& occasionally about other things, too...

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Suketu Mehta interview - 3



Mayank: Also, there is mainstreaming of the fringe globally. The fringe of two decades ago is now at the centerstage. That is probably responsible for what is happening to the Muslims in India. But there is no other in the US. Immigrants are an amorphous group, with no easily identifiable ethnic group emerging as a target group.

Suketu: I have more hope for the United States at the moment than I have for India because in the US just about one-third will vote for Trump, but in India, a majority of Indians are convinced that Modi is a strong man. He has been able to create a seductive narrative around beating Pakistan, which Indians are loving.

Gavin: Ingeniously, Modi has succeeded in fanning anti-Muslim sentiments even among other minorities in India. I known there are some within the Christian community who now openly express anti-Muslim sentiments and they love Modi. But they don’t realise there is nothing for them.

Suketu: That’s right. After the Muslims are done with, they will go after Christians and Paris and other communities. In America you go after Mexicans, the gays and women are next.

Mayank: You ended your talk (at the Toronto International Festival of Authors) by emphasizing there is hope. Where do you see hope?

Suketu: In the US certainly. Demographically, the country is going to turn majority non-white. People who support Trump at on their last gasp. They are practically screwed. The Republican Party will be obsolete in about a decade. 

Demographically, they are alienating huge sections of the population. I mean look at Texas – the entire state of Texas is about to go Democratic because it is becoming very, very multicultural. Houston is more diverse than New York. Houston has the country’s biggest Pakistani community; Vietnamese, and they are now voting.

But, more than politics, what climate change will do to migration, the world has no coordinated response. The shit’s going to get real. Nearly a billion people globally are going to be displaced by climate change.

Gavin: Obviously, the only option is going north, and the global north will have to be prepared mentally to take a lot more immigrants than today.

Mayank: Your book is from a specific western perspective. Would the arguments still remain relevant in India where immigration – legal but mostly otherwise – of Bangladeshis remains a constant factor.

Suketu: Actually, that is a myth. I have analysed the numbers and there are a fewer Bangladeshis coming into India now than a decade ago. It’s the narrative of invasion of immigrants that catches the imagination of the masses. There aren’t that many Bangladeshis in India. India is a large country and it can easily take in many more Bangladeshis.

Mayank: Paradoxically, even sane, rational citizens of India, who are not necessarily enamoured by the Hindutva propaganda, and who make wise economic decisions about their lives, resist the influx of immigrants from within India’s other, especially northern states, and, oppose Bangladeshis.

Suketu: These are the same people who will at the first opportunity come to America and Canada and protest loudly against discrimination.

Gavin: And all of them are Modi supporters. When Modi came here, I was protesting outside the venue with placards.

Suketu: Good for you.

Gavin: Every other Indian was in the stadium.

Suketu: It is the hypocrisy that is mind-numbing.

Gavin: There is another factor – immigrants get in, and then they want the door shut behind them.

Mayank: How would you compare the situation between Canada and the US. We just had an election and the Liberal Party has returned to power with truncated numbers, but the important point is that in the Greater Toronto Area, voters preferred a racial mix.

To the credit of the Conservative Party of Canada, even their candidates in GTA comprised diverse racial background.

Suketu: When it comes to immigration, Canada is a rare success. It wants to triple its intake of immigrants. The system is very immigrant friendly. They have done the whole immigration thing intelligently by not letting one ethnic group dominate. So, when things turn for worse, there isn’t a particular group to target.

You have the Bengali Canadian Consul General in Silicon Valley going around telling everyone, “Listen, America doesn’t want you, but Canada does. Move to Canada.” America is actually shooting itself in the foot. America is telling immigrants, “Don’t come, don’t come. You’re taking away American jobs. They’re actually creating American jobs.”

Gavin: I have my own experience to share. I’m an immigrant. I have my own business and I provide employment to Canadians. The systems should be happy that we’re here. One of the major problems in settlement of new immigrants in Canada is that they find it very hard to get jobs here and they are left with little choice but to start their own businesses, and eventually they hire other people. But the political system is in favour of immigration.

Suketu: I say this in my book. In the section on Canada in my book I have said that the political system is in favour of immigration. Except perhaps the Bloc Quebecois in Quebec.

Mayank: But now we also have the People’s Party started by Maxine Bernier. But even he fielded non-white candidates in the GTA. A close friend of mine, Tahir Gora, who runs a TV channel on which I did a program a couple of years ago, was his candidate.

Suketu: That is extraordinarily ironic.

Mayank: You have called your book a manifesto, and manifestos are generally written in anger.

Suketu: Yes, we must be angry; very angry. All the immigrants, like me, who have been angry, have always had to apologise. “Thank you for letting us in. We’re going to be nice people.”

Gavin: We silence ourselves. We have so much to say, we have so much burden to carry but we silence ourselves. We have to fit in, changing our accents, not eating spicy food, eating food that doesn’t smell.

Suketu: My purpose in writing the manifesto is to give ammunition to everyone who feels aggrieved at being an immigrant. To feel affirmed and then demand change. We should have no doubts about our places in these countries as immigrants. I wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post saying, “I’m an uppity immigrant. Don’t expect me to be grateful.”
My book assigns historical blame – on colonialism, on corporate colonialism, on war, on climate change, and western powers are responsible for all of these ills. My simple argument to the west is: ‘We are here because you were there, and you continue to be there.’

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