Don’t Panic: Gwynne Dyer Captivates Audience While Touring New Book

Gwynne Dyer speaks in the U of G Science Complex. Sapphire Liu/The Ontarion

World Famous Journalist Visits UofG
This article was originally published in The Ontarion

Not for the first time in the past several years, Gwynne Dyer graced the University of Guelph campus with his presence. This time ‘round, he is promoting and touring his newest book Don’t Panic: ISIS, Terror and Today’s Middle East.

Gwynne Dyer speaks in the U of G Science Complex. Sapphire Liu/The Ontarion
Gwynne Dyer is a well-known journalist. Born in Newfoundland in 1943, he enlisted in the Canadian navy at age 16. By the time he was 20, he had attained a BA in History from Memorial University of Newfoundland. He would go on to earn a master’s in military history from Rice University in Houston, Texas, and a PHD in the history of the Middle East from King’s College in London England. He was employed between 1973 and 1977 as a lecturer in war studies at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in the UK. Eventually, he pursued a career in journalism and is now published weekly in over 175 papers across 45 countries.

On Tuesday Feb. 9 2016 beginning at 7:09pm, Gwynne Dyer spoke to a large crowd in the atrium of the Summerlee Science Complex. He discussed the Islamic State, climate change and a new cold war in his talk, titled “Don’t Panic! But You Can Worry a Little.” His new book, Don’t Panic, is a message to the world at large that, although the media likes to play up events like the “crisis of terrorism”, the world is actually in a pretty good place politically and we should not worry as much as we do. His talk consisted of two parts; things we should not worry about and things that we should worry about.

His lecture began with a critical look into the function and reasons behind terrorism as we know it. He outlined how terrorism is a revolutionary tactic for people who are being oppressed and certain types of radicalism are the best way to get noticed by those in power.

Dyer emphasized the role that history plays on what is happening today. He quoted himself saying “if historical ingratitude were a crime, I think that the [historians] would all be in jail”. Following that, he outlined a brief history of the part of the Middle East that ISIS is from the Arab world (Iraq, Syria, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, etc.). Dyer began by talking about how the borders of the Arab world were split in 1918 and new borders were arbitrarily assigned by the victors of World War One. He then discussed the 1950’s and 1960’s detailing how the priority of many Arab countries was to quickly modernize society to prevent a sudden re-dominance or re-colonization by European countries. The people who took charge of the Arab nations ended up being young military leaders. “They made a complete mess of it” said Dyer, so much so that into the 1970’s the Middle East was ruled by the failure of the people in power. To maintain control, the leaders of various countries forced their societies to become police states.

The only real way out of a police state, says Dyer, is revolution. However, revolution is very difficult because hundreds of thousands of people need to take part in a revolution for it to be successful. Since building support in a police state without media is so difficult, the answer to modern revolution is terrorism. At this point in his discussion, Dyer brought up Islamism.

He says the idea of Islamism, not Islam, is a revolutionary ideology, not a religious doctrine. It was in an attempt to modernize in a way that was completely separate from the Western culture that was obviously not working in Arab countries.

Between 1979, the founding of the revolutionary ideology, and 2001 there were hundreds of terrorist attacks in Arab countries. Dyer cited some prime examples: starting with the Siege of Mecca, the grand mosque, in 1979, Islamists assassinating the Egyptian president in 1981, the massacre in Hamas in 1982, and a civil war between Islamists and the Algerian army in the 90’s.
Getting to the modern day, Dyer stopped skimming over history and began speaking to about the Islamic State’s roots more directly. He stated that the revolutionaries realized that they needed to instigate an invasion – an attack by another country on their own – to unite the people they were trying to revolutionize. Dyer cites this as the reason for the motive behind the attacks on the World Trade Center. The Islamists, at the time led by the son of a Saudi construction mogul, Osama Bin Laden, had recently won a victory in Afghanistan by outlasting a Russian invasion. Since they were in control of the country (Afghanistan), that is where America, led by George Bush, struck first in their retaliation. Dyer said that if America had stopped after they conquered Afghanistan, we would probably not still be talking about it, but America went after Iraq for some seriously sketchy reasons and embedded itself in a decade long war against a revolutionary ideology that wanted foreigners to invade.

Dyer’s talk continued along this vein for some time. Dyer fleshed out the examples that he was citing and went step-by-step through the creation of ISIS, or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The real message behind all of his discourse was this: don’t worry.

Dyer said that, if the Middle East were to collapse in on itself and be taken over by radicals, it would not stay that way very long. He noted that it would be awful for the people living there, and, empathetically, we should help, but he also stated that if we do nothing, it likely will not affect us in the Western world. Dyer said “The middle east contains 10% of the world’s population … Production-wise, they only produce 3% of the world’s resources. Pragmatically speaking it doesn’t matter all that much.”

As inhumane as it sounds, the message from the beginning of the talk was that, although the media does regularly amplify the threat of a potential terrorist attack where we live, the people we consider terrorists are more focused on their own countries; not North America.

The second half of his talk was much shorter, less historical context was given, but less historical context was needed, he spoke about what things we should worry about.
Dyer warned the crowd about a potential economic collapse in China that could incite a revolution in their country, bringing the world’s economy to the brink of a worse depression than that of the 1930’s. He stated that the Chinese economy cannot continue to grow forever, and eventually it will falter.

He also warned the crowd about global warming and climate change. “We only have about 25 years to stop it” he said, “at that time, we will lose control, nature will take over [and] we will not be able to turn it off.” It was not all bad news about climate change, he did add that the recent Paris Conference has resulted in significant improvement to the way industrial countries view climate change. He finished adding that “We have not solved the problem, but we have defined it.”

The last half-an-hour of the talk was occupied by a question and answer period. Some audience members grilled Dyer about the finer details of his lecture, and others asked for his opinions about global issues that he did not touch upon during his talk.

The question period ended at 9:00pm and Dyer made his way to a table closer to the exit where he allowed those who were interested in the opportunity to get their books signed by the author, or potentially to buy his new book.

The talk had a good turnout, interesting content, and a very involved, albeit older, crowd. If Dyer comes back to the school in the near future, and he probably will, hearing his views on the nature of the world is highly recommended.

Written by
Jack Fisher

Jack Fisher is an independent journalist. He holds a BAH from the University of Guelph, and a post-graduate certificate from Sheridan College in journalism.
@Jack_Fisher_4 on Twitter and Instagram

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Written by Jack Fisher