by Wole Soyinka
In this new book developed from the prestigious Reith Lectures, Nobel PrizeŚwinning author Wole Soyinka, a courageous advocate for human rights around the world, considers fear as the dominant theme in world politics.
Decades ago, the idea of collective fear had a tangible face: the atom bomb. Today our shared anxiety has become far more complex and insidious, arising from tyranny, terrorism, and the invisible power of the "quasi state." As Wole Soyinka suggests, the climate of fear that has enveloped the world was sparked long before September 11, 2001.
Rather, it can be traced to 1989, when a passenger plane was brought down by terrorists over the Republic of Niger. From Niger to lower Manhattan to Madrid, this invisible threat has erased distinctions between citizens and soldiers; we're all potential targets now.
In this seminal work, Soyinka explores the implications of this climate of fear: the conflict between power and freedom, the motives behind unthinkable acts of violence, and the meaning of human dignity. Fascinating and disturbing, Climate of Fear is a brilliant and defining work for our age.
To visit fear on an already suffering world, writes the 1986 Nobel Prize-winner, is a naked assault on human dignity and "a prelude to the domination of the mind and the triumph of power."These days, Soyinka (The Open Sore of a Continent, 1996, etc.) argues, there's plenty more afoot to fear than fear itself, which makes our time just right for warmongers, theocrats, absolutists, and other blights on humanity. Made up of five lectures given at London's Royal Institution in March 2004, Soyinka's latest wanders the boundary between memoir and political essay. Early on, he ranges among memories of resisting the military government in his native Nigeria during the Biafran war, of marching with Bertrand Russell ("a pipe-smoking leprechaun of a man with a giant brain") against nuclear testing, of waiting out natural firestorms in Los Angeles. He then turns to broader world events; he recalls thinking, for instance, that if the world changed on September 11, 2001, then it also changed in 1988, when Pan Am 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, and a year later, when a UTA passenger flight exploded over Niger. Also the result of sabotage, that last-named disaster was greeted by worldwide silence and "swallowed with total equanimity by African heads of state." Fear and terror are our daily lot, Soyinka suggests, with dehumanizing effects. To combat this assault on our shared humanity, the world community must repudiate the notion that there are no innocents today while, at the same time, reaching out to ameliorate the conditions that produce terrorism in the first place among people who are probably innocents. Such remedies are sound but vague. In the place of completely thought-throughprescriptions, Soyinka offers generalities: the al Qaeda attack on the US was a crime against humanity, the US shouldn't have rushed into war in Iraq, and so on. Largely predictable, but gracefully stated.
Paperback: 145 pages