International and Arab News
The West, The Rest and The Great Everywhere
The West, The Rest and The Great Everywhere
In studying history predictions that didn’t happen are often as interesting as those that became real events.
Remember the “clash of civilization” that was to pitch one part of mankind to another in a multilayered cultural, religious, economic and, yes, even racial war? Decades later we see that at least part of the predicted clash is taking place within the same “civilization”. It is in the United States and Western Europe that we witness such phenomena as wokeism and cancelationl culture while many” emerging nations” are breaking some taboos to open a wider space for discussion and dissent.
It is also in Western democracies that bowdlerization even of classical texts is making a comeback.
In his seminal essay “The West and the Rest”, English philosopher Roger Scruton predicted that, with the end of the Cold War, the world was being divided into two antagonistic camps. Scruton was offering a philosophical version of Rudyard Kipling’s famous, or infamous, line” East is east and west is west- and never the twain shall meet!”
Scruton believed that in the post-Cold War world the West will be the realm of peace, the rule of law, economic prosperity and cultural effervescence while, chained to religious, cultural and ideological traditions, the “rest” is doomed to experience wars, economic stagnation, political oppression and cultural stagnation.
Scruton didn’t specify exactly what he meant by the “rest”. But a close reading of his essay shows that, with few exceptions such as Japan, his “rest” covered all nations that were not part of the Anglosphere and the European democracies.
In his “rest” Scruton assigned a big role to Islam, or militant fundamentalism, as a challenge to the West. Thanks to high birth rates and mass immigration, Muslims were supposed to modify the population mix in the West. Inspired by Scruton some writers even warned against Europe becoming Eurabia (an Arabized Europe) while others feared “the great replacement” of current populations by hordes of newcomers from “the rest”.
What happened in the past two decades may offer a different picture.
To start with, with the exception of wars exported by the “west” to Afghanistan and Iraq, the “rest” has lived largely in peace while the “west” has experienced a series of wars in the Balkans; northern Caucasus, Transcaucasia, and currently in Ukraine.
These wars have produced more immigrants than did the “rest”.
The Syrian war produced more than 10 million refugees and displaced persons but most of them went to neighboring countries all of which are part of the “rest”. In contrast, the estimated 13 million refugees from the Balkan wars and the current Ukrainian war ended up in the” west”.
As far as economic buoyancy is concerned the “rest” has done better than the “west”.
Economic growth rate in the “rest” has averaged around six per cent per annum while the “west” has failed to do better than 2.2 per cent. Productivity per head has also been higher in the “rest” than in the ”west”, largely thanks to massive imports of technology and capital from Europe and North America, Japan and Taiwan.
With the exceptions of China, Iran and Russia that have experienced a stiffening of authoritarian rule, most “rest” nations have timidly moved towards an opening of the political space if not actual democratization. In contrast, several nations in Scruton’s “west” have seen the emergence of populist-authoritarian, and ultimately anti-democratic, trends.
The intensely partisan politics of the United States today and the divisive adventure that was the Brexit showed that the “west” isn’t ensured against hate-based and xenophobic platforms that Scruton sees in the “rest”.
The rapid spread of social media has brought the “west” and the “rest” together in many walks of life. Similar patterns have emerged in the way people, especially the young, dress, speak and live with cyberspace annihilating geographical distances. By last account “alternative lifestyles”, including the “rainbow” options, first shaped in the “west” have spread to almost all nations in the “rest”. Fast-food developed in the “west” has spread to almost all nations in the “rest” and countries such as China, Brazil, India and even the Islamic Republic in Iran are now among the biggest importers of French cognac.
Visually the “rest” increasingly resembles the “west” or its clichéd vision. Today, there are more skyscrapers in Shanghai or Jakarta than in New York. The world’s tallest buildings are no longer found in Chicago, New York or London but in Dubai, Shanghai and Makkah.
Almost 5000 brands, mostly developed in the “west” but manufactured in the “rest” dominate shopping malls across the globe. Travelers in the “rest” stay in hotels run trans-national chains, ride in Uber vehicles, eat trans-national meals and listen to music that no longer has a distinct cultural origin and watch the same series and soap operas on streaming boxes.
Last year, at least eight countries in the “rest” featured among the 20 nations with the largest number of billionaires.
The “rest” is invading the “west” in some other ways. Cinema, once dominated by the US, France and Great Britain has achieved a universal dimension with more than 40 countries in the “rest” moving beyond niche markets. In a recent visit to my favorite bookshop in Paris I spotted more than 30 new novels directly written in French by authors from the “rest”. Authors from the “rest” have already won some of the most prestigious literary prizes in the “west” as have done “rest” film-makers getting Oscars and top prizes in Berlin, Cannes and Venice film festivals.
The “west” and the “rest” have also come closer to each other in such fields as scientific research than Scruton could have imagined. Iran alone is “exporting” an average of 180,000 scientists to Europe and the United States each year. Millions of Chinese students are attending universities and colleges in the “west”, a good number of them choosing never to return home. In exchange numerous businessmen, technical experts and marketing managers from the “west” have settled in the “rest” including China, India and Indonesia helping and profiting from rapid economic growth.
Kipling’s ”twain have met and realize that what happens to either of them affects the other. May be we no longer have a “west” and a “rest” but a “great everywhere” in which we find the same clothes, the same food, the same brands, the same music, the same follies and strokes of genius- where even a suburb of Hanoi may remind Dorothy of her Kansas.