The Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka says the UK, not Nigeria, should be on the terrorism watch-list.
Read the comments in The Times and you see that almost all responders agree with her. Pretty hard not to actually.
Ever since I told the US website The Daily Beast that Britain was a cesspit and a breeding ground for fundamentalist Muslims, people have been asking me what I meant: “Why do you, a Nobel laureate, say such things? Where’s the evidence?”
So let me clarify: I was responding to a question about what I thought about Nigeria, my home country, being placed on a US watch-list of states deemed to be incubators of Islamist terrorism. The listing — which puts Nigeria into a club whose members include Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen — followed the failed attack by the Nigerian student Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the young man who boarded a plane with a bomb in his underpants.
I believe it was irrational to point the finger of suspicion at Nigeria because this young man — the so-called Christmas Day bomber — was not radicalised in Nigeria. Everything we know about Abdulmutallab suggests that it happened in London, where he went to university.
The same is true of the shoe bomber, Richard Reid. And of the extremists who bombed the London Underground and the buses in July 2005. (A Nigerian was killed in those bombings.) The terrorists who primed a car found outside a London nightclub in 2007 with petrol containers, gas canisters and nails were based in Britain. If Nigeria qualifies for a place on the US list of terrorist countries then, admit it, Britain is overqualified.
The truth is that Britain has created a breeding ground for religious terrorists. I have a number of Muslim friends in Nigeria who have expressed fears that their sons, who are studying at British universities, might be caught up in Islamic fundamentalism. They are worried about the company they are keeping and by changes in their attitudes.
Their children are becoming intolerant of other religions, developing a kind of holier-than-thou stance even towards their fellow Muslims. Holier, or purer, than thou — that sums up the mental conditioning. It is the beginning of a religious psychopathy that ends in bombs in underpants. One friend with a son at university in the northeast of England has not — yet — pulled his son out but he is certainly keeping a watchful eye on him. He has reason to be worried.
Where are these students developing these attitudes? Mostly off-campus in local mosques. There are so-called schools of Islamic teaching attached to mosques in certain British cities. These ghetto schools, which are often situated in innocuous places, are a real problem in Britain. You have them in many of your northern cities; you have them in London. They are not mainstream Islamic schools.
What their mullahs recruit are impressionable youths who have been extracted from the regular Islamic schools and mosques and taken for special grooming for a narrower, more fundamentalist view of Islam. I do not know how many such schools there are but I have met the products of these schools in Britain.
I have heard their pronouncements. I have heard them in the company of my African friends in Britain. I have heard them declare the necessity of destruction of all non-Islamic religions. Their conviction is absolute — and mindless.
On some of the many occasions I have passed through Britain I have encountered religious clerics, some preaching religious hatred. Remember that, interacting with a black man, such preachers tend to be less inhibited in their utterances. They assume — especially if they discern a critical attitude towards western society — that you must be basically sympathetic to their cause.
In 2004 I gave the BBC’s Reith lectures on the theme of a “climate of fear”. My contention was that fear itself posed the greatest danger to our society. At the question-andanswer sessions that followed the lectures, and afterwards, I was assailed by both Jews and Muslims — some genuine and objective disputants, some outright maniacal extremists.
One of the most memorable encounters took place at Emory University, Atlanta. I should explain that the Reith lectures that year took an itinerant format, with the lectures delivered before live audiences across a number of cities, including some in the United States.
In Atlanta I was aggressively confronted by members of a Jewish group who remonstrated over what they considered my lack of understanding of the dimensions of the Islamist global threat.
After one of the London lectures, the chauffeur from a private car-hire company who drove me to the airport subjected me to a non-stop fundamentalist defence of 9/11. I actually felt a need to report him to his company for harassment and received an apology.
In my view, Britain has taken far too long to curb such extremes. The harvest of such long neglect is being reaped today by British society.
I possess some tracts that have been passed among students by some of these hate clerics and sometimes openly preached. If they were racist in content — as opposed to “religious” — they would long ago have been stopped.
Britain has always prided itself on opening its doors to dissidents, even of the most radical nature. This tradition has its virtues: it enabled revolutionaries such as Karl Marx to study and develop radical theories of history and human society, but it also meant that during the 1970s the terrorist Carlos the Jackal moved freely in and out of Britain.
I am not condemning the idea of the open society, but alongside freedom sits responsibility. When freedom of expression is abused by the preachers of hate — either racial or religious — then the state has a responsibility to act.
I think Britain is finally waking up to this terrorist threat at its heart. But sadly the phenomenon of religious extremism is spreading to Nigeria.
When I was growing up there was harmonious co-existence between the Muslim and Christian parts of its society. That has changed drastically. In Nigeria today there are Christian fundamentalists who go out and destroy traditional African shrines. Sometimes they even join hands with Muslim extremists to destroy places of worship of traditional religions. Roaming hordes of killers in northern Nigeria are breaking into homes, dragging out people of other faiths and hacking them to death.
These things spread. One of my friends, a prominent Nigerian, has a daughter who was married to a young Muslim man in the United States. This young man would not allow any non-Muslim, including his wife’s relatives, into the house. He began by saying her family could come in only on certain days and then it escalated. In the end, of course, they divorced. The father took the daughter home.
It is that kind of extreme mental conditioning that fuels religious fundamentalism and threatens world peace.
If a place can be designated — preferably in outer space — for those who believe they are so holy, their religious “truths” so absolute, that they cannot cohabit with other faiths then we should all contribute to the creation of a space armada that would shuttle all such purists to that sanctuary.
Failing that, a policy of rigorous educational rehabilitation for these dislocated minds has become mandatory for the very survival of humanity.
Wole Soyinka, 75, was awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 1986. His plays are written in English but they incorporate the music, dance and words of traditional African festivals.
Born near Abeokuta, in Nigeria, Soyinka grew up in an Anglican mission compound. He came to Britain to study drama at Leeds University and later worked at the Royal Court Theatre in London.
His work has openly criticised the Nigerian government. In the 1960s he was imprisoned for two years during the Nigerian civil war and spent much of that time in solitary confinement. He was later exiled for speaking out against General Sani Abacha.
Soyinka has published plays, novels and several volumes of poetry, including Poems from Prison, A Shuttle in the Crypt and Mandela’s Earth and Other Poems. He now lives in America.
Professor Wole Soyinka won the Nobel prize for literature in 1986