of these people were Muslims, and the vast majority of those who killed them were also Muslims: the terrorists of Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria, Boko Haram in Nigeria, the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and al-Qaeda and its offspring in other parts of the world (like al-Shebab in north-east Africa).

      That is not to say that terrorism is a particularly Muslim technique. Its historical roots lie in European struggles against oppressive regimes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and it gained huge currency in liberation struggles against the European colonial empires after the Second World War. Even the Stern Gang in Israel and the Irish Republican Army can be seen as part of this wave.

      Later waves of fashion in terrorism included the European, Latin American, and Japanese “urban terrorist” movements of the 1970s and 80s—Baader-Meinhof Gang in Germany, Red Brigades in Italy, Montoneros in Argentina, Japanese Red Army, and so on—none of which has any political success at all. Specifically “Islamic” terrorism really begins only in the 1990s, with the rise of radical, anachronistic forms of Sunni Islam.

      Only about five percent of the victims of this latest wave of terrorism lived in developed countries, but it was their deaths, and their governments’ ignorant responses to them, that provided the fuel for the spectacular growth of jihadi extremism. So what can be done about it?

      The Global Terrorism Index has some useful observations to offer about that, too. It points out that a great many terrorist organisations have actually gone out of business in the past 45 years. Only 10 percent of them actually won, took power, and disbanded their terrorist wings. And only seven percent were eliminated by the direct application of military force.

      Eighty percent of them were ended by a combination of better policing and the creation of a political process that addressed the grievances of those who supported the terrorism. You don’t fix the problem by fighting poverty or raising educational levels; that kind of thing has almost nothing to do with the rise of terrorism. You have to deal with the particular grievances that obsess specific ethnic, religious or political groups.

      And above all, keep foreigners out of the process. Their interventions always make matters worse. Which is why the terrorists love them so much.




      Nov 27, 2014 at 3:29pm

      Perhaps Gwynne is onto something here. It does seem somewhat counterintuitive to think that "TERRORISTS" want to be attacked by their avowed enemies so they will gain credibility among their victimized people for fighting against their oppressors. As he says counterterrorism operations by the 'terrorized' just seems to bring more converts and popular support to the terrorist's cause. Moreover he says terrorism may sometimes succeed in bringing about a resolution.

      One suspects that terrorism is often motivated by a desire for revenge against those who cause injury to innocents. Yet strangely it is States who are actually motivated by revenge in order to punish terrorist transgressions. It seems States should never be seen to be "cowed" or "intimidated" but rather it is for them to do so to terrorists. Furthermore, they believe that States should never negotiate with terrorists. This of course results in a never ending vicious cycle. Cynics among us believe that States desire to wage a "War on Terror" because it's 'good for business' and creating a fear of terrorism in their populations will enable to maintain control their populations better.

      As for Harper's war on Isis and his support for State Terrorism by Israel, no doubt he does that because it pleases his American ally and major trading partner. Yet it does seem odd he that refrains from supporting a recent UN resolution condemning attempts to glorify Nazism and voicing concern over the rise of racism-driven crimes around the world and the influence extreme right parties have in this time of world discontent. The three countries that voted against this resolution against the threat of Nazi terrorism was Canada, US and Ukraine. How sad that Canada's world image has been so tarnished of late.

      John-Albert Eadie

      Nov 28, 2014 at 1:23am

      This time, Gwynne climbs back on my choo-choo. The ascii underneath the frosting is that the fighters from various countries' want Islamic rule (meaning Jihadic, against Shia), and welcome any help. Seeing as they only `control' the actual roads they are currently driving on, much less than provide for people under their control. They provide only death. Which is why the USA should switch sides again (they have been gymnastic enough, when required) - and really really really stop dropping weapons into war zones.

      I Chandler

      Nov 28, 2014 at 6:50am

      DYER: "spent $4.4 trillion on the wars"

      General Butler (War is a Racket) would be laughing...

      DYER:"So what can be done about it?"

      Sanctions? Stories of a ISIS bank robbery spree across Iraq made headlines but turned out to be disinformation from the CIA's Ahmed Chalabi:

      DYER:" Waves of terrorism included the European, Latin American, and Japanese “urban terrorist” of the 1970s and 80s—Baader-Meinhof Gang in Germany, Red Brigades in Italy..."

      Even a brief history of terrorist organizations is 'incomplete' without Operation Northwoods or NATO's Operation Gladio:

      DYER: "The purpose of terrorist activities directed at the West, from the 9/11 attacks to ISIS videos, is to get those countries to bomb Muslim countries or, better yet, invade them."

      Invade? Operation Northwoods was presented in a document titled "Justification for Invasion..."
      Operation Northwoods called for the CIA to commit acts of terrorism ( hijackings and bombings) in US cities: "a terror campaign in Miami and Washington". Several proposals included real or simulated actions against US military and civilian targets:

      Eric Margolis writes:
      "ISIS was formed and armed in Jordan by CIA, British, French and Turkish intelligence, and funded by Saudi Arabia. ISIS, in Washington’s thinking, was supposed to be composed of “moderates,” a short-lived, easily controlled force used to overthrow Syria’s government, which had been marked for death by the western powers for refusing to turn against Iran.

      The Saudi contribution to ISIS was arms, cash. Ironically, while the world recoiled in horror at ISIS beheadings, its Saudi patrons cut off the heads of 27 prisoners at the same time – without any notice from the western media.

      Soon after invading Iraq in 2003, the US, in the imperial divide and conquer policy, using Shia against Sunni was highly successful in keeping US control of Iraq.

      Shia death squads were unleashed against Sunni regions; Shia torturers used electrical drills and acid to make Sunni prisoners talk and break the anti-US resistance. The US funded and abetted this dirty war, using techniques perfected in Central America."


      Nov 28, 2014 at 7:12am

      "odd he that refrains from supporting a recent UN resolution condemning attempts to glorify Nazism"

      At least he would have ratified the UN Accord on Children’s Rights - probably,maybe...

      "With its powerful political-media apparatus, America can create hysteria over pretty much anything, even something as innocuous as a U.N. agreement on the rights of children, leaving the U.S. as one of only three countries not to ratify it a quarter century later. It may come as a shock that the three rogue nations in the world that have refused to ratify this no-brainer convention are Somalia, the US and South Sudan (which just became a nation in 2011).

      Way back in 2011, another UN Resolution calling for the condemnation of neo-Nazi was rejected by America and Britain:

      America and Britain vote against UN Nazi Resolution:


      Nov 29, 2014 at 5:12am

      Add the Irgun to the list of nationalist groups that used terrorism.

      I Chandler

      Nov 29, 2014 at 7:53am

      Why write about global terrorism this week? Oh.... this week, a British Parliament Intelligence Committee issued a 191-page terrorism report. The report was in response, to a brutal killing of a British soldier, Lee Rigby in suburban London in May, 2013. Ensuring that nothing undesirable would occur, the investigation was chaired by the conservative functionary Sir Malcolm.

      DYER:"So what can be done about it?"

      The report was on why the attack happened and whether it could have been prevented:

      "While British intelligence agencies bear no blame, the Committee identified the real culprit: an unnamed U.S. social media company (now reported to be Facebook)."

      Glenn Greenwald describes the British security officials as unhinged:

      "the newly appointed GCHQ chief accused social media companies of becoming the “command-and-control networks of choice for terrorists"

      "The irony of Her Majesty’s Government blaming others for its own intelligence failures is stark indeed. This is a government that indiscriminately collects so much private communications that they literally don’t know what to do with it.

      All of this is part of a clear and definitely coordinated campaign by the U.S. and UK Governments to demonize social media companies as terrorist-helpers in order to force them to act as (even more) obedient snooping agents for the National Security State."

      DYER: "What's the purpose of global terrorism?... the U.S. spent $4.4 trillion on the wars"

      Glenn Greenwald interviews the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The New York Times, Jim Risen, who has released Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War. Risen writes about the role corporate profiteering plays in ensuring the endless continuation of the War on Terror, and how the beneficiaries use rank fear-mongering to sustain it:

      Jeremy Mancevice

      Nov 29, 2014 at 10:12am

      As Gwynne commented long ago
      "Being evil doesn't make you stupid"

      Many terrorist leaders are 'learned men'
      They have studied and are applying lessons learned.

      Our politicians are interested in 'número uno'
      ie themselves

      Stefan Caunter

      Nov 29, 2014 at 11:35am

      Same tale can be told if you substitute "drugs" for "terror".


      Nov 30, 2014 at 2:50pm

      "You hear this sort of rhetoric from Western leaders all the time, but Harper went further, and demonstrated exactly how they get it wrong."

      Harper, useful idiot of his U.S. puppeteers, always spouts out loud too much of the bullshit that he himself has been fed in support of their agenda and his own naïve predispositions. His tendency to expose publically such absurdities must be a real frustration for his neocon programmers who prefer to be seen as profound strategists ... at least amongst their own circle of true believers. Self-justification is for wimps seeking public approval as if it actually mattered.


      Nov 30, 2014 at 11:14pm

      What nonsense this article is, why does ISIL attack the Kurds then or Shiites? Of course "terrorists" don't want to get bombed, they think they can get Westerners to run away at any sight of blood, which seems to be working. And they aren't and shouldn't be called terrorists. They are murderous fascists, and what the North American left doesn't realize, because it never had to fight real fascism, is that that some people only understand force.