Everyone has come to the aid of the Ukrainian people and for good reason. But for people of south Asian, Black and Arabic descent, sympathy has been lacking, if not missing altogether.
As Ukrainians flee their war-torn homeland supported by huge volunteer organisations set up in the face of the conflict started by 2014’s Donbas war, Polish authorities have welcomed them with open arms. However, this story is vastly different for Black, south Asian and Arabic people.
The brutality of conflict in Ukraine sent shockwaves around the world. A neighbouring occupier, who, for nearly 8 years, controlled swaths of territory through a proxy conflict in Donbas, illegally annexing the region of Crimea, finally did what many Ukrainians pondered in the back of their minds.
But this conflict has left everyone scratching their heads.
News outlets unapologetically declared plenty of veiled and sometimes outright racist statements claiming there were differences between what is happening in Ukraine and elsewhere. Comments from NBC’s reporter Charlie D’Agata, in particular, struck a chord through both tone, subconscious intent or maybe, an admittance of prejudice through remarks made himself. He said:
“This isn’t a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan that has seen conflict raging for decades. This is a relatively civilized, relatively European […] city where you wouldn’t expect that, or hope that it’s going to happen.”
Another reporter declared: “It’s very emotional for me because I see European people with blue eyes and blonde hair being killed” which others noted were words right out of Hitler’s book ‘Mein Kampf.’
But it didn’t stop there. Al Jazeera’s presenter Peter Dobbie said Ukrainians escaping war were “prosperous, middle-class people” who are “…not obviously refugees trying to get away from areas in the Middle East that are still in a big state of war; these are not people trying to get away from areas in North Africa, they look like any European family that you would live next door to.”
Al Jazeera apologised, though their reporters, among many others, made their thoughts and feelings clear about non-white people. Maybe it was an accident, but assumably not – they were not slips of the tongue, these remarks were spoken in full paragraphs.
What white reporters fail to mention are the countless wars that have been fought in Europe, without even counting European coup-d’etats. Here is a list of recent conflicts on European soil:
- The Serbian war against Bosnia where genocide against 14,000 Muslim people systematically killed for their religious beliefs occurred (1992 – 1995)
- The Georgian civil war between the Ossetia and Abkhazia (1991-1993)
- The war of Transnistria between Moldova, Russia and Transnistria (1992)
- Kosovo war (1998-1999)
- The Northern Ireland conflict between the UK & the IRA (1950s/60s – 1998)
- NATO conflict with Serbia (1999)
- Russo-Georgian war (2008)
- The Donbas war (2014 – present)
Fast forward to today – we have war across all of Ukraine. These are all supposedly civilised places in the world, and, where civil unrest has also taken place which includes riots in the UK, France, Germany and the USA. Britain in particular, faced insurgency from the IRA, with guerilla warfare commonplace in Belfast during the era known as ‘the Troubles’ which did not end until recently.
The United States faces difficulties of its own in the form of unfortunate regular school shootings catalysed by loose gun laws. The country has also seen an uptick in the number of armed citizens, which as a consequence, produced armed clashes between federal agencies, police, cults and militias. Not long ago, a mass shooting in Las Vegas took place and a considerable amount of ‘civilised’ people attempted to occupy the Capitol Hill building.
Wars fought in the Middle East are largely a result of Western military intervention including NATO involvement in Libya, the United States and British (plus NATO forces) led invasion of Afghanistan following years of support for the Taliban, the United States, British and allied invasion of Iraq following years of support for Saddam Hussein, the rise of Daesh, the Syrian civil war following years of support for Bashar Al Assad, US involvement in Northern Iraq to oust control of Daesh from its territories. These are but a mere tip of the iceberg.
Ukraine’s occupation by Russia which, in reality began in 2014, is similar to Israel’s occupation of Palestine where its land was conquered in the name of race and imperialism disguised as ‘liberty.’ Israel’s encroachment of Palestine began in 1948, after its declaration of intent to form a state causing thousands, if not millions of people living peacefully out of their homes by force inducing untold death and destruction. Israel’s (not Judaism) attempt to rid Palestine of anyone who is not Jewish under the guise of religious freedoms has been consistently condemned by the United Nations and numerous human-rights organisations, even prompting investigations by the International Criminal Court.
The difference between Palestine and Ukraine? Palestine’s people are not white and Israel did not face sanctions nor widespread condemnation from the European Union, only a mild tut in the direction of the Knesset. However, Ukraine’s invasion sparked mass international boycotts, whereas sanctions of Israeli products are largely illegal worldwide.
Volunteer fighters travelling to Syria to fight Assad’s regime including white, Arab and south Asian people from Europe were prosecuted upon their return home, though NATO forces consistently opposed him through military function. Whereas fighters leaving Europe to resist the Russian army in Ukraine have been applauded for their actions.
As you read this, refugees fleeing war in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan are sleeping on the border with the EU in freezing temperatures consistently at risk of hyperthermia. Their entry to seek refuge has been consistently denied. Though, for Ukrainians the story is colossally different.
This isn’t to say that what the Ukrainian people are going through isn’t noteworthy, because the magnitude of the their experience is inexplicably terrifying. However, selective justice is a telling example of not only imperialist protectionism, but how the West values different people.
What is happening is downright hypocritical. So we ask, when will extreme sanctions enacted upon Russia be placed upon Syria government for atrocities carried out upon its people? Myanmar for their genocide of the Rohingya, for China’s genocide of Uighur peoples, for Israel’s violation of international law? And quite possibly for the recent threats by Serbia against Bosnia? I will tell you where they’re stored – in a metaphorical bank reserved for White nations. ‘Whataboutisms’ are usually sneered at, but truthfully, they’re helpful in highlighting apathy and prejudice on both sides.