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-through prescriptions, 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.