In a chat with HT, Hanif Kureishi opens up on his views on revolution, radicalism, being a Muslim in today's world and more.
I’ve read everything you’ve written actually, which is a bad thing to say before you start an interview.
Listen, there’s a worse way to start an interview. Most journalists, they say, 'I’m sorry, I haven’t read your last book' or 'I’m sorry I’ve never heard of you'.
Of all the novels, screenplays and short stories that you have written, which is your favourite?
The stuff I’m doing next. I’m excited by what I’m writing. I’ve got some vague ideas for movies, essays. I’m writing every day. I’ve got lots of ideas. I don’t know; some are going to work out, some are going to be terrible. That’s the only thing that interests me. I don’t think about what I wrote before. They’re there but really what excites me is what I’m doing tomorrow, what the next thing’s gonna be. I get up in the morning and I think, yeah, I really want to work on that story; this time it’s going to be really good fun.
Your work deals with sexuality, class, race, these big questions, but not in an activist sort of way.
Well, I like to write about the things that matter to me, particularly when I was a young man, which were to do with race, sexuality, class. But all that stuff is integrated into your life, how you live it. You can talk about sex and sexuality abstractly but I’m interested in how this person and that person live it and that’s what a storyteller or a novelist will try and do. Or class – how class affected me, or how fluid class was when I was a young man and how much more rigid it is now than it was before. Certainly, in terms of the distribution of wealth, and who has the money and how you get by in England, it was much freer; it’s really closing down. The money is moving to the elite. Most of the people who are artists now are rich or come from rich families; most of the people who can afford a really good education now are rich. I grew up at a time when we wanted equality, for women, for gay people. The one thing we wanted most of all was financial equality. That’s gone, that’s hopeless, everything’s moved to the 1 percent and everybody else is f**ked. What I’m amazed at is that the world isn’t furious about this; why people accept this so easily, and there are more and more billionaires and there are more and more poor people. This question matters a lot to you in India. It’s a big economy; it’s a growing economy, Where’s that money going to go? Who’s going to steal it? Obviously, I see the same thing in London. It’s changed a lot. I see it on my own street. Where I live now it’s just rich people and poor people; the middle class has left. When I say middle class I mean ordinary people like teachers who just can’t live in the city any more. So that’s the most interesting question to me in the world today.
This question about religion and being Muslim in England, how difficult is it now?
Since the attacks, particularly in Paris, it’s become really hard to be Muslim. People hate all Muslims now. They blame all Muslims. Somehow, you know, every Muslim is responsible for this. Every Muslim is a potential terrorist. These Muslim terrorists have made life really difficult for all minorities and I really deplore that. Everybody looks at every Muslim saying, "Maybe this one’s a terrorist too". So ordinary Muslims who just want to live their lives and go to school and get a job and go shopping and live normally... What we call the immigrant... The immigrant really is the new Jew, by which I mean everybody has fantasies. The immigrant’s going to take their job, the immigrant’s going to take their wife, maybe he’s got a gun, maybe he’s got a bomb, maybe he’s extremist, maybe he’s going to hate homosexuals... So many fantasies about this fantastic , fantasised-about figure, the immigrant, who’s the target of people’s hate. And this is an interesting and terrible phenomenon, quite a new thing and comparable to some of the fantasies that were around in the 1930s about Jews.
About the rise in political correctness in general, does it affect you as a writer?
It’s never bothered me. I just say what I want to say. I’ve always done that. I think it’s the only way you can live. I’ve never thought, "Oh, I shouldn’t say that".
The Sun getting rid of its page 3 pictures, do you think that’s political correctness at work?
I don’t think that’s political correctness. I think those kind of images, its day is done. We live in a world of generalised pornography. If you want pornography, real pornography, you can get it anywhere. You don’t have to look at The Sun. It’s not because The Sun has become a decent newspaper; it’s that you can get much hotter stuff elsewhere. So I don’t think that’s because of political correctness at all. We live in a world of perversion now and the availability of all kinds of very tough hard core pornography that anybody can access at any time and I think that’s much worse, much more damaging to people’s sexuality and destroys sexuality actually.
It’s so banal, there’s no danger in it. It’s just repetition; it’s just the same thing over and over again. The really dangerous thing is what might happen between two people who really want to f**k and really want to change each other, have contact with one another. Looking at a Sun picture of some of these breasts is not revolutionary, it’s banal, it’s nothing, it’s not even sex. That’s gone. I don’t think it’s to do with political correctness. The real question now is how to keep sexuality alive. Pornography destroys sexuality in my view. It’s not exciting enough. Real sexuality transforms you, transports you, it changes your life. Look at Lady Chatterley’s lover. She gets f**ked by the gamekeeper and she thinks "Wow, why aren’t I doing this all the time? Why don’t I live differently? Why don’t I become a different person?" But now sex has become so banal, you’re looking at it and it’s like looking at a bar of chocolate. So the question is how do we keep sexuality from being killed off by that kind of banalisation?
Do you think that’s possible?
It’s completely different now, sexuality in its availability. I don’t think it’s transformative any more. I grew up in the 1960s and ‘70s when f**king was revolutionary and it really changed your life and made you into a different person – you might become a lesbian, you might become gay, you might go to an orgy, you might live in a commune. Now it’s become routine. So the interesting question is how do we use sexuality to make the revolution? I don’t think you can do it. I think it has to be love. The real radical thing is to be straight, is to be committed, to be married, to give up freedom, that’s the most radical far out thing you can do. Anybody can get laid so then what is so revolutionary about you being next? It has to be a sacrifice, you have to give something up. It only becomes dangerous and authentic if there’s a sacrifice. Romeo and Juliet is about that sacrifice. They’re going to be f**king killed, they’re going to die. You not to going to die from looking at pornography, it’ll just kill your soul. That’s a different thing.