Tag Archive for 'Africa'

The loud silence from Al Qaeda

Scott Shane in The New York Times:

Washington: When Al Qaeda’s online propaganda arm sought to rally supporters this week after the killing of Osama bin Laden, it did not hint that the network had a major terrorist plot in the works. Instead, it proposed do-it-yourself terrorism, urging militants around the world to come up with their own attacks, however modest.

“We say to every mujahid Muslim, if there is an opportunity, do not waste it,” said the statement Monday from Al Fajr Media Center, the terror network’s online voice. “Do not consult anyone about killing Americans or destroying their economy.”

The message praised Bin Laden for his “long-term planning and vision,” but proposed exactly the opposite: “We also incite you to carry out acts of individual terrorism with significant results, which only require basic preparation.”

The message implicitly acknowledged that the demise of Al Qaeda’s founder leaves its core in a weakened position. Even before Bin Laden’s death, the rise of affiliates, notably Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen, had shifted attention and energy away from the parent organization in Pakistan.

Now, with a handful of flawed or little-known candidates ready to succeed Bin Laden, but no one with his status and charisma, the future of the network’s old hub is uncertain. Some American intelligence analysts believe that the fact that more than 10 days have passed without the announcement of a successor could be a sign of a power struggle. More:

An interview with VS Naipaul

Patrick Marnham in Literary Review:

Sir Vidia Naipaul lives with his wife, Nadira, in Wiltshire, in a house surrounded by fields, with the River Avon running past the foot of the garden. Outside the study window a roe deer and fawn stand motionless. A second glance reveals that they are lifelike wicker-work shapes, the gifts of an anonymous admirer, possibly someone who approves of Naipaul’s passionate concern for animal welfare. He believes that when the local hunt is up, wild animals take shelter in the garden. We talked over two days about his interest in Africa, his latest book, ‘The Masque of Africa: Glimpses of African Belief’, and his long writing career.

LR: You went to see a fortune teller in West Africa on your recent journey. What did you ask him?

VSN: Oh, I always ask them a few specific questions. Will I own a house of my own one day? Will I find emotional satisfaction with someone? Will there be a book next year? Next year … For me that is always a sign of life. But I pay no attention whatever to the replies. I’ve never had any wish to penetrate the personal future. The bigger future is always interesting, but I don’t have this personal wish.

Was the African seer any good?

My favourite answer, which is quite common, is ‘Government help will be forthcoming’. After the Nobel I received a long letter from one fortune teller who had given me this assurance a few months earlier. So they remember their customers. You went to the Congo?

Kinshasa …

Was it fun?

I hadn’t been since the Seventies. I couldn’t believe what had happened to it. It was smashed up in a civil war and fifteen years on it is still a complete mess. You had a similar impression in Uganda, I think.

Kampala is horrible now. I think the population has just got out of hand. And there’s no one worried about it. The man in charge, Museveni, appears in the newspaper every day, walking somewhere and being photographed. Walking and being photographed. It’s pathetic really.

When he first came in it all seemed so hopeful.

Yes. But that was a long time ago.


V. S. Naipaul, a misanthrope abroad

William Boyd in The Sunday Times:

In her great poem “Questions of Travel”, Elizabeth Bishop outlines the quandary that all long-distance travellers put to themselves at some stage of their journey: “Should we have stayed at home and thought of here? . . . Is it right to be watching strangers in a play / in this strangest of theatres?” It’s a good question for an elderly novelist pondering a trip to Africa to revisit some of the places that inspired his earlier work. It’s one that Evelyn Waugh might have asked himself in 1959 as he set off for East Africa; one he might have reiterated as he wrote up his journey in what became A Tourist in Africa (1960) – a book that even the most fervent Waugh admirers consider his laziest and worst.

Similarly, Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul, born in Trinidad in 1932, knight of the realm, laureate of the Nobel Prize for Literature, might also have questioned himself in 2008 as he prepared to leave for Uganda and other African countries, West and South, unifying his peregrinations under the vague subtitle “Glimpses of African belief”. In fact, the comparisons with Waugh don’t need to end there: it’s an interesting thought-experiment to look at the two writers’ careers and to consider V. S. Naipaul as a kind of Caribbean Waugh. Both were precocious schoolboys who won scholarships to Oxford. Waugh was a distinctively small man – so is Naipaul: both around five foot, six inches. Both took bad degrees and in the doldrums of their post-Oxford lives half-heartedly attempted suicide (Waugh by drowning, Naipaul by gassing). Their early novels were brilliantly original comic satires before the later work assumed more gravitas and the humour diminished. And in their personas, also, both men reinvented themselves in early middle age and took to wearing masks, masks that eventually “ate into the face”. In these masks they delighted in expressing outrageous, unfashionable, ultra-right-wing opinions and the more the metropolitan intelligentsia howled and railed at them the more gleeful they were. Both men, late in their lives, went to Africa to write a travel book. More:

The Masque of Africa by V S Naipaul: review

Sameer Rahim in The Telegraph:

V S Naipaul’s father was once forced to sacrifice a goat to the Hindu goddess Kali. In June 1933, when Vidia was still a baby, Seepersad Naipaul had written an article in the Trinidad Guardian criticising Hindu farmers who ignored government regulations and inoculated their cattle with religious rites.

His angry opponents threatened him with a poisoning curse unless he appeased the goddess. He refused at first but soon relented: wearing trousers rather than the traditional loincloth (his small rebellion), he offered up a severed goat’s head on a brass plate.

In that Sunday’s paper he was all bluster: “Mr Naipaul greets you! No Poison last night”. But this “great humiliation”, as his son wrote in Finding the Centre (1984), destroyed his life. He lost his job and sunk into depression. According to Naipaul’s mother, “He looked in the mirror one day and couldn’t see himself. And he began to scream.”

Over the course of his long writing career, V S Naipaul’s view of religion has moved – much like this story – from the potentially comic to the outright sinister. His first published novel, The Mystic Masseur (1957), was a satire on a fake pundit. In his masterpiece A House for Mr Biswas (1961) the title character (based on Seepersad) is expelled from his training as a Hindu priest when he pollutes some sacred flowers with his excrement. His travel book on India, An Area of Darkness (1964), took a harsher view of Hinduism and the caste system and after 1970, when he first learnt about his father’s ritual humiliation (the family had kept it an absolute secret), his work took on an unforgiving tone. More:

Patrick Marnham in The Spectator: Naipaul starts in Uganda, because he once knew this country best. He lived there in 1966 and now says that he remembered it as a rather beautiful country with an independent future, and clear evidence of pre- colonial civilisation. This time he was appalled by what he found. The roads had fallen to pieces, the garbage lay uncollected, the trim bungalows had disappeared beneath piles of corrugated iron shacks, which were crammed together and falling down.

And The Guardian review here: