»  National Review Online

September 14th, 2001



Back in 1982 there were some horrible massacres at two Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. Christian Lebanese Arabs actually did the killing; but the Israeli army was in the neighborhood, and was responsible, at some theoretical level, for keeping the peace in the zone that included the camps. Because of this, the Israelis took much of the brunt of the world's outrage at the killings. Commenting on these events, the Israeli Prime Minister, Menachem Begin, remarked in disgust: "Goyim kill goyim, and they blame the Jews!"

I've been getting the same feeling from some of my email. The fundamental reason America is under attack by Arab terrorists, several dozen people want me to know, is that the U.S. supports Israel. And the only reason we do that, several of them have said, or hinted, is because of the political power of the Jewish lobby here in the U.S.A. A few of my correspondents have expressed themselves more … bluntly than that. Put it this way: while I have not yet encountered the word "bloodsuckers" (perhaps my readership isn't "diverse" enough), some of this stuff comes pretty close — though I should say in fairness, most is argued on cold national-interest grounds. At any rate, a lot of people feel that the mass killing of Americans by Arab terrorists is all the fault of Israel and those American politicians who, for low and disreputable motives, or from sheer blindness to America's true ideals and interests, support her. Goyim kill goyim, and they blame the Jews.

Setting aside the statistical certainty that some of the dead Americans are Jewish (as, in high statistical probability, some were of Arab origins), and at the risk of yet more ill-tempered or abusive emails, I am going to declare that I don't think these recent outrages can be blamed on the Jews, nor even on pro-Israel American politicians. The root phenomenon is not American involvement in Middle Eastern affairs: the root phenomenon is hesperophobia.

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. [While I'm in the classical stuff, by the way, I committed a breach of good manners in my last posting by inserting a Latin tag without translation. I am sorry. Oderint dum metuant means "Let them hate us, so long as they fear us." Seneca rebuked Cicero for saying it, though it seems to have been current among educated late-republican Romans.]

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.

Israel is not a cause of any of this, except to the degree that Israeli culture is essentially Western. If the present state of Israel were inhabited by Christian Lithuanians or Frenchmen, the hatred would be nearly as intense. Nearly, not completely: hatred of the Jews has been built into Arab-Moslem culture since the time of Mohammed. There is a tale you will hear from Arab apologists that the Jews were contented and well-treated in the old Arab-Moslem empires. This is nonsense: more often than not, they were treated like swine. For a true account, read Joan Peters' From Time Immemorial, or Gil Carl Alroy Behind the Middle East Crisis.

From the Arab point of view, Israel, or any Western state on "Arab land," is an outrage, an illegitimate creation, a crusader state. The fact that the Jews had a wealthy and powerful nation on that land three thousand years ago counts for nothing. Israel is, from the point of view of most Arabs, an alien graft that must not be allowed to "take." It is a reminder of what can barely be thought of without acute psychic pain: the squalid, hopeless, irredeemable inferiority of one's own culture by comparison with another.

So, so, so, is this any of America's business? What are we doing, meddling in the Middle East? Where is our interest? Well, U.S. politicians must speak for themselves, but if I had any position of authority in any Western nation, I would be urging full support for Israel, and I am not Jewish. (Following my Passover column, in fact, a lot of NRO readers, along with at least one ex-editor of The New Republic, believe I am an antisemite.) It's a matter of cultural solidarity. We of the West must hang together, or else we shall hang separately. American isolationists simply do not understand how much we are hated in other places.

What, after all, does the Buchananite program offer us, if carried through? We have no troops in Israel to be withdrawn. If we withdraw our aid, the Israelis will be less able to defend themselves against the Arabs. Should we just let the free market take over, U.S. arms manufacturers selling weapons to them cash on the nail? Apparently not: several of my correspondents have explained to me that what so enrages the Arabs is the sight of their people being killed "by American weapons." Oh. No weapons, then (and presumably we should try to repatriate the ones they already have — lots of luck with that, guys). But if we don't arm the Israelis, who will? While other hesperophobic countries — China, for example — are gleefully arming the Arabs and other Israel-haters like Iran, and pocketing the profits?

And the end of it all will be … what? Inevitably, without our support, it will be the destruction of Israel. They are so few, and the Arabs so many. The Arabs will overwhelm that tiny state, and there will be such an orgy of massacre as has not been seen since the Rape of Nanking. And we shall be doing … what? Watching it on our TVs, with a six-pack and a bucket of Nacho chips to hand? That's the Buchananite vision? If so, it is a vision of cowards and fools, and I want no part of it.

Israel's culture is ours. She is part of the West. If she goes down, we have suffered a defeat, and the howling, jeering forces of barbarism have won a victory. You don't have to be Zionist, nor even Jewish, to support Israel. You don't have to be in the pocket of the Israeli congressional lobbies, or a suck-up to "powerful pro-Zionist interests." You don't have to pretend not to notice the occasional follies and cruelties of Israeli policy. You don't have to forget about the U.S.S. Liberty or Jonathan Pollard.

You just have to think straight. You just have to understand that the war between civilization and barbarism is being fought today just as it was fought at Chalons and Tours, at the gates of Kiev and Vienna, by the hoplites at Marathon and the legions on the Rhine. It is, as you have heard a thousand times, this past few days, a war; and the thing about war is, you have to take sides, and close your eyes to your allies' imperfections for the duration. There isn't any choice. What happened this week was not, or not only, an act of anti-Americanism, anti-Israelism or anti-Semitism. It was in part all those things: but more than anything else, it was an act of hesperophobia.