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the Complete Review
the complete review - lectures

Climate of Fear

Wole Soyinka

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To purchase Climate of Fear

Title: Climate of Fear
Author: Wole Soyinka
Genre: Lectures
Written: 2004
Length: 155 pages
Availability: Climate of Fear - US
Climate of Fear - UK
Climate of Fear - Canada
Climate of Fear - India
  • The Quest for Dignity in a Dehumanized World
  • Climate of Fear was delivered as the Reith Lectures, 2004
  • The American edition includes a Preface (in addition to the Introduction also found inthe UK edition), dated September 2004

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Our Assessment:

B : fine personal discussion of the contemporary world

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Observer A 29/8/2004 Alex Heminsley

  From the Reviews:
  • "The book never sags into worthy or politically correct blancmange, and Soyinka employs a clarity of contextualisation and an effective and razor-sharp wit to make sound arguments without resorting to embarrassingly emotive prose." - Alex Heminsley, The Observer

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Climate of Fear consists of five lecture, delivered as the Reith Lectures in 2004, as well as an Introduction to these; the American edition now also includes a tacked-on preface (dated September 2004) that adds a brief discussion of the school-takeover and mass-slaughter in Beslan.
       In these lectures Soyinka addresses the 'climate of fear' that has gripped even the West in the wake of the terrorist attacks in the fall of 2001. He, for one, finds it hard to agree with the popular notion that "the world we once knew ended on September 11, 2001". As Soyinka points out, much of the actual larger world -- beyond the provincial (at least in mindset and awareness) backwater that is the United States and, to a lesser extent, Europe -- has long been faced both with threats and actual violence of a similar order of magnitude, and a general deep sense of insecurity. It is not a new phenomenon; what has changed is, largely, American awareness of it -- as well as America's peculiar reaction to it, essentially unilaterally tackling what it nevertheless tries to frame as a global problem.
       One of Soyinka's first examples is the contrast in reactions to the Lockerbie disaster and the similar 1989 bombing of a UTA flight over Niger. The latter rated little attention in the West, but Soyinka thinks it had the more profound implications. He sees Libya's willingness to commit this act as a signal that anything goes, anywhere: even any idea of African solidarity was trumped by the desire to make a larger point:

The implicit proclamation appeared to be that, in the new area of conflicts, there would be no cordon sanitaire, no sanctuary for innocents, no space that was out of bounds in the territorial claims of a widening climate of fear.
       Soyinka notes that a 'climate of fear' is familiar to all who have lived under totalitarian regimes -- much of the world's population -- but that nowadays: "It is the quasi-state that today instills the greatest fear". His perspective is global: individual (re)actions -- by and in the US, Nigeria, Israel, among others -- are considered, but national interest is only one of the factors he allows for, insisting on the larger picture. So also he is disappointed with the American reaction after September 2001:
     There were options, however, and the case is being made here that the leadership of that nation chose to substitute, for a hard assessment of its relationship with the rest of humanity, an emotive rhetoric that blinded it even further, driving that nation deeper into an isolationist monologue, even within the debating chambers of the United Nations.
       Or, as he then sums it up: "The triumph of the monologue was supreme."
       Soyinka's lectures are not meant as corrective -- the subjects are too many and complex to be dealt with in a few hours time -- but are an attempt at something beyond monologue (ironically, given that these were presented as lectures, after all), inclusive of other opinion and circumstances.
       Central throughout is also his concern with human dignity as a basic need and requirement -- and one that all too often it still denied. The totalitarian states offer the obvious example of human dignity not being respected, making for the volatile 'climate of fear', but he finds it also central to, for example, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:
I shall sum up my apprehension of the Palestinian situation in one word: humiliation.
       In a time when so much attention is placed on national interests and state actors, with little interest in or awareness of the anonymous individuals that are affected, Soyinka's lectures are a useful reminder of who, in the end suffers most.
       With a personal touch -- Soyinka recounting how he was "perhaps one of the last million or two of the world population to know that the world had, allegedly, undergone a permanent transformation" (in September 2001), or the fear of his house going up in flames in the wildfires in southern California a couple of years ago -- and offering examples from Mike Tyson to Naguib Mahfouz, Soyinka covers a large amount of ground in engaging fashion. The arguments remain, ultimately, fairly general, but specifically for any audience that has generally focussed only on examining aspects of these issues from a limited national perspective (as has certainly been the case in the UK and US -- though likely also in most every other corner of the globe) Soyinka's broader perspective should be a useful eye-opener.

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Climate of Fear: Reviews: Wole Soyinka: Other books by Wole Soyinka under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Nigerian author Wole Soyinka was born in 1934. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986.

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© 2004-2021 the complete review

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