The writer Sathnam Sanghera has said he barely ever does public events in the UK because of a fear of being attacked amid a culture war-fuelled backlash over his views on Britain’s imperial past, saying he feared a Florida-style push towards the banning of books.
Sanghera, a journalist and author whose bestselling book Empireland assessed how the UK’s colonial territories still infect contemporary politics and discourse, said he had begun to dread holding book events here.
Speaking to the Intelligence Squared podcast, Sanghera, who also explored the legacy of empire in a Channel 4 series, said he had “more or less stopped doing events in Britain”.
He said: “Because actually, the trolling online is … I’m so used to it, it doesn’t really feel real. Although it does get to you when it’s relentless for days at a time when you get targeted.
“But it’s the way it translates into real life … It’s people coming to my events, and shouting at me. And you know, when that happens, it always makes for a good event in the sense that other people stand up for me – it feels like the whole event matters. I sell out my books.
“It’s good – I mean, it probably makes my publisher happy. But it comes at a personal cost to me. I realised I started dreading the moment. I was waiting to be attacked. And I just stopped doing those events. And I just did international ones.”
It was, he added, much more rewarding to talk to school students rather than encounter “imperially nostalgic adults who maybe had a very one-sided education” at book events.
Sanghera has previously criticised politicians for inflaming and oversimplifying discussions about UK history and on how to balance pride and acknowledgment of wrongdoing – for example with legislation to specifically protect statues.
Although other historians of empire such as William Dalrymple have said they do not receive the same abuse, Sanghera said he believed others faced even more: “I do feel like black historians get it worse. And women, women of colour – absolutely the worst.”
On the wider spread of culture wars in the UK, Sanghera said he was worried about a move to US-style polarisation, as exemplified by Florida under its Republican governor and presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis, whose tenure has seen numerous booked banned from schools.
“I spoke to the historical associations gathering of many history teachers last week, and they are full of stories of parents coming, saying, ‘Why are you teaching my children all this fake history about Enoch Powell, who was right?’ he said. “What do you say to that as a teacher?
“There was a survey out a few months ago showing that people going to libraries are saying, ‘Why are you even stocking this book? It’s woke nonsense.’ And in Florida, you’ve got books being banned.
“And I feel like whatever happens with the culture wars over there, eventually comes over here. I feel like that is the next step.”