Let the horror in Ukraine open our eyes to the suffering of war around the world
Guardian Article (Adapted)
By Nesrine Malik
This article is adapted from the original article found here:
Many Europeans are shocked that there is a war in Europe. They assume that war should always be far away from home. But this assumption reveals how western foreign policies and the treatment of non-westerners is unfair and discriminatory. The Ukraine war highlights that war can happen anywhere in our interconnected world, and that we need a system that is better for all people, everywhere.
(to make it more accessible to non-native English speakers)
Vladimir Putin’s bloody invasion of Ukraine has sharpened two terrifying realisations.
The first is that Putin does not function within the realm (area, world) of the usual finely balanced checks and balances, sticks and carrots, that the west hoped would contain him and maintain an uneasy truce (peace agreement) in Europe.
The second is that the decades of work since the second world war of learning from the mistakes of the past and fortifying (protecting) against them in the future have failed. Here again, we have not a civil war, but an invasion of a sovereign (independent) state in defiance (disobedience) of the rest of the world. Here again, we have images that are only known to us as historical reels (short films), of frenzy (madness, mania, insanity) and panic as thousands attempt to flee to safety.
But there is a third realisation that appears to shape the perception of too many western journalists who are appalled (horrified, shocked) at the defiling (dishonoring, contaminating) of Europe. From the tone of much coverage, this seems uniquely distressing (upsetting) and more alarming to them because the lives of non-Europeans have less value, and their conflicts are contained (limited, controlled), far away from us.
I thought it was just clumsy (awkward, unskilled) phrasing from a couple of reporters under pressure, but soon it became clear that it was, in fact, a media-wide tic (uncontrollable or unconscious behavior). From Al Jazeera to CBS News, journalists were appalled that this was not happening in “Iraq or Afghanistan” but in a “relatively civilised European city.”
One reporter said: “The unthinkable has happened. This is not a developing, third world nation. This is Europe.”
Another reporter reflected (thought about it) in this way: “These are prosperous middle-class people… these are not obviously refugees getting away from the Middle East. To put it bluntly (directly, simply), these are not refugees from Syria. These are refugees from Ukraine… They’re Christian, they’re white, they’re very similar (to us).”
Ukraine’s former deputy chief prosecutor (lawyer, legal representative), David Sakvarelidze, told the BBC the following without being challenged: “It’s very emotional for me because I see European people with blue eyes and blond (white, light) hair being killed.”
Daniel Hannan, a Telegraph columnist and former member of the European Parliament, put it more bluntly, writing that those suffering in Ukraine “seem so like us. That is what makes it so shocking… War is no longer something visited upon impoverished and remote populations. It can happen to anyone.” It is, he said: “civilisation in retreat (withdrawing, declining).”
This strange account (report) of a history in which wars, conflict and dispossession (loss, deprivation) mostly happened in “third world” and “remote” countries (remote from whom?) is a fiction (lie) that has come about as a result of a political and media climate that has stripped (taken away) the humanity of those seeking refuge so completely that it has become a fact, repeated with no self-awareness or shame.
An extremely generous view of these statements is that it is not, in itself, an unusual impulse (instinct, desire) to care more about, or be affected more, by events happening closer to home than farther away. Perhaps what these people are really trying to say is something along the lines of (like) “this has not happened in this region in generations” in order to highlight the abnormality of this particular conflict. There is that.
But there is also much more to it (it’s much more complex). There is an acceptance that war is natural in other places but unacceptable in Europe. That war happens only to the poor and the uncivilised, not the well-off (secure, rich) and stable. Other people can suffer, but our people cannot.
These are beliefs that fall apart under the slightest of scrutiny (examination) to reveal a worldview warped (distorted, corrupted) by what has for too long been a popular, unchallenged discourse (discussion) on refugees and asylum seekers. These opinions were shaped, concertedly (collaboratively) and over time, in order to justify inhumane (cruel) and often violent policies passed to block people from entering European lands. For these policies to become accepted, their victims had to be portrayed (described, characterized) as threatening and undeserving.
The legacy that remains is a western world hostile (opposed, against) to all those in need, blue-eyed or not.
When we ignore one group of people, we build a system that ignores all people. We can see this in the strict border policies in the UK.
Exceptionalism means we are doomed (cursed) to repeat the complacencies of the past, constantly comforting ourselves that it cannot happen here, because it only happens elsewhere to others whose pain is somehow different from ours.
But their wars are no less important, their civilisation is no less valid, than the thousands now leaving Ukraine. And in designing a world in which we are optimistic about other people’s war, we have ensured that we cannot anticipate (predict) when war will happen on our doorstep (nearby, close to home) – and that when it does, we are appalled, but then find our humanitarian response systems hobbled (restricted) and calcified (hardened) in cruelty.
Checks and balances – A system of accountability that guarantees fairness and equality in a group (typically political)
Sticks and carrots – Sticks are used to hurt and punish people. Carrots are used to attract people (originally horses). So, sticks and carrots are basically control and manipulation.
Complacency – The state where someone feels overly satisfied with their situation and becomes lazy and passive.
Exceptionalism – The belief that one group is better or more special than another group – that they are more important.
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