I came back to the UK in the autumn of 2011 – just over 5 years ago, now. I’d weathered out the then-current recession in warmer climates very far from the preoccupations of the West – a year on a remote island in Vanuatu, a couple more in Laos (where incidentally I wrote Osama, a novel about the on-going war being waged by the West, and its consequences) – and the return was something of a psychic shock.
The West changed while I’d been away. What I felt most keenly during that winter, besides the cold, was the new wind that was blowing. The rise of right-wing ideologies, the anti-immigrant rhetoric, the sense of anger and fear coming to the fore. They were all present and palpable, and it was then that I began to imagine the book that would become A Man Lies Dreaming.
That novel came out in 2014 in the UK, and 2016 in the US. In it, a populist demagogue runs for office on a platform of explicit anti-immigrant and racist ideology, by-gone nationalism. As his supporters terrorise the streets and immigrants fear for their lives, the man rises to power, winning the election, ushering in the new age.
It is hard for me to be surprised by Brexit, and by Trump. Horrified, maybe, but not surprised. And at this point, the real surprise would be if Le Pen does not sweep to Victory in France next.
My book wasn’t exactly… popular. Adult colouring books and books about dragons are probably more comforting right now. Still. Here we are.
And right now, to be a Muslim in the US must feel a lot like being a Jew in 1933 Germany, when another populist demagogue ran on a similar platform and was elected to power. It is hardly surprising: the West has been conducting an open war on Islam for the past 16 years, with hundreds of thousands of dead and millions displaced. All those refugees must come from somewhere. And right now, to ask “how did we get here?” we’d have to look not at Trump or Farage but their mild-mannered predecessors, the music hall duo of Bush and Blair, and the politicians who carried on their legacy. Secretly, I think, everyone knew this was coming. How could you not? All this while, we’ve been living through the years of the Weimar Republic: it’s just that the party has finally come to an end.