HANIF KUREISHI: I’m absolutely delighted to be invited to speak about sexuality, eroticism, and love. As my wife was saying to me the other day, “These are things you know a great deal about. You are clearly a world expert on this subject, and you’ve been invited to New York to lecture to the American people about sex, eroticism, and love.” My wife is very sarcastic. As I lay on the sofa in my writing position, considering what she was saying, I went into a terrible panic. I know nothing about this. Not only do I know nothing about this but I’ve also managed to make other people whom I’ve been in love with in the past feel worse than they would have felt if they’d never come into contact with me.

As I was thinking about this, I began, as one obviously would, to think about the Pope. I have the TV on in my writing room and there was the Pope, looking very good, very cute in his Nazi uniform. It suited him as a young man. I began to think, Well, who would be an expert on sexuality? I began to think about the Pope and the effect of religion on the sexual lives of young people around the world. I began to think that some of us in the West are able, in literature, in the cinema, in our meetings with one another, to have a space in which we can think and talk and explore our sexuality. When we think and talk and explore sexuality, what is it we’re really talking about? We’re talking about telling the truth, about lying, about fidelity, about infidelity, about homosexuality. Everything is connected to this primal act.

I began to think that our religions, not only Islam but also, obviously, Christianity, think and talk about sexuality all the time. Watching this chap Ratzinger and one of his cardinals on the TV, I heard an incredible word I’d never heard before, which really shocked me, in fact made my blood go cold: the “re-evangelicization of Europe.” I began to think of Catholicism as a huge corporation that was intending to re-brand itself in the West, and that there would be masses of propaganda. I began to be very, very afraid. I began to think of the writers of the last century who had run into enormous trouble with the religious authorities: Joyce, of course, Lawrence, Nabokov, Henry Miller, and our host, Salman Rushdie.

It often seems to me that a writer’s job is to be irresponsible—we are not politicians; we don’t stand for anything but our own imaginations. But keeping the spirit of sexual inquiry alive is very, very important. There is great danger with the rise—let’s say the re-rise—of the new Middle Ages that we seem to be reversing into very rapidly at the moment. It seems ironic that we in the West are exporting democracy daily but we are also importing more and more religion, and that this act of social intercourse around the world is causing a new age of darkness. We, not only as artists but also as citizens of the world, need to think and talk with each other very carefully about the terror of religion, which is more or less entirely fixated on sexuality. These guys never do it, but they know all about it, and they’re ready to tell you about it. Can you imagine? Would you ask someone to come and fix your car who had never seen a car before, had never looked inside, had no idea how it worked, but somehow had become an authority on cars?

It’s a new era of darkness and I think that religions with their massive authority and their authoritarianism are very dangerous. In order to think about our sexuality, to think about our families, to think about how we want to live, the kind of relationships we want to have, and the kind of people we want to be, we at least need a space that’s free of religious morality. If, at this conference, we have the opportunity to think of the relationship between the freedom to be a sexual being and literature and authoritarianism, we will at least be heading in the right direction.