Doris Lessing, the winner of this year's Nobel Prize in Literature, has risked incurring the wrath of Americans by accusing them of overreacting to the 11 September attacks on the Twin Towers, which she said were really "not that terrible".
Comparing the al-Qa'ida attacks – which killed almost 3,000 people – to the IRA's late 20th-century campaign – in which an estimated 2,000 were killed over three decades – the outspoken British author said that Americans were "naive" in thinking that the tragedy was unique.
"11 September was terrible, but if one goes back over the history of the IRA, what happened to the Americans wasn't that terrible," she told the Spanish newspaper, El Pais. "Some Americans will think I'm crazy. Many people died, two prominent buildings fell, but it was neither as terrible nor as extraordinary as they think." Lessing, whose 57-year career was praised this month by Nobel judges for the "scepticism, fire and visionary power" of her work, also said of the Americans: "They're a very naive people, or they pretend to be."
The author, who celebrated her 88th birthday on Tuesday, recalled the seriousness of the Provisional IRA's Brighton bomb attack on Margaret Thatcher's government during the 1984 Conservative Party conference. It narrowly missed the Prime Minister, killed five others and injured 34.
"Do you know what people forget? That the IRA attacked with bombs against our government," said Lessing. "It killed several people while a Conservative conference was being held and which the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, was [attending]. People forget."
The prize-winning author, who has always taken a strong stance against political injustice, also lashed out at the leaderships of Tony Blair and George Bush. "I always hated Tony Blair, from the beginning," she said. "Many of us hated Tony Blair. I think he has been a disaster for Britain and we have suffered him for many years. I said it when he was elected: 'This man is a little showman who is going to cause us problems.' And he did."
Lessing, whose book The Golden Notebook inspired a generation of feminists, did not have much kinder words for the present occupant of the White House.
"As for Bush, he's a world calamity," she said. "Everyone is tired of this man. Either he is stupid or he is very clever, although you have to remember he is a member of a social class which has profited from wars."
Her criticisms were not limited to the West. Born in 1919 in the city of Kermanshah, in what is now western Iran, she said of the current regime in Tehran: "I hate Iran. I hate the Iranian government. It's a cruel and evil government. Look what happened to its president in New York. They called him evil and cruel in Columbia University. Marvellous! They should have said more to him. Nobody criticises him, because of oil."
Lessing has always been highly political – she was an avowed communist after the Second World War. Among her 15 novels are The Golden Notebook and The Grass is Singing, which deal with political and sexual taboos, weaving them into complex narratives.
Speaking at the Hay Festival in June this year, she said that freedom to write and say what you thought was very important for an author. "We are free... I can say what I think. We are lucky, privileged, so why not make use of it?"