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Lawrence Wright On The Rise Of Terror


Pulitzer Prize-winner Lawrence Wright has investigated the evolution of al-Qaeda and ISIS, as well as the changing U.S. response to terrorist groups. On Think, Krys Boyd talked with The New Yorker staff writer about his new book “The Terror Years: From al-Qaeda to the Islamic State.” 

The KERA Interview

Lawrence Wright on …

… the Syrian refugee crisis: 

“We now have 5 million Syrians who are out of their country and 11 million displaced inside the country. And that’s just a part of this vast refugee flow that’s greater than any time since World War II. According to UNICEF, half of these are children and only 20 percent of them are getting education. So suppose you are 5 years old in 2011 when the civil war began. You’ve already lost you’re entire elementary school education. What is the future for you? Well, we don’t know what causes terrorism, but I always say all the things people point to are poverty, lack of education, poor economic opportunities, tyranny, gender apartheid. They’re all, I think, tributaries in this river of despair that runs through the Arab and Muslim world.”  

... the persistence of al-Qaeda: 

“It’s really unusual because terrorist groups typically just don’t last that long. There was a study of some 400 different groups, and the average lifespan is about eight years. And al-Qaeda just celebrated its 28th birthday. It’s been a very determined adversary.”

…. al-Qaeda’s ultimate goal:

“Al-Qaeda has a plan. It’s a dreamy utopia. The idea is to weaken the West, especially America. Bin Laden had this idea that when he provoked America by attacking, first of all our embassies in East Africa in 1998, the idea was to draw us into Afghanistan. And that we would meet the same fate as the Soviet Union, which as you recall when it lost the war in Afghanistan, the Soviet Union disintegrated. And he thought the same thing would happen to the United States. They would become disunited states, and that would open the way for Islam to become the reigning power in the world.”

…. what is terrorism:

“Terrorism is a little different from crime. Crime is something that we always have, and honestly I think that we should look at terrorism the same way. We’re not going to be through with the era that we are in for a long period of time and maybe not ever. We shouldn’t think it’s going to continually dominate our lives. Having said that, we do have vulnerabilities. Ordinary criminals are not out to destroy the economy for instance or kill as many people as possible. That’s not the usual goal of a criminal, and for terrorists that’s very much on their mind.”