This interview was conducted by the publisher, InterVarsity Press.
IVP: Why did you decide to write Why the Rest Hates the
Meic Pearse: The mid/late 1990s saw the beginning of my deep personal involvement in the Balkans, where pre-modern, modern and postmodern issues of national, ethnic and religious identity collided and intertwined to an explosive effect. That involvement coincided with reading Samuel Huntington‘s Clash of Civilizations, whose phrase “the West and the rest” I have borrowed—or rather, meddled with—for my own title, and whose explanatory “grid” seemed, and still seems to me, highly persuasive, principally because it takes non-Western cultures seriously and on their own terms—something which Westerners tend not to do. As a historian, the interaction of these experiences started me working on a project to explain—or at least to describe—the development of those distinctive features of “Westernity” which cause such trouble elsewhere, but which Westerners themselves by now take for granted as “common sense.” I called it A History of the Obvious. Despite that groovy title, book agents weren‘t interested. My account was far too Christian for the tastes of secular publishers, and far too “worldly” to interest the religious press.
Then 9/11 happened. Several people from my church and from the college where I taught approached me to say that I had predicted just such a thing. I hadn‘t quite, of course. But I had been stabbing a finger at the actual causes of the trouble (as opposed to those which soothe the attitudinizing of, respectively, Western conservatives and liberals). And, though as appalled and angered as anybody by the events of 9/11, it is true that I was not at all surprised. So the writing project was resurrected, with a new urgency. Publishers now take the interaction between religion, historic cultures and global politics with a seriousness that was absent before.
IVP: What would you say is the greatest divide between Westerners and the rest of the world?
Pearse: Westerners now live in conditions of comfort, prosperity and, until recently, security that would have been quite unimaginable to any of their ancestors, and which continue to strike non-Westerners with incredulity and understandable envy. Now, I emphatically do not subscribe to the school of thought which concludes from this wealth disparity that it must necessarily be due to exploitation of the nonprosperous. To be sure, exploitation has been a part of that story and does continue, in identifiable situations, to occur. But the quantum leap forward has been due to the “good” distinctives about Western life, thought patterns and worldview. It is not the causes of prosperity but the condition of hyperprosperity itself which is creating our problems. Most Westerners have completely lost touch with the fundamental realities that underpin human social existence in the areas of morality, political order and social organization. It has reduced them to a baby-fied condition. In that context, their claims to be “cosmopolitan” or “multicultural” are a sick joke. The conditions of their lives have caused them to lose contact with the real, actual concerns and outlook of the vast majority of humanity—including their own forebears.
IVP: What are the “qualities of barbarism”?
Pearse: Westerners strike non-Westerners as rich, technologically sophisticated, economically and politically dominant, morally contemptible barbarians. Don‘t rely on the deracinated Iranian post-grad taking a computer course at the college up the road in Santa Barbara, or the Westernized Somali feminist who tells liberal luvvies on the BBC what they want to hear; instead, get out of the West and talk to real people on the street. They‘ll tell you. Why barbarians? For despising tradition, the ancestors and the dead. For despising religion, or at least for treating it lightly. For the shallowness and triviality of their culture. For their sexual shamelessness. For their loose adherence to family, and sometimes also to tribe. For their absence of any sense of honor. Big charges, but—read the book.
IVP: Would you say these claims are legitimate?
Pearse: At a minimum, they are at least understandable. But, by most canons of human history, they are indeed legitimate. Furthermore (and here“s the rub), they touch upon precisely those points at which the outlook of most Westerners has departed furthest from a biblical worldview. Most non-Westerners, with the arguable exception of Indians, have real respect for genuine Christianity, notwithstanding the fact that it is still perceived as a “Western” religion; it is the barbarism that has accompanied Western secularization which makes continuing Western domination of the world so intolerable to millions of ordinary people.
IVP: What, if anything, can be done to turn the tide of hatred toward the West?
Pearse: The neocon case (which is certainly not mine!) points to the fact that the wrath of the most radical Islamists is, obviously, unappeasable. So any show of weakness, it is argued, merely encourages greater demands and confirms the perception of the West as decadent. Though I do not dissent from this judgment, it is correct only in respect of committed combatants, terrorists and their close fellow travelers. It does nothing to address the wider causes of resentment among the majority of the world‘s inhabitants—a resentment of which the unappeasable minority feeds and will continue to feed.
The liberal case is that high-profile Western military presence around the world is offensive and must be minimized, and that Western multinational companies operating in the non-West must necessarily be oppressive. Though multinationals may be oppressive (indeed, I would contend that they frequently are) and must be confronted when they are, it is not for the reasons typically cited by liberals. Indeed, the liberals‘ own aggressive export of feminism and the human rights ideology is as much of a provocation, if not more, than the depredations of robber-baron capitalism.
The tide of hatred can be turned, not by self-imposed military or economic weakness (which is never going to happen anyway), but only by a cultural revolution inside the West itself, so that it becomes less of a threat to the only things which, in the absence of hyperprosperity, make life in the non-West satisfying—or even bearable. I speak about honor, respect, religion, morality, decorum, restraint and traditional cultures. For it is these things that the aggressive export of our anticulture is obliviously bulldozing away, “reshaping the earth as an ubiquitous nowhere.” Only by ceasing to be barbarians ourselves does our global domination cease to threaten to barbarize the poorer five-sixths of the world‘s inhabitants. And the reentry of Christianity into the public square (alongside other faiths, to be sure) has a major part to play in that process.
IVP: What is your hope for Why the Rest Hates the West?
Pearse: Of course, any writer of a serious book wants to change the world. More realistically, I would hope at least to introduce the terms anticulture and antivalues (as descriptors of how our outlook is perceived by non-Westerners) into public discourse. If so, we will have an ongoing reminder of what we need to move away from, of what we need to move back toward and of what is causing the real trouble that we have got ourselves into.