By: Nadia Benjelloun
“Welcome to our world….” is the thought that took priority in my head the day war was declared on Ukraine. I couldn’t even feel bad for not feeling bad. By our world, I had of course meant the MENA region. But this was also a reference to other non-Western and developed countries. To people who first-hand or second-hand experienced, or grew up in a place or household where hearing news of gore, violence, and war was customary. Political conflict, whether physical or deliberated, had a permanent hold over our media regardless of if it was about us, a neighboring country, or relating to ascendants/descendants of a bloodline or by cultural association; it compelled us to raise an eyebrow no matter how little we were actually educated on the topic. But that’s just how it went. A simple mindset explained by a simple aphorism : the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
So it came of no shock to me, introspectively, two days in, that when reality hit that Russia really did what it said it was going to do, that I was able to sympathize with both those who were dismayed with the developments, and those who were skeptical of it. Most of us are swept under the consensus that this war neither should be happening, nor was warranted to happen unprecedentedly, given the history. But the news hasn’t been fair to aptly covering either sentiment as of late.
A reporter on CBS said, “…this isn’t a place [Ukraine] with all due respect like Iraq or Afghanistan that has seen conflict raging for decades. This is a relatively civilized, relatively European-I have to choose those words carefully too- city, where you wouldn’t expect that or hope that it’’ going to happen.”
One from NBS said, “these are not refugees from Syria”
Another from Algeciras, ” these are prosperous, middle class people”
A correspondent in Poland for Britain’s ITV said, “the unthinkable has happened to them, and this is not a developing, third world nation, this is Europe.”
Ukraine’s former deputy general prosecutor said on BBC “It is very emotional for me because I see European people with blue eyes and blond hair being killed.”
A member of France’s National Assembly described the refugees in a broadcast as , “an immigration of great quality, intellectuals.”
An analyst on France’s BFMTV said, ” we’re talking about Europeans leaving in cars that look like ours to save their lives.”
So on, and so forth. The above speaks for itself. It’s not that people thought this war shouldn’t have taken place because nationlisitc and other political tensions in the area that were a long time coming, and therefore could have been prevented by non-militaristic intervention, but because of the arrogant prejudice that it couldn’t have happened, shouldn’t have happened. To them. Caucasian Europeans that “watch Netflx and have instagram accounts, vote in free elections and read uncensored newspapers” (The Telegraph).
Take note, however, this isn’t a case of whataboutism. A war is a war is a war. It can only be a good thing that awareness was swept into action to put sanctions into place within days, strategizing on peace talks while providing means of support in whatever form Ukraine can take in the meantime. But it’s about singling out the Ukranians’ suffering as being something unique. It wouldn’t be fair to the Ukranians in the long term (it would give them a victim token card to play somewhere down the line), nor to others that are victims of geopolitical conflict, which dehumanizes them. This can be paralleled to the industralizing of the holocaust, or the canonizing of 9/11.
Some might argue that the wars in Syria, Afghanistan or the like were different because they were caused by civil unrest, and therefore needing of “liberation.” Certainly only a war could do that? Where mainly the innocent civilians are affected and utterly wiped out? Certainly not. Without exception-and this is no secret either- every single one of those wars were ignited by external forces, just as much as it was with Ukraine. The United States covertly started wars and revolutions in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Nicaragua, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Somalia, and Pakistan just to name a few from the 21st century; the US started 81 percent of armed conflicts since WW2 (about 201), 90 percent of the casualties being children, the elderly, and working, noncombatant men and women. This is more than Hitler’s Nazis could have ever done, won or lost, a whooping 30 million people and counting.(1) Again, this isn’t a secret, this can be found in the archives, in a college textbook, in Wikipedia for heaven’s sake, in bold print, the admission of the CIA’s doings in all of these conflicts. If anything, this is plenty enough reason for Russia to claim it shouldn’t be called out on its current actions, when no one thought to place something as remotely as sanctions on the US for all of its past and coming war crimes.
Those third-world countries are in the shape that they are in, not because they do not possess democratic-led institutions, which is a Western fetish anyways, but because the West has suppressed them by exploiting their resources, manipulating local politics, and tarnishing their social superstructures, being that very cause of oppression, and therefore inability to allow them to recover their own original cultural orientation and a form of governance that is relative to them. You can’t tell someone they’re a bad inhaler of oxygen when you’re the one who’s put a tight collar around their neck. It’s 2+2=5.
To outline a brief example of this, consider when celebrities or lobbyists use moral enterprising to make speeches or organize charity events in claims to advocate against organizations like the Taliban because they “oppress women and children.” But the truth is that the US’s CIA formed the Taliban and brought about their rise to power by providing them with training, military and monetary support (part of their Cold War plans). “By 1986, under the Reagan administration, this project had mushroomed into the largest covert operation in US history since World War II. Overall, the US funneled more than $3 billion to the mujahideen, and Saudi Arabia, one of the staunchest US allies, provided as much financial support, if not more.” Hundreds of thousands of women and men died not because of the Taliban regime, but because of starvation caused by years of drought. The drought was brought on by excessive US bombing that dried up the land and changed the environment. In addition, all the bombing blocked food and aid delivery. (2)
Humanitarian organizations like Afghan’s Women Mission existed, but did not see support from the US then to call off the bombs. Instead, American campaigns like Feminst Majority focused on the Taliban’s ideologies and women’s dress making statements like: ” our hearts break for the women and children of Afghanistan, but also because in Afghanistan, we see the world the terrorists would like to impose on the rest of us.” 2.2 million Afghans suffered from starvation and the conditions of war. Not for not being able to wear ripped jeans and having blue hair. Instead, Feminist Majority remained silenced on these issues, and in the end only accomplished in getting more women to pilot bomber aircrafts to wreak even more havoc in Afghanistan. This hypocritical, savior-complex-infused, third wave feminism is another layer of colonialism.
In other regards, Russia’s invasion at least puts other superpowers at bay. Goodness knows if a country like the US was alone in influencing world leadership. On the other hand, having watched the movie The Courier recently seemed like a frightening mirroring of today’s events ( as of this article being published). To think it took only a little over 60 years to be back to square one, and on the brinks of a potential nuclear war. That’s ever so slightly a generation ago. A generation that comprises of people still alive and well, and may very well be our own parents. If there’s a time to ignore protests for fear they are a mere demonstration of homiletical pathos, this would be it. Be wary, dear leaders, for a threat of nuclear “deterrence” would already prove to carry more than what the word has ever meant in every sense. As for the rest of us, until another brave Penkovsky type of character steps in to save the day, at most, if nothing else, we can edit our perceptions of the Ukrainian crisis before taking on a stance.
(1) Shah, Sabir. “The US Has Been at War 225 out of 243 Years since 1776.” Thenews, The News International, 9 Jan. 2020, https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/595752-the-us-has-been-at-war-225-out-of-243-years-since-1776.
(2) Mahmoud, Saba. “Feminism, the Taliban, and the Politics of CounterInsurgency.” Feminism, the Taliban and the Politics of Counterinsurgency, 2002, fathom.lib.uchicago.edu/1/777777190136/.