We are all shocked and horrified at the scenes coming out of Ukraine with an oppressor invading another nation. However, amidst the entire crisis, we can’t help but notice an underlying double standard emerging from the way the world is responding.
Social media users are also pointing out the hypocrisy, double standards, and racist attitudes at task in the coverage and discussion of Russia’s war with Ukraine.
Many critics have pointed out the emotional mismatch that exists between media pundits, journalists, and political figures when discussing a war involving European nations versus conflicts involving African, Middle Eastern, or Asian nations.
Ukraine isn’t the first country to be invaded illegally, in fact, it’s not the first country to be invaded by Russia. As we speak there are Americans and Russians jets flying over Syria. Yet we have media commentators consistently highlighting that Ukraine is different and worthy of our sympathy. It’s really emotional for me because I see European people with blue eyes and blonde hair being killed with Putin’s missiles. Why? Because they are civilized European, Christian, Jews and have blonde hair and blue eyes?
Now this is a relatively civilized, relatively European. And this is not a developing third world nation. This is Europe. These are Christians, white. Why do we consistently need to be reminded that these aren’t Arabs, Muslims, Afghans, Rohingyas or Syrians?
Do you need to be a Middle Eastern and to be qualified as a refugee? This isn’t a place with all due respect. You know, like Iraq or Afghanistan. And don’t get me wrong. Of course, we care about the Ukrainians. But why do we constantly need to remind that those people are different and therefore worthy of our sympathy?
You see when it comes to the case of the Ukrainians, they have the right to bear arms and to fight for their country, and the media celebrates them as defiant heroes. Yet when Arabs and Muslims do the same, they are branded as terrorists.
Meanwhile, newspapers that have traditionally been hostile to refugees and have warned about large groups of people coming to the UK appear to be more open to accepting Ukrainian refugees.
And tech giants like Facebook have moved swiftly to ban Russian-backed media but are not as quick to take down hate speech that promotes violence against persecuted minorities, especially Muslims.
Many people have expressed concern about the severity and seriousness of this war, as well as the impact it is having on the people of Ukraine. This exceptionalism ignores the fact that other wars and conflicts, whether in Ethiopia, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Myanmar, or Venezuela, have a similar impact on local populations.
Why is it that the Ukrainians Defence Ministry is allowed to teach people how to make ‘Molotov Cocktails’ in their fight against the oppressor? But Palestinian Kids from the tender age of ten are criminalized for upto 20 years for throwing rocks at their occupiers.
The hypocrisy even extends to the response of global institutions, Russia media and art shows are cancelled. Russian banks are being shut down and Russian assets are being frozen. Heck, FIFA has also sanctioned all Russians teams from participating, while football stadiums are plastering anti-Putin slogans. Why is it OK for football players to speak out against Russia? Yet we saw Mesut Ozil shunned for speaking out in support of the Uyghurs and celtic fans fined for waving the Palestinian flag.
And we look at the responses of the world leaders, we see the exact same hypocrisy. Joe Biden is somewhat shocked by a foreign country invading another, who in the Lord’s named does Putin think gives them the right to declare new so-called countries on territory that belong to his neighbours. But will never say the same thing about Israel and Palestine.
Rishi Sunak is praising the resistance of the Ukrainians, but God forbid he say the same thing about a Muslim resistance. Barak Obama has passionately spoken out against the actions of Russia and the need to impose sanctions. But where were the sanctions against US bombings against Iraq and Afghanistan?
Sweden, Finland, and Switzerland did not consider abandoning their neutrality in Syria or Afghanistan, both of which have been irreversibly altered by Russian intervention and occupation. FIFA has not imposed indefinite bans on other military aggressors and has chosen to fine footballers with European teams who have expressed solidarity with Ukraine while penalising those who do so for Palestine. Many news outlets, including the BBC and CBS, have featured commentators — including journalists and world leaders — who have expressed surprise that Ukrainians, who are ‘relatively civilised, relatively European,’ are facing a crisis that they appear to believe should be reserved only for those with brown or dark skin.
In a similar manner, Georgian-Ukrainian politician David Sakvarelidze stated that the situation in Ukraine has made him “emotional” because he witnesses “people with blonde hair and blue eyes being killed every day.” All Western media platforms express the same general sentiment: how can people who look European and live in a Christian majority-country be fleeing their homes in 2022?
The same question did not seem to shake Europe as much in the 1990s, when Bosnian Muslims, many of whom had blonde hair and blue eyes, were not afforded the same courtesy due to their religious background.
This isn’t about whataboutism or what about the oppressed Muslim countries. We are not trying to deflect attention from Ukraine at all, but I’m left asking….. why the double standards?
Moreover, there have been reports of black and Asian refugees being subjected to racism at borders, bus and train stations across Ukraine and parts of eastern Europe as they attempt to flee the war-torn region.
Even Time magazine report analyzes how Asians and Africans who lived happily in Ukraine were shocked by the racist treatment they received from authorities when attempting to flee the war. Others have pointed out how brown and black refugees fleeing war are treated in parts of Eastern Europe, compared to how Ukrainians are welcomed at the border.
“These are not the refugees we are used to… these people are Europeans,” Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov said earlier this week about Ukrainians. “These people are intelligent, they are educated people…. This is not the refugee wave we have been used to, people we were not sure about their identity, people with unclear pasts, who could have been even terrorists…” It has been noted how quickly and passionately people mobilised to support the Ukrainian resistance against Russia, and how it has been lionised. Compare this to how foreign powers that occupy Middle Eastern countries are treated. In those circumstances, words like ‘brave’ and ‘heroic’ are not used.
It is high time for western leaders to ask themselves why they believe that the peoples of Asia, Africa, Arab world should bear the brunt of the world’s suffering and injustice; and why they refuse to acknowledge and accept responsibility for the centuries-long oppressive practises that have propelled them to a global political edge at the expense of more than half of the world’s population. Why are Europeans – White people on whichever continent they have colonised — entitled to an elite brand of safety, security, and humanity, while the victims of their foreign policies are condemned to a life of poverty and inequity?
In short, the level of selective solidarity with Ukraine, which is not extended to other vulnerable populations, should serve as the default benchmark for global solidarity and action. It should not be necessary for people to have blue eyes and blonde hair to receive our sympathy and support. Even so, the commentary that has been on full display since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has shown us otherwise.