The Russia-Ukraine conflict is a tragedy by all accounts. It is a needless war that is killing hundreds and displacing hundreds of thousands. But it has been exceptionally heart-wrenching; it seems, to Europeans and Americans because, by their own admission, Caucasians are suffering the brutality that had so far only been the fate of millions of “others.” “They seem so like us,” wrote Daniel Hannan in The Telegraph in the United Kingdom. “Ukrainians are not obviously refugees trying to get away from areas in the Middle East that are still in a big state of war. They look like any European family that you would live next door to,” said Al Jazeera’s Peter Dobbie.
From Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, Charlie D’Agata, a correspondent for CBS News of the United States, called Ukraine “not a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan, that has seen conflict raging for decades (perhaps forgetting that both those conflicts were either started or escalated by his country) … This is a relatively civilised, relatively European – I have to choose those words carefully, too – city, where you wouldn’t expect that or hope that it’s going to happen.” He might as well have said – these people look and live like me so their lives matter more than everyone else’s in the world.
This is nothing new of course. The coverage of the January 6 Washington insurrection echoed much of the same sentiment. “This only happens in the third world,” many news reports of the event had said. Western journalists have always done this – express shock at their pristine white Europeans’ descent into madness that they believe should solely be reserved for the rest of humanity. But at least they tried to hide it; skirt around it; be racists in a – to use a term they seem to like very much – civilised manner. Now though, that veil of civility has come down and boy is the face behind it ugly.
But then again, maybe journalists are not only to blame here. After all, the media only reflect, if not amplify, the views of their society – a society that seems to have no qualms about having double standards for Ukrainians (white and European) and everyone else. Perhaps it was the Bulgarian prime minister Kiril Petkove who, when talking about what his country’s response to the people fleeing the violence in Ukraine would be, said, “These are not the (kinds of people) we are used to … These are Europeans, so we all are ready to welcome them. These are intelligent and educated people.”
Let there be no confusion here. Russia has to be condemned for its actions. It is unacceptable for any country to try to violate any state’s sovereignty and territorial integrity by force. Might does not make right and every country, no matter big or small, has a right to exist independently and peacefully. The outrage directed at Russia is, to a large extent, justified. But the question here is, why isn’t there the same kind of anger directed at, say, Israel for illegally expanding its settlements in the West Bank or detaining and killing Palestinians for the slightest provocation? While the heroic defiance of the Ukrainian people has rightly been celebrated, why has no Western state expressed concern about the Ukrainian army’s alleged mistreatment of people of colour trying to flee the country? Is violence only acceptable when directed at a certain kind of people? Is humanity only reserved for a certain category of humans?
There are no grey areas here. One country is clearly in the wrong. But the media coverage and the so-called North’s response shows just how little the “first world” thinks of human beings that do not look like them.