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Too much hype about ISIS

Thursday, January 28, 2016
Gwynne Dyer believes that most men who leave their countries to join ISIS are unlikely to return home, not even in a body bag.

Kevin Baldeosingh

“Far too much is written about terrorism. Even worse, most of it is sensational claptrap,” writes internationally syndicated columnist and military historian Gwynne Dyer in the Introduction to this book, which is subtitled “ISIS, Terror and Today’s Middle East”.

Since commentary in T&T is part of this claptrap, Dyer’s argument is a necessary corrective for anyone who’s worried about returning ISIS fighters. So let’s start with one key fact: it’s very unlikely any of them will be coming back, even in a body bag. “If they try to leave they will be considered guilty of a form of apostasy and killed,” writes Dyer “and the few who do make home will live out their lives under the most stringent form of security surveillance, whether in jail or out of it.” 

In fact, the only reason Trinis have appeared in ISIS videos is because they are not Arabs. “Foreign volunteers are not much use militarily, as they lack the combat experience of their locally born fellow jihaids,” Dyer points out, “and their generally limited command of Arabic makes them unsuited for even junior positions of command. But they make great propaganda.”

The foreign fighters other main use to ISIS is cannon-fodder. Indeed, Dyer notes that one of their more prominent recruits may actually have been set up by ISIS commanders to be killed in warfare, so they could have a dramatic recruitment video showing his supposed heroism and martyrdom. 

Dyer also notes that it is Islamists who don’t leave their home countries who pose more of a threat than ISIS fighters. “Of the few who return, one or two will no doubt commit terrorist acts anyway—no security system is perfect—but not nearly so many as will be committed by lone-wolf extremists who become radicalised on the web and never go to the Middle East at all.”

But doesn’t ISIS pose a global threat or at least a threat to Western civilisation? Dyer shows why this argument is also claptrap. The group has between 20,000 to 32,000 fighters, but even if the highest estimate of 200,000 fighter is accurate, ISIS would have to get $US60 million in revenue a month just for feeding, housing and transport. The oilfields it controls bring in about US$1 to $US4 million a day, which is enough to finance no more than a 50,000-strong army (sans US$1,000 monthly salaries).

Additionally, Dyer notes that “what happens in the Middle East is of much less importance to the rest of the world than the media and the hawks in Western capitals pretend: the entire region accounts for only 10 per cent of the world’s population, and only half of the region’s population is Arab. In economic terms, the Middle East is practically irrelevant, except for its oil.” 

He concludes: “A victorious Islamic State, which might well include Jordan and Lebanon as well as Syria and western Ira, would be a major disaster for the Arab world’s minorities, an extremely hostile and threatening neighbour for Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel and possibly even Egypt, and uncomfortable if distant presence for everybody else.”


Don’t Panic

Gwynne Dyer

Random House Canada, 2015.

ISBN: 978-0345815866; 256 pages.