The west has forgotten how traumatic modernisation can beby Sameer Rahim / February 7, 2017 / Leave a comment
Pankaj Mishra was born in North India in 1969. Educated at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, he currently lives in London. One of the most prominent essayists of his generation, his new book, The Age of Anger (reviewed by Stefan Collini in the February issue of Prospect) explores the roots of the radical nativism engulfing our world. How are violent jihadism, Hindu nationalism and Donald Trump connected? Mishra, speaking to Prospect’s Arts and Books Editor Sameer Rahim, argued that much of the world is going through the same tumultuous changes the west did in the 18th and 19th centuries. The creation of modernity was a more terrorising experience for the ordinary man and woman than is often remembered—as attested to by thinkers like Rousseau and Dostoevsky.
Sameer Rahim: There’s only one place to start: Donald Trump. His actions last weekend—instituting a “Muslim ban”—seem like an expression of the kind of nativist anger you describe in the book. Was it a surprise to you, or has it been a culmination of events and policies since 9/11?
Pankaj Mishra: I think it is very much a culmination. One has to remember that the powers Trump is exercising as president have been accumulated by the previous president Barack Obama and the one before, George W Bush. The general atmosphere of Islamophobia has been in the making more or less since the Iranian revolution of 1979. Of course, it intensified after 9/11 but the notion that Islam represents “the other” to western identity, and now more specifically the white Americans who voted for Trump—that has become disturbingly mainstream. People have been spouting that, pretty openly, for many years. So Trump is a monstrous culmination of tendencies and traits we’ve already seen in American politics. It’s a mistake to see him as an aberration.
SR: There has been a tendency in liberal circles to demonise Islam. I’m thinking of figures like Sam Harris or Martin Amis. In a 2006 interview Amis said: “There’s a definite urge—don’t you have it?—to say, ‘the Muslim community will have to suffer until it gets its house in order. What sort of suffering? Not letting them travel. Deportation—further down the road. Curtailing of freedoms. Strip-searching people who look like they’re from the Middle East or from Pakistan … Discriminatory stuff, until it hurts the whole community and they start getting tough with their children…’”. He later defended this saying it was a “thought experiment.”