Gwynne Dyer

  • Message to aliens: Can we talk?

    I really liked the furious debate that broke out recently among astronomers about whether we should send out signals to the universe saying “we are here.” It implicitly assumes that somehow, if your science is really advanced, then interstellar travel is possible. I like it because I hate the idea that the human race will never be able to go beyond this little planetary system “far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the galaxy,” as Douglas Adams put it in his Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
  • Bombing Yemen likely to backfire

    The Sunni Arab countries that started bombing Yemen on Wednesday seem to think they are fighting an Iranian-backed plot to expand Shia power and influence in the Arab world. Most other countries find that hard to believe, but even if the Sunni countries are right, wars often have unintended consequences. This military intervention is likely to have results Saudi Arabia and its friends don't like one bit. They've all shown up for this war. Saudi Arabia and the other monarchies of the Arab world (Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and even Morocco) have all committed aircraft to bombing Yemen. Egypt, Jordan, Sudan and Pakistan have offered to send ground troops. And the United States (which just pulled the last American troops out of Yemen) promises to provide logistical and intelligence support.
  • Yemen descends into war

    The last American troops are being pulled out of Yemen after al-Qaida fighters stormed a city near their base on Friday. Houthi rebels who have already overrun most of the country are closing in on Aden, the last stronghold of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. And on Sunday Islamic State sent suicide bombers into two big mosques in the capital, Sanaa, killing 137 people. The U.S. State Department spokesman put the best possible face on it, saying "due to the deteriorating security situation in Yemen, the U.S. government has temporarily relocated its remaining personnel out of Yemen." He even said the U.S. continued to support the "political transition" in Yemen. But there is no "political transition." There is a four-sided civil war.
  • Netanyahu replays scare card for Europe’s Jews

    “We’re not waiting around here to die,” said Johan Dumas, one of the survivors of the siege at the kosher supermarket during the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack in Paris in January. He had hidden with others in a basement cold room as the Islamist gunman roamed overhead and killed four of the hostages. So, said Dumas, he was moving to Israel to be safe. It’s not really that simple. The 17 victims of the terrorist attacks included some French Christians, a Muslim policeman, four Jews, and probably a larger number of people who would have categorized themselves as “none of the above.” It was a Muslim employee in the supermarket who showed Dumas and other Jewish customers where to hide, and then went back upstairs to distract the gunman. And the Middle East isn’t exactly safe for Jews.
  • Terrorism a pretext for tyranny in Egypt

    The Islamic State franchise in Libya, which is emerging as the main winner in that country's chaotic civil war, published a video on Sunday showing 21 Egyptian men in orange overalls being forced to the ground and beheaded. The video made it clear they were being killed for being Christian, "people of the cross, followers of the hostile Egyptian church." Within hours, the Egyptian air force responded with raids on IS camps and training sites in Derna, the group's headquarters in eastern Libya. Announcing the safe return of all the aircraft, the Egyptian military authorities declared: "Let those far and near know that Egyptians have a shield that protects them." But it didn't really protect them, did it?
  • Men, women divided by faith

    Did you hear about the agnostic dyslexic insomniac? She lay awake all night wondering if there was a Dog. But she's a pretty rare bird. According to a large survey carried out in the United Kingdom by Prof. David Voas of the University of Essex, more than half of British men who are now in their early 40s (54 per cent) are agnostics or atheists, but only one-third of women of the same age (34 per cent) hold similar views.
  • 'Oil war' conspiracy ridiculous

    "DID you know there's an oil war? And the war has an objective: to destroy Russia," said Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in a live television speech last week. "It's a strategically planned war... also aimed at Venezuela, to try and destroy our revolution and cause an economic collapse." It's the United States that has started the war, Maduro said, and its strategy was to flood the market with shale oil and collapse the price. Russia's President Vladimir Putin agrees. "We all see the lowering of oil prices," he said recently. "There's lots of talk about what's causing it. Could it be an agreement between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia to punish Iran and affect the economies of Russia and Venezuela? It could." The evil Americans are at it again. They're fiendishly clever, you know.
  • Second Cold War highly unlikely

    ‘THE world is on the brink of a new Cold War. Some say that it has already begun,” said Mikhail Gorbachev, the last president of the Soviet Union and the man who inadvertently administered a mercy killing to Communism in Europe. He’s 83 years old, he played a leading role in ending the last Cold War, and he’s practically a secular saint. Surely he knows what he’s talking about. No, he doesn't. Not only has this new Cold War not begun already, but it's hard to see how you could get it going even if you tried. The raw material for such an enterprise is simply unavailable. You can summon the ghosts of history all you want, but they are dead, and they can't hear you.
  • Exponential Ebola

    Here are two good things about the Ebola virus. It is unlikely to mutate into a version that can spread through the air, as some other viruses have done. And people who have been infected by Ebola cannot pass it on to others during the incubation period (between two and 21 days). Only when they develop detectable symptoms, notably fever, do they become infectious to others and only by the transfer of bodily fluids. Here are three bad things about Ebola. The bodily fluids that can transmit it include even the tiniest droplet of sweat. Just the slightest touch can pass the virus on. The death rate for those who become infected is 70 per cent. And the U.S. government's Centers for Disease Control warned recently we could have 1.4 million cases of Ebola by January.
  • Scotland stays and questions linger

    A week ago, the Kurdistan Times warned "the British are exercising the old colonialist tongue to control the minds and dampen the aspirations of Scottish people who want to vote Yes (to independence)." And lo! It came to pass just as the Kurdistan Times predicted. The silver-tongued colonialists lured the Scots into voting No, and by a fairly healthy margin, too: 55 per cent No, 45 per cent Yes. It is, indeed, a much wider margin for the No than the last time a proposal for secession was voted on in a western country, in Canada in 1995. In that referendum, just 50.5 per cent of Quebecers voted No, compared to 49.5 per cent who voted Yes.
  • Scottish revolt on conservatives

    If the Scots vote Yes to independence on Thursday, as one poll suggests they will, three things are likely to happen in the following week. First, David Cameron may cease to be the leader of the Conservative Party and the prime minister of the U.K. He would be removed by his own Conservative MPs, who would hold him responsible for allowing the break-up of a very successful union that has lasted 307 years.
  • Russia, Ukraine play a dangerous game of chicken

    It is quite possible for soldiers to cross a frontier "by accident on an unmarked section," and that is how Moscow explains the capture of a group of Russian paratroopers on Ukrainian territory last weekend. Poor lambs, they just wandered across the border by mistake. When they get home, they'll have to be sent on a refresher course in cross-country navigation. The flaw in this story is that the 10 captured Russian soldiers, from the 331st Regiment of the 98th Guards Airborne Division, were caught in a group of unmarked vehicles 20 kilometres inside Ukraine. That's a third of the way from the Russian border to the besieged rebel city of Donetsk, and it's really hard to explain away as a navigational error.
  • The Middle East: new strategic realities

    After half a century of stasis, there are big new strategic realities in the Middle East, but people are having trouble getting their heads around them. Take the United States, for example. Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state in President Barack Obama's first administration, is still lamenting her former boss's failure to send more military help to the "moderate" rebels in Syria. "The failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled," Clinton told the Atlantic magazine recently. She's actually claiming early and lavish military aid to the right people would have overthrown Syria's dictator, Bashar Assad, while freezing the al-Qaida/ISIS jihadis out. If only.
  • Big Pharma in no rush for Ebola vaccine

    Ebola is a truly frightening disease, with a fatality rate as high as 95 per cent (although the death rate in the current outbreak in West Africa is only 55 to 60 per cent). At the moment, it is largely confined to a heavily forested inland area where the borders of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea meet, although cases have already appeared in the capital cities of all three countries. It could get much worse. If Ebola gained a significant foothold in a prosperous, densely populated country such as Nigeria, whose citizens travel all over the world, the current 800 recorded deaths could become 8,000, or 80,000, or even more. And the worst of it is there is no effective vaccine or treatment for Ebola.
  • First World War's legacy still growing

    "It was not worth even one life," said Harry Patch shortly before he died in 2009 at the age of 111. He was the last survivor of the 65 million soldiers who fought in the First World War, and by the time he died, it was a normal, quite unremarkable thing to say. But he would never have said it in 1914. Very few people thought war was a bad thing in 1914. Losing a war could be a bad thing, but the obvious solution to that problem was to be very good at war. Human beings had always fought wars, military values were deeply embedded in our culture, and nobody expected those attitudes to change. And then they did change.
  • Minority Christian Arabs are on the move

    Two high-profile incidents last week, at opposite ends of the Arab world. In northern Iraq, recently conquered by the zealots of the newly proclaimed "Islamic State," the Christians in Mosul were given three choices: convert to Islam, pay a special tax (about $750, on this occasion), or be killed. They all fled, and now Mosul is Christian-free for the first time in almost two millennia. Meanwhile, in Sudan, Meriam Ibrahim finally got permission to leave her homeland after spending months chained up in a jail cell. The young woman had been condemned to hang by a Sudanese court for the crime of having "converted" to Christianity, but the government couldn't legally kill her until after her baby was born.
  • Newest Gaza conflict follows same old script

    Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, said something cryptic last Friday, shortly after the Israelis began their latest round of attacks on the Gaza Strip. Condemning Hamas's conditions for accepting a ceasefire as "exaggerated and unnecessary," he offered his condolences "to the families of the martyrs in Gaza who are fuel to those who trade in war. I oppose these traders, on both sides." What could he mean by that? Surely he was not suggesting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and the leaders of Hamas, the Islamist organization that has effective control of the Gaza Strip, have a common interest in perpetuating the current bloodbath for at least a little while longer.
  • Morale of Russian-backed rebels cracking

    As the Russian-backed rebels abandoned almost all their positions in eastern Ukraine apart from the two regional capital cities, Donetsk and Luhansk, the various players made predictable statements. Newly elected Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said cautiously this could be "the beginning of the turning point in the fight against militants." Don't make promises that you are not sure you can keep.
  • Quietness doesn't mean acceptance of Thai coup

    "It's quiet out there. Too quiet." In the old Hollywood movies, that's the line one of the intrepid explorers utters just before all hell breaks loose in the jungle. But the army chiefs are probably saying it in Thailand, too.
  • United States an increasingly reluctant ally

    'The Polish American alliance is worthless, even harmful, as it gives Poland a false sense of security. It's bull----," Polish Foreign Minister Radoslav Sikorski, secretly taped in early 2014. Discuss. Use only one side of the paper. The publication of Radoslav Sikorski's comments in the Polish weekly magazine Wprost will not help his bid to become the European Union's foreign policy chief, but there are senior foreign policy officials elsewhere who might be tempted to make similar remarks (though perhaps not in alcohol-fuelled conversations in well-known restaurants where they might be overheard). And there are those in Washington who are saying the same thing.
  • Imagine if Iraq had not been invaded

    Whatever else you may say about the "young war criminal" (as British journalist Alan Watkins used to call former prime minister Tony Blair), he certainly fights his corner with great determination. He is condemned to spend his life defending his part in the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and last weekend he was at it again. In a 3,000-word essay on his website, Tony Blair wrote about last week's conquest of almost half Iraq's territory by the fanatical fighters of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria): "We have to liberate ourselves from the notion that 'we' have caused this. We haven't." What he really meant by "we," of course, was "I."
  • ISIS rises

    The Iraqi army will have to destroy Mosul in order to save it -- and it's not clear whether it can do the job even then. It isn't so much an army as a vast system of patronage providing employment of a sort for 900,000 people. When fewer than a thousand ISIS jihadis fought their way into Mosul, Iraq's second city, over the past few days, most of the government's soldiers shed their uniforms and fled. The government troops never felt comfortable in Mosul anyway, for they are mostly Shia Muslims, and the vast majority of Mosul's 1.8 million residents are Sunni. (Or maybe it's only 1.3 million people now, for up to 500,000 of the city's residents are reported to be fleeing the triumphant jihadis: Shias, non-Muslim minorities and even Kurdish Sunnis have faced execution in other areas that have fallen under the control of ISIS.)
  • Redemption in Kosovo

    “The signs of collusion between the criminal class and the highest political and institutional office holders are too numerous and too serious to be ignored,” concluded the report submitted to the Council of Europe in December, 2010. The name of Hashim Thaci, then prime minister of Kosovo and former leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), was mentioned 27 times in 27 pages. Hashim Thaci is still prime minister of Kosovo. Indeed, he has just been re-elected to the job, although the turnout was a feeble 42 percent. The European Union and NATO, the two organisations that helped the Kosovars free themselves from Serbian rule, seem quite happy about his victory – and even the Serbian government urged the Serbian minority who still live there to vote in Kosovo’s election. So redemption is possible, after all.
  • Hard truths of D-Day: A date at Normandy

    The presence of President Vladimir Putin on the Normandy beaches on the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings was planned long before the current conflict over Ukraine, but it is a useful reminder of the fact that Russia is not some Asiatic tyranny on Europe's eastern borders. It is a European country that has played a major role in the continent's affairs for centuries. Not only were the Russians on the same side as the western Allies in the Second World War, they did most of the heavy lifting in the war against Nazi Germany and they paid by far the highest price.
  • Egypt's man of destiny, for a while

    To the vast surprise of absolutely nobody, Field Marshal Abdel Fatah al-Sisi won the Egyptian presidential election last week. Moreover, he won it with a majority that would pass for a resounding triumph in most countries. But it is a disarmingly modest majority for an Arab Man of Destiny. Not for Sisi the implausible margins of victory claimed by Men of Destiny in other Arab countries, such as the 96.3 per cent Egypt's last dictator, Hosni Mubarak, claimed in his first election 21 years ago, or the spectacular 100 per cent Iraq's Saddam Hussein allegedly got in his last election in 2002. No, Sisi just claimed 93.3 per cent of the votes, a number low enough it might actually be true.

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