12/03/2018 HARDtalk


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12/03/2018

Stephen Sackur talks to Pakistani novelist Mohsin Hamid about his latest book which focuses on migration.


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Now on BBC News, it

is time for HARDtalk.

0:00:010:00:08

Welcome to HARDtalk,

I'm Stephen Sackur.

0:00:080:00:12

Globalisation is a trend

based on movement -

0:00:120:00:18

of money, goods, ideas

and people, across continents

0:00:180:00:19

and national borders.

0:00:200:00:24

In a world of glaring inequality,

it has stirred a powerful backlash,

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manifested in the rise of

nationalism and identity politics.

0:00:280:00:33

And this clash of human impulses

is fertile territory

0:00:330:00:43

for my guest today, the Pakistani

novelist Mohsin Hamid.

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In his novels, he has

explored cultural,

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economic and religious tensions

between East and West,

0:00:510:00:53

rich and poor.

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His latest book

focuses on migration.

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Why does it frighten so many of us?

0:00:550:01:01

Mohsin Hamid, welcome to HARDtalk.

0:01:190:01:23

Thank you.

I want to start with this

interesting idea of yours, that you,

0:01:240:01:29

you say, are a mongrel through and

through. What do you mean by being a

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mongrel?

When I was born in

Pakistan, a move to California when

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I was three, back to Pakistan at

nine, America 18, London 30, and

0:01:390:01:44

back to Pakistan about nine years

ago. And along the way I have become

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a mixture of things. So I can't

think of myself as just Pakistani or

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just British or just American. I am

a mixed up kind of creature, a

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hybrid. And that is what I mean by

mongrel. It's a term that we tend to

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think of as kind of negative.

Yes, I

mean, do you wear that badge with

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pride?

I do, I think that is

something we should all wear with

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pride, because everyone is a

mongrel, actually. We are descended

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from all sorts of people, and we

have travelled and we have mixed

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throughout ancestry, but also in our

own lives.

But it is such an

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interesting statement, everybody is

a mongrel. Because of course, most

0:02:200:02:24

people don't want to think of

themselves as mongrel. Indeed, the

0:02:240:02:26

notion of longing, having a clear

identity, having a group, a tribe

0:02:260:02:31

that is yours, that is something

that seems today, and the 21st

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century, to be extraordinarily

important to people.

I think it is

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very important. I think that the

sense of belonging to a group of

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people, having connection to those

people, is very important. But what

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happens sometime ago was the people

we actually had a connection to, our

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media, you know, family and clan,

was replaced by this idea of the

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nation, the nationstate. Which is

kind of a fictitious connection. We

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don't really have a personal

connection to most people of our

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nation.

Well, the EU, maybe, but

maybe not the most people. I wonder,

0:03:020:03:07

because of your rather special

international upbringing, with a

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well-to-do family who moved with you

to America and then could afford to

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put you through US university, and

you got a very good job, you know,

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you are a part of the sort of a

global elite, which most people in

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most parts of the world are simply

not part of.

That's true,

0:03:230:03:26

absolutely. That said, I mean, my

childhood was spent trying to blend

0:03:260:03:32

in with other people. So I was like

a chameleon. You know, more

0:03:320:03:36

Pakistani and Pakistan, more

American in America. And as I got

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older, I began to be comfortable

being a bit of a misfit, a sort of a

0:03:390:03:45

strange semi- foreign creature. But

as I have become comfortable with

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this, what I find is how many other

people find themselves feeling

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foreign. I think everybody feels

foreign, actually. So, you know, the

0:03:520:03:58

only gay trialed in a street family

feels foreign. The only daughter

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with five brothers feels foreign. A

poet in the engineering faculty

0:04:010:04:05

feels a bit foreign. There is a

sense each of us has of being a bit

0:04:050:04:10

different, of not fitting in.

Just

one more political thought about

0:04:100:04:13

this notion of identity and

belonging. It is a very interesting

0:04:130:04:18

statement which the British Prime

Minister, Theresa May, came out with

0:04:180:04:23

not so long ago. She said if you

believe you are a citizen of the

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world, you are in fact a citizen of

nowhere. You don't understand what

0:04:270:04:31

the very word citizenship means. Do

you feel yourself, you know, with

0:04:310:04:35

this mongrel idea of yours, to be a

citizen of the world, rather than

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anywhere in particular?

I think we

can have multiple, overlapping

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citizenships, so I am a citizen of

London in the centre used to live

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here and pay taxes you, I feel

something to this place, a

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connection to this place. I am also

a British citizen, which to Theresa

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May might make me a sort of a

citizen of nowhere, because I am

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also Pakistani. But it has a real

meaning to me, in terms of my sense

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of connection to this country, and

my belief in abiding by the laws of

0:05:030:05:06

this country, etc, voting when I am

here. I don't think you become a

0:05:060:05:10

citizen of nowhere. I think the

question is, really, can you be a

0:05:100:05:14

citizen of more than one place? Can

you be a family with two parents

0:05:140:05:18

instead of one parent, as a child? I

think you can. You can have multiple

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families that you belong to.

Your

latest novel, Exit West, it is a

0:05:220:05:25

sort of an epic tale with epic

elements to it about a couple that

0:05:250:05:32

fall in love in a city which is

never named, but let's say it sounds

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a bit like Aleppo, in Syria, a city

which is pleasant but falls into the

0:05:360:05:41

most terrible war. These two young

people get caught up in it, and they

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ultimately decide that their only

hope of a decent future is to leave.

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You wrote it, as I understand it,

while living in Lahore. Did you

0:05:480:05:55

write it because you've got yourself

in the city, Lahore in Pakistan,

0:05:550:05:58

which was almost as fragile and as

vulnerable as a city like Aleppo

0:05:580:06:02

proved to be?

I hope that Lahore is

not that fragile, but I imagine

0:06:020:06:07

people in Kabul and Aleppo and the

massacres and Sarajevo also felt

0:06:070:06:12

that their cities were not that

fragile. What has changed for me is

0:06:120:06:15

the plausibility of this disaster

occurring in the place where I live

0:06:150:06:21

has grown. I think it has grown for

many people in many places, and so

0:06:210:06:25

the novel is born out of that kind

of nightmare, something I hope will

0:06:250:06:29

never happen.

It is a visceral,

personal fear.

Yes, I think, you

0:06:290:06:35

know, living in Pakistan, again, I

don't want a sort of contribute a

0:06:350:06:38

narrative that Pakistan is going to

decline and fall into chaos, I don't

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think it is likely to do so. I think

it is likely to do the opposite. But

0:06:420:06:46

it is possible that it could, and

when you live in a place like that,

0:06:460:06:50

various background fear that can

occur, and for me does occur, and

0:06:500:06:53

fiction is the way it takes place.

And it is a fundamentally bleak

0:06:530:06:58

vision. I mean, you catalogue and so

many interesting emotional and

0:06:580:07:01

intimate ways the way in which

narrows down the life of all the

0:07:010:07:05

people captured by it in this city,

trapped in this city. And in the

0:07:050:07:11

end, as I say, the two young people

decide that escape is their only

0:07:110:07:16

alternative. But the really

interesting thing you do in this

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novel, because a lot of it is quite

realistic, and evokes images from

0:07:190:07:23

Aleppo and muzzle and elsewhere, but

then what you do is you add this

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sort of fantastical element, where

they discover a sort of magical

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doorway that can transport them from

the hell of war to a new life, first

0:07:300:07:34

on a Greek island, and then they

make it to London. What is all this

0:07:340:07:39

fabulous magic doorway about?

Well,

sometimes I think we can get closer

0:07:390:07:44

to emotional reality by bending

other aspects that we think of as

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being real. So yes, the doors that

they travel through don't exist

0:07:490:07:54

according to physics as we know it.

And yet we each carry around a small

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black rectangle in our pockets and

our handbags which is a kind of

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portal, you know, the screen of our

phones.

The smartphone.

Yes, through

0:08:020:08:08

which our consciousness leaps

forward from our body constantly. We

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also know that if we wanted people

to move very cheaply, they could.

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There is no technological reason why

people can't move around the planet,

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maybe not instantaneously, but very,

very easily. And so the doors for me

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are a combination of what technology

is making our world feel like, the

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world we are suddenly seeing and

mentally present wherever we wish to

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be, and away to compress the next

couple of centuries of human history

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into a very short period of time.

And yet, I suppose, the reader

0:08:390:08:43

wonders whether you are devaluing

the sheer bravery, courage, and also

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the risk that comes with actually

escaping war-torn city, and trying

0:08:470:08:53

to make a new life. Because, whether

it be Syria or whether it be sub

0:08:530:08:57

Saharan Africa, those who choose to

leave and try to reach the rich

0:08:570:09:04

world, and usually it is Europe,

they are undertaking a terribly

0:09:040:09:07

dangerous journey, either by sea or

across mountains and deserts, or

0:09:070:09:11

maybe both. And your description of

the migrant experience doesn't

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include that journey at all.

Yes,

absolutely. I think that is... It is

0:09:180:09:22

not my intention to minimise or to

say that it is not horrific, the way

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in which refugees and migrants are

often forced to travel. It is

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horrific, and very frequently

deadly. But what has happened is, by

0:09:340:09:39

focusing so much on the journey of

these people, we have created a

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different category of human being.

Those who have crossed the

0:09:430:09:46

Mediterranean on a small rubber

dinghy or crawled underneath the

0:09:460:09:49

barbed wire on the US Mexican border

are different from us. We have made

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into another category of person, and

then there's other category can be

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dealt with, I think, inhumanely.

When you take away that part that

0:09:560:10:00

makes them different, they are

simply people who are in place, and

0:10:000:10:04

then left the place for another

place, which everyone of us has

0:10:040:10:07

done, even if it is just leaving a

Paris houses to move out on our own.

0:10:070:10:11

And so my intent was not to devalue,

de- emphasise that part of the

0:10:110:10:16

story, but to establish a kind of

similarity between migrant

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communities and every else.

To make

them seem less different.

Yes,

0:10:220:10:27

because at the end of the day, what

I think we are encountering is not

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so much that there is a conflict

between two are the kinds of

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feeling, the feeling of those who

are fleeing dangerous geographies

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and the feeling of those who are

resisting the arrival of those

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geographies. I think actually the

feelings are very similar. The idea

0:10:410:10:45

of losing the place where you grew

up Kennecott both because you change

0:10:450:10:49

geographies, and it can occur

because you are starting to feel

0:10:490:10:53

foreign in a place where you

yourself have grown up. And so if we

0:10:530:10:57

can recognise that the sorrow of

these two experiences is similar, we

0:10:570:11:00

can get beyond the kind of fruitless

notion of inevitable conflict

0:11:000:11:03

between these two divisions.

There

is a phrase in the book where you

0:11:030:11:08

describe the passage they make from

their war-torn home to a new life

0:11:080:11:12

which ends up being for a long time

in London, but then they actually

0:11:120:11:17

make another move to California. The

passage, you say, was both like

0:11:170:11:21

dying and like the board. Now, I am

interested in the just edition of

0:11:210:11:28

the two -- like being born. It says

something about your own life as

0:11:280:11:31

well when you lived in those

different places, that yes, huge

0:11:310:11:34

amount of opportunity came your way,

but there was also, always, a sense

0:11:340:11:37

of sorrow and loss as well.

There

is, I mean, there is an emotional

0:11:370:11:42

violence to moving that we often

don't give enough consideration. And

0:11:420:11:47

the echoes of that emotional

violence can go... Proceed through

0:11:470:11:52

our lifetime and across generations.

When, for example, if I were to

0:11:520:11:55

leave Pakistan again, my children

everyday play with their

0:11:550:12:01

grandparents. Let's say we were to

move somewhere far away and they

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were to see them once a week... Once

a year for a week. That relationship

0:12:040:12:09

would, in a sense, end. And there is

an enormous sorrow to that ending. I

0:12:090:12:15

think people do experience

incredible senses of loss when they

0:12:150:12:19

leave the place, and it is important

to recognise that. When we say what

0:12:190:12:23

has this person done, what have they

given up to be here, the answer is,

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when you say that of the refugee,

the migrant, they have given up

0:12:270:12:32

everything. And the emotional

consequences of that are huge.

And

0:12:320:12:35

one interesting... It is only one,

but one interesting element of how

0:12:350:12:38

they tried to maintain and memory of

where they came from, is actually

0:12:380:12:43

the use of religion as a vehicle and

prayer as a way of reconnecting. And

0:12:430:12:48

I'm particularly interested, because

you of course are also the author of

0:12:480:12:53

The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which

looked at the relationship to in the

0:12:530:12:56

West and the Muslim world through

the eyes of a young man meeting an

0:12:560:12:59

American, a young Pakistani man. And

in this book, you have another young

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man, Saeed, who turns to prayer. And

is your message that sometimes

0:13:040:13:10

religion, in this case the Muslim

religion, can be a means of trying

0:13:100:13:14

to maintain an identity?

Well,

certainly it can be. I think that

0:13:140:13:19

what has happened is that many...

Was it for you, by the way?

Religion

0:13:190:13:27

as a way of maintaining my identity?

I would say that, in a sense, I have

0:13:270:13:33

been made conscious of muslins as a

group because of how I am treated by

0:13:330:13:37

other people. So when I arrived on

the Eurostar from Paris in London

0:13:370:13:42

recently, everybody walked off the

train, we had already been through

0:13:420:13:46

immigration, I have a UK passport,

but I was stopped by some of it and

0:13:460:13:50

asked a whole bunch of questions,

and I think it is to do with

0:13:500:13:54

belonging to this group. So yes, to

a certain extent.

And did that make

0:13:540:13:58

you feel resentful, angry? Didn't

actually reinforce this feeling of

0:13:580:14:01

being the other?

Yes, it did those

things. It made me sad more than

0:14:010:14:05

those are the feelings, because I

think that the UK has been better

0:14:050:14:10

than many countries at not having

this sort of sense of constant

0:14:100:14:14

surveillance.

0:14:140:14:19

Is that why

0:14:190:14:20

Is that why you left the United

States after 9/11? Because you felt

0:14:200:14:24

like you are being regarded as a

potential threat?

It wasn't the

0:14:240:14:28

reason. I was living in London a

couple of months before it happened.

0:14:280:14:31

It was perhaps the reason I didn't

go back after I initially had

0:14:310:14:36

planned to do. It was at the George

Bush, the second George Bush

0:14:360:14:42

administration and a lot of wars

were starting and London felt very

0:14:420:14:46

conducive as this kind of

international hub of thinking,

0:14:460:14:50

writing, people protesting the Iraq

war. I felt culturally, politically,

0:14:500:14:55

in a sense, more at home in London

in those days.

And yet, in the end

0:14:550:14:59

it brings us back to where we began

this conversation, questions of

0:14:590:15:05

identity and belonging. He went back

to Pakistan. Despite everything you

0:15:050:15:09

have said about the universality of

the human experience and values, you

0:15:090:15:14

in the end did what so many people

did, you went home.

I am not

0:15:140:15:22

somebody who is a rootless mongrel

wandering the earth. Although that

0:15:220:15:31

is no worse or better than any other

kind of person. I am living in the

0:15:310:15:36

same place I lived as a child. After

having wandered in all these places.

0:15:360:15:42

In Athens, the reverse migration

from the one is the overbearing in

0:15:420:15:48

so much of the world. From the poor

world to the rich world. -- in a

0:15:480:15:53

sense. You made it in the rich

world, you became a consultant,

0:15:530:15:58

Golden egg job and then you decided

to be a writer and had written best

0:15:580:16:03

sellers. You were a success in New

York, in London and yet, you decided

0:16:030:16:08

you wanted to make it your life in

Pakistan and eight S8 many of your

0:16:080:16:13

friends said you are crazy. Yellow

that people thought it was a strange

0:16:130:16:19

decision. -- many people thought it

was a strange decision. -- and in a

0:16:190:16:26

sense.

Migration has always been

away for human beings to find what

0:16:260:16:31

they are looking for. Homo sapiens

are not involved on the British

0:16:310:16:36

Isles. People came here over

thousands of years and they keep

0:16:360:16:40

coming. They don't necessarily stay.

People whose ancestors have moved on

0:16:400:16:46

to America, some might come back

this way. I think we can migrate and

0:16:460:16:50

return.

This is where I struggle to

keep up with you because it seems to

0:16:500:16:58

me, when you talk about the

migration of the future in which you

0:16:580:17:03

say, and I am going to quote you've,

" I imagine when people are finally

0:17:030:17:09

free to move as they please around

our planet, they will look back at

0:17:090:17:13

our moment now and wonder just as we

wonder about those who kept slaves,

0:17:130:17:17

how people who seemed so modern

could do such cool things to their

0:17:170:17:21

fellow human beings like caging them

up as animals"

0:17:210:17:25

fellow human beings like caging them

up as animals". Your implication

0:17:250:17:27

being, we will reach this sort of

heavenly moment where migration is

0:17:270:17:33

just completely normal, acceptable,

easy and accessible to everybody on

0:17:330:17:36

this planet. I put it to you that

flies in the face of everything

0:17:360:17:41

about the human condition and human

history.

Well, I think human history

0:17:410:17:48

and a human condition is a march

towards greater equality. Until

0:17:480:17:51

recently, the idea that black people

would be slaves in a part of America

0:17:510:17:56

in a certain part of history was

common. The idea that women were

0:17:560:18:01

inferior to men or that gay people

should have the same rights as

0:18:010:18:05

straight people will stop all these

things have changed. -- is straight

0:18:050:18:11

people. All these things have

changed.

What hasn't changed are

0:18:110:18:16

these strains of nationalism and

populism and building borders.

0:18:160:18:19

Today, we can say that there is

something about all of human history

0:18:190:18:24

that yes, there are constant

movement -- movements, which have

0:18:240:18:32

involved epic amount of killing and

bloodshed.

I don't think they have.

0:18:320:18:37

Look at the history of north

America, South America, Central

0:18:370:18:42

Asia. Almost any geographical part

of the world is full of such

0:18:420:18:45

stories.

Yes, there have been

violence associated with migration

0:18:450:18:50

but it's not necessarily the case.

In North America, there was a

0:18:500:18:54

genocide. The free Colombian

population was wiped out, as

0:18:540:18:58

effectively. I have brown skin

because tens of thousands of years,

0:18:580:19:02

lighter skinned people have come

into the darker skinned places that

0:19:020:19:07

they didn't actually massacre each

other and result in lighter skinned

0:19:070:19:11

people surviving. They stuck around

and into next. Most of human history

0:19:110:19:15

is I think like that. It is not

genocide after genocide. Frequently,

0:19:150:19:20

I think, most often, we don't engage

in genocide.

I alluded to this

0:19:200:19:26

earlier, where you would acknowledge

that you are -- your rather

0:19:260:19:35

optimistic view on migration and the

intermingling of peoples, whether it

0:19:350:19:40

is reflective of having a gilded

life.

I think probably it is. In

0:19:400:19:45

that said, I think there are two

strong reasons to believe it is

0:19:450:19:53

going to happen. One reason is the

pressure of migration is going to

0:19:530:19:58

become enormous. If we are truly

going to resist it, we will no

0:19:580:20:01

longer be able to simply outsource

to Libya and Turkey, we will have

0:20:010:20:07

two actively kill people who want to

come. Direct barriers stop catch

0:20:070:20:14

those who get through. Catch those

who try to help those get through.

0:20:140:20:17

We will begin to...

You are saying

there is no middle ground? There is

0:20:170:20:23

no control that is possible in a

humanitarian way?

There never has

0:20:230:20:27

been. When have people stopped

moving? We have always moved, it is

0:20:270:20:32

the nature of humanity. We have

never been confined to geographies

0:20:320:20:36

in this way. The population of

Africa was a small fraction of

0:20:360:20:40

Europe 50 years ago. It will be

multiples 50 years hence. When

0:20:400:20:45

climate changes, people will move.

One would hope we won't have the

0:20:450:20:50

stomach, I hope, to inflict the

atrocities and create the

0:20:500:20:54

totalitarian societies that will

resist it. We actually need to think

0:20:540:20:58

about ourselves as humans and less

divided to solve the most pressing

0:20:580:21:03

problems we face. Climate change

cannot be solved by country thinking

0:21:030:21:08

of national self interest. The issue

of migration I don't think will be

0:21:080:21:12

addressed if -- in this way. The

most important issue is how we will

0:21:120:21:17

regulate and manage technology. We

are on the verge of giving birth to

0:21:170:21:20

intelligent machines that can think.

How are we going to regulate this?

0:21:200:21:24

How will we share the benefits? They

could potentially create great

0:21:240:21:29

surpluses but if they accrue to just

one dozen trillion as in California

0:21:290:21:33

is and the rest of us lose our jobs,

it is not a very pleasant planet.

0:21:330:21:37

All of this requires a more human

thinking.

And they use it in

0:21:370:21:42

Pakistan. I want to end by coming

back to your current life in

0:21:420:21:45

Pakistan. You have left California

where you just said, so many of

0:21:450:21:49

these developments in TEC have come

from and you are now looking in at

0:21:490:21:53

population of 200 million that is

mainly poverty. These are

0:21:530:22:00

disheartening times. -- tech. You

feel more disheartened about the

0:22:000:22:05

direction of your company because

the question has become about who is

0:22:050:22:08

Muslim enough and the answer appears

to be nobody 's is Muslim enough.

0:22:080:22:14

After all of your optimism about

what humanity can achieve and the

0:22:140:22:18

values that we idea lies, actually,

your own home, you seem to think, is

0:22:180:22:26

in very profound trouble.

It is in

trouble but I think it can get out.

0:22:260:22:30

That is important for us to begin to

articulate optimistic visions of

0:22:300:22:33

politics, the future, culture. What

we are facing right now is that

0:22:330:22:39

dominant of the spellcheck

pessimistic visions. If you are

0:22:390:22:41

pessimistic about having a more

equal world, you tend to think it is

0:22:410:22:45

a good idea to make America great

again.

Thanks for putting that

0:22:450:22:49

phrasing. I just noted Donald

Trump's first tweet at 2018,

0:22:490:22:55

directed at Pakistan. "They Have

given us nothing but lies and deceit

0:22:550:23:02

giving safe haven to the terrorists

we are hunting for in Afghanistan. "

0:23:020:23:06

It seems to me that right now you

are living in a part of the world

0:23:060:23:11

that giving the messages being sent

by Donald Trump and the current

0:23:110:23:15

American administration is going to

be a cockpit of tension and trouble.

0:23:150:23:19

Yes, but, what we are seeing is an

older generation that has migrated

0:23:190:23:23

to becoming older, it is in power

right now. Disproportionately, they

0:23:230:23:28

want these barriers for the younger

Americans disproportionately did not

0:23:280:23:32

vote for Donald Trump and younger

British did not vote for Brexit.

0:23:320:23:38

Younger people are more comfortable

with this openness. This is how

0:23:380:23:42

civilisation evolves. We don't

suddenly become enlightened. The

0:23:420:23:46

older generation, people like us who

have more closed minded views,

0:23:460:23:50

eventually die. We each achieve the

great Brexit in the sky. And then

0:23:500:23:55

the younger people who are left who

are still here will take us into

0:23:550:23:59

domains with can't imagine including

people moving around the world in

0:23:590:24:02

the way that today we think about as

very strange.

You are one of the

0:24:020:24:06

most optimistic people I have ever

met.

Well, I am a father. It is my

0:24:060:24:11

job to the optimistic was not

pessimism is feeding a medical

0:24:110:24:15

reactionary thinking. -- political

reactionary thinking.

We have to

0:24:150:24:21

went there. Thank you for being on

HARDtalk. -- we have to end there.

0:24:210:24:27

Globalisation is a trend based on movement - of money, goods, ideas and people - across continents and national borders. In a world of glaring inequality it has stirred a powerful backlash manifested in the rise of nationalism and identity politics. This clash of human impulses is fertile territory for the Pakistani novelist Mohsin Hamid. In his novels he has explored cultural, economic and religious tensions between east and west, rich and poor. His latest book focuses on migration; why does it frighten so many of us?