Thursday 9 February - The Sheldonian Theatre
The current series brings together some big names in literature, history, political science, philosophy, economics and law, with the object of defining the nature and implications of the ‘War on Terror’. Questions addressed include whether the ‘war on terror’ is also a ‘war on rights’, whether the methods of terror are also used by those who claim to be at war with it, the possibility of justifying the resort to terrorism, and the issue of the curtailment of civil liberties as a response to terrorism.
Novelist and translator Ahdaf Souief, born in Cairo and educated in Egypt and England, spoke on ‘The function of narrative in the war on terror and beyond’, seeking to explore and explain the way our perception of our own condition, the ‘story we tell ourselves about ourselves’, if you will. Her style is intimate, inviting the audience to appreciate her point of view by making the assumption that they are already complicit, repeating startling assertions by religious leaders and politicians and public figures with a certain wry humour: notions of race, colonialism and religion, an invitation by the authorities at UCLA for students to shop their professors for talking about the war. Given the largeness of the topic, Souief did run out of time at the end of the lecture, disappointingly, but the body of her argument was refreshing, thought-provoking, and, well, entertaining.
Oxford Amnesty Lectures has been running since 1992, and since then has raised over £100,000 for Amnesty International. Past series have included talks from Jacques Derrida, Susan Sontag, and Noam Chomsky. Next up, on Friday 17th February, is Jeff McMahan, Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New Jersey, who has written on nuclear deterrence, the justifications for war and the implications of terrorism. I recommend this as a chance to widen your outlook, to hear opinions that don’t necessarily tally with your own, to not rest easy in the comfort of your assumptions.
The Amnesty Lectures continue at The Sheldonian until the 2nd March.