What did the 76-year-old Mr. Soyinka—who divides his time between the U.S. and Nigeria—make of his country’s placement on a watch-list of states deemed to be incubators of Islamist terrorism? “That was an irrational, knee-jerk reaction by the Americans. The man did not get radicalized in Nigeria. It happened in England, where he went to university.
As did the 7/7 bombers.
“England is a cesspit. England is the breeding ground of fundamentalist Muslims. Its social logic is to allow all religions to preach openly. But this is illogic, because none of the other religions preach apocalyptic violence.
And remember this is a Nigerian, who has opposed apartheid in South Africa and the military rulers of his homeland.
Our conversation turned to Nigeria, where ferocious killings had just occurred in the central city of Jos, with Muslims slaughtering Christians, and vice-versa. Mr. Soyinka, here, began to brood: “A virus has attacked the world of sense and sensibility, and it has spread to Nigeria, where it has taken on a sanguinary dimension. Roaming hordes of killers are entering homes and dragging out people of other faiths and hacking them to death. In my youth, you heard, side-by-side, the church bells ringing and the beautiful, sonorous call to prayer of the muezzin. But now, it’s a disease. One doesn’t really know how to handle it.”
In other words, it was not always that way.
The day before, in his lecture on The Road, Mr. Soyinka earned a burst of applause with his own, ingenious solution: “I think this is where our rocket engineers and astronauts can come to our rescue. We should assemble all those who are pure and cannot abide other faiths, put them all in rockets, and fire them into space.” In our own conversation, he offered—almost apologetically—a more prosaic solution: “Education. And rigorous punishment for those who feel, not ‘I’m right, you’re wrong,’ but ‘I’m right, you’re dead.'”
I think such sentiments will get a lot of virtual applause also.
In Mr. Soyinka’s view, the origins of the current phase of the world’s religious strife—including all of the bloodshed in Nigeria—lie with Ayatollah Khomeini and his fatwa against Salman Rushdie, in 1989. “It all began when he assumed the power of life and death over the life of a writer. This was a watershed between doctrinaire aggression and physical aggression. There was an escalation. The assumption of power over life and death then passed to every single inconsequential Muslim in the world—as if someone had given them a new stature.
“Al Qaeda is the descendent of this phenomenon.
While it is not quite as simple as this, I think he is close to the mark. The world should have reacted to the fatwa against Rushdie with strength – sanctions if necessary. The EU should have said it is unacceptable for a Government to declare a death sentence over a non citizen due to a book they wrote, and that until it is rescinded, there will be no trade with Iran because you do not trade with barbarians.
More recently the world missed another opportunity with the Danish cartoons. The correct response to the death threats should have been not appeasement, but every newspaper in the western world publishing the cartoons.