Magazine article The Spectator

Fear and Outrage

Magazine article The Spectator

Fear and Outrage

Article excerpt

The Nigerian playwright, poet and political activist Wole Soyinka would talk a geat deal of sense were he not so anti-George W. Bush as he appears to be in the Reith lectures he has so far delivered on Radio Four (Wednesdays). Entitled Climate of Fear, his lectures take as their theme the rather obvious one that the world is living in a new climate of fear that is different from the previous one, the Cold War. Soyinka, of course, experienced his own fear once and was imprisoned by a Nigerian regime.

He believes the origins of today's threat can be found in the late Eighties when two civilian airliners were brought down over Niger and Lockerbie, early warnings of how terrorists could target large numbers of civilians. He contrasted the lack of outrage over the Niger bombing with that over Lockerbie, criticising what was then called the Organisation of African Unity for making what he called a tepid statement of condemnation at the time, and wondered if it was for fear of reprisals.

In the question-and-answer session that now follows each of the five Reith Lectures, an American woman in the audience, a member of Republicans Abroad, asked him if he thought a state under threat should be able to take action unilaterally and not just collectively through the UN, as he preferred, meaning of course the United States and Afghanistan and Iraq. Not, he suggested, if unilateral action inflicted more damage on the state being attacked. He didn't actually spell it out, though. Another questioner asked him if he thought Osama bin Laden was evil, and he replied that he knew what was evil in the world. The presenter Sue Lawley tried to pin him down, asking if bin Laden was on his list. He hesitated before replying, 'I think he's possessed.' 'And therefore evil?' 'No, no, no, no. One can be possessed by visionary ideas . . . I think Osama bin Laden had an idea, a very righteous sense of restoration of respect to his peoples but then he veered off completely, his methodology unquestionably . . . is evil.' This is not quite the same thing, and it sounded rather strange, as if bin Laden has simply gone off the rails.

In Rhetoric that Binds and Blinds, lecture three next week, which I've heard, he is more precise about where he stands, 'The increasing unilateralism of the United States government since that monstrous date [9/11], most certainly in the invasion of Iraq, aided by its coalition of the willing, has fed directly into and widened the climate of fear. …

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