This word was coined by the political scientist Robert Conquest. Its roots are the Greek words έσπερος (hesperos), which means “the west” and φόβος (phobos), which means “fear,” but which when used as an English suffix can also carry the meaning “hate.” Hesperophobia is fear or hatred of the West.
Here is the news: a lot of people out there hate us. The name “Durban” mean anything? In China, in India, in Pakistan, in Indonesia and Malaysia, in Africa and in the Arab countries, European civilization — the West — is widely hated. Matter of fact, quite a lot of Europeans and Americans hate it, too, as you will know if you spend much time on college campuses.
I can’t see any strong reason for believing that if the state of Israel were to disappear from the face of the earth tomorrow, hesperophobia would disappear with it. Not even just Arab hesperophobia would decline. A common word for Europeans in the Arabic language is feringji, from “Frank,” i.e. crusader. Arabs don’t hate us because we support Israel. They hate us because we humiliated them, showed up the gross inferiority of their culture. To them, and similarly humiliated peoples, we are the other, detested and feared in a way we can barely understand. Things got really bad in the 19th century. When European society achieved industrial lift-off, Europeans were suddenly buzzing all over the world like a swarm of bees. They encountered these other cultures, that had been vegetating in a quiet conviction of their own superiority for centuries (or in the case of the Chinese, millennia). When these encounters occurred, the encountered culture collapsed in a cloud of dust. Some of them, like the Turks, managed to reconstitute themselves as more or less modern nations; others, like the Arabs and the Chinese, are still struggling with the trauma of that encounter. Neither the Arabs nor the Chinese, for example, have yet been able to attain rational, constitutional government. For a devastating look at the paleolithic condition of politics and society in the Arab world, I strongly recommend my colleague David Pryce-Jones’s book, The Closed Circle.
The 1991 Gulf War showed how little has changed since those first encounters. Here were the armies of the West: swift, deadly, efficient, equipped and organized, under the command of elected civilians at the head of a robust and elaborate constitutional structure. And here were the Arabs: a shambling, ill-nourished, shoeless rabble, led by a mad gangster-despot. (That was their Arabs. There were also, of course, our Arabs — the Kuwaitis and Saudis, cowering in their plush-lined air-conditioned bunkers being waited on by their Filipino servants while we did their fighting for them.) Final body counts: the West, 134 dead, the Arabs, 20,000 or more. The superiority of one culture over another has not been so starkly demonstrated since a handful of British wooden ships, at the end of ten-thousand-mile lines of communications, brought the Celestial Empire to its knees a hundred and fifty years earlier. The Chinese are still mad about that: they are still making angry, bitter movies about the Opium Wars. A hundred and fifty years from now, the Arabs will not have forgotten the Gulf War.
If you haven’t spent some time in its company, the depth and bitterness of hesperophobia in these cultures is hard to imagine. As Thomas Friedman points out in today’s New York Times, Palestinian suicide bombers do not target yeshivas, synagogues or religious settlements. They go for shopping malls or Sbarro’s outlets. Sure, they hate the Jews, but they hate the West as much, or more.
The West is hated all over the rest of the world. Why?
There are all sorts of answers to that question, most of them inspired by wishful thinking of one kind or another. Paleocons tell you that it’s all because of our support for Israel, and if we just cut loose from the Israeli connection, everything between us and the Third World would be tickety-boo. I know people, quite intelligent people, who actually believe this; though why Nigerian con men and Andean coca farmers give a fig, or a coca leaf, about our support for Israel, my paleocon friends find hard to explain. Nor can they explain why Third World hesperophobes were smiling and gloating over the recent riots in France, a nation that has not, let us say, distinguished itself by courageous support for Israel.
Liberals, many of whom hate the West just as much as any Chávez or bin Laden, say it’s all a response to the misdeeds of multinational corporations, and the memories of colonial humiliation, and a reaction to the innate racism of white Europeans. Again, explanations as to why Singapore (say) has not been held back in poverty and chaos by bitter memories of its colonial past, or why some of the wildest manifestations of hesperophobia come out of nations like Saudi Arabia, whose people would be eating sand if not for the efforts and technology of multinational corporations (and which was never colonized by anyone), is left unexplained.
Meanwhile, neocons want you to know that it all springs out of a frustrated yearning for freedom and Western-style good government. These peoples (the neocons explain) suffer under cruel tyrants, who (a) fill their heads with xenophobia, (b) retard their nations’ development, generating envy of the prosperous West, and (c) have often, indeed, been propped up with Western support. Just give them democracy! Since all human beings are just the same in their hopes, aspirations, and abilities — we all “yearn for freedom” — it is just a matter of removing obstacles. So we give them democracy, not to mention boxcar-loads of cash, and they elect … Mugabe, Chávez, Hamas.
hat is the whole story. They hate us from wounded ethnic pride. They hate us because of our cultural superiority; which is to say, at one remove, our political superiority. They hate us because they can’t organize societies like ours, in which security, prosperity, and hope for the future are available to all, and creativity flourishes. They can’t, they know they can’t, and the knowledge drives them nuts.
Over most of the non-Western world, government is just an ATM for the clever, ruthless, entrenched, and well-connected. This simple fact is not much appreciated by Americans, though the evidence of it is all around us. Consider the flocks of illegal immigrants gathering at six thirty every morning on some street corner in your town. Why are they here? Fundamentally, because of the sheer excruciating crappiness of government in Central American nations. Citizens of those nations watch their corrupt elites shovel the national wealth into their private bank accounts. They look to the North and see a place where at least a day’s work will get you a day’s pay, which you will not then have to hand over as a bribe to some cop or official. So North they come, often bringing their native hesperophobia along in their baggage. It is humiliating enough to see people in a foreign land living far better than yourself. When the discrepancy is so great you are driven to trek across a desert in order to mow those people’s lawns for them, the humiliation is doubled.
They dream of slaughter and sacrifice; we dream of celebrities and gadgets.