“The revolutions were all leaderless. This was their greatest strength and greatest weakness” – Inspired in Hull with Paul Danahar

Towards the end of an extensive Q&A after his fascinating Inspired in Hull lecture, Paul Danahar was asked by a member of the audience what he would recommend that we do as individuals and as a society to combat the dangers of ‘fake news’ and our not knowing the bigger picture of what is going on in the world. ‘Read,’ was his answer, ‘read a lot. I’m amazed by how few books people read these days. People should read books. It’s important to sit down and dive into a subject.’

BBC America’s Bureau Chief Paul Danahar (Physics 1988)

Over the course of the hour-and-a-half we were lucky  enough to spend in the company of 1988 Physics graduate and the BBC’s America’s Bureau Chief, we were taken on a whirlwind tour of current affairs, moving from country to country, from personal reflection to considered and thoughtful insight, from specific newsworthy events to the broader, existential issues that we are facing. No matter the question, Paul had a carefully considered and well-thought-out insight to share with the audience. It was clear that we were not only in the presence of a man who had spent a lot of time reading, learning and considering (diving into a subject) but whose life had taken him to the very frontline of these issues.

Trump, the ‘Arab Spring’, the ‘War on Terror’, trade disputes with China, military intervention by the UN in Africa, North Korea. Paul had seen so much in his career, and had brought back useful insights to which we would be foolish to pay no heed.

One topic that felt particularly poignant and relevant for young people today was his discussion of social media and the Arab revolts in 2011.

‘The essence of dictatorship is control of the public arena. Social media took that power away. The political class didn’t control the message anymore. Social media provided the capability for the nation’s youth to organise without central control. The revolutions were all leaderless. This was the greatest strength of the movement when it began, but for the secular middle-classes it was also the greatest weakness. They formed the vanguard of the uprisings, but they had no one to represent them when the dictators actually fell. The uprisings were driven by people who were the same age as many of you people here tonight. They thrived on the adrenaline of revolt, but quickly got bored by the tediousness of government. They left that space vacant for the old guard to regroup and take back control. And then once they had, they followed the young revolutionaries back into their campus and they picked them off, one-by-one.’

Paul was unequivocal about his time at Hull: ‘I felt unleashed here.’ At the end of his talk, he reflected on the lecture theme ‘Inspired in Hull’.

‘I was inspired to become the person I am today in Hull. I was inspired by the University and I was inspired by the city and the people that lived in it. To the students today I would say that these are not the best days of your life, but they are the most transformational years of your life. The person you were when you arrived and the one you will be when you leave will be very different.’

American Studies student Madeleine Baker, who introduced Paul, Paul Danahar, and Dr David Eldridge, Senior Lecturer in American Studies

Paul had spent the day taking in the campus and meeting with staff and students, sharing his expertise, answering questions, offering advice, and always listening patiently to the thoughts and ideas people wanted to explore with him. We were truly delighted to have the opportunity to bring back another remarkable alumnus and to share his “Inspired in Hull” story.

You can watch the full video of Paul’s lecture here from -1:19:07

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