As the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues, an outpouring of support for Ukrainians has been witnessed across much of Europe, Australia, and the West in general. A support much different from the ones other countries in such situation have received. Thus putting in evidence the double standard of the West.
We all may remember the novel Animal Farm by George Orwell and the famous proclamation of the pigs controlling the government of the farm: “All animals are equal but some are more equal than others.” A paradoxal affirmation: for, equality means that everyone is on the same level. It is indeed not possible for someone to be “more equal” than someone else. It is just contradictory to the concept of equality. If some are “more equal” then it follows that others are “less equal.”
As contradictory as this may appear, is it not a fact that some are more equal than others?
We are all witnessing the horrible war happening in Ukraine. It is unfortunate to see people losing their entire livelihood and even more losing their lives. It is heartbreaking to see that children, mothers and the vulnerable are victims of such cruelty. It is unfortunate that such a thing happens again and more importantly in this millennial when we are supposed to know better, especially from past experiences. Nothing can and should justify a war, especially an invasion of a country by another country. We are baffled by such an invasion: how is such a thing possible? How can an independent country invade another one?
The reaction of the international community to this invasion was great. Several countries have condemned the war. They were immediate sanctions targeted at Russian banks, oil refineries, Russian Oligarchs and military exports. There were even emergency talks at the UN Security Council (UNSC) to address the situation.
On the Sporting level, the European football clubs have cut ties with Russian companies, sporting organizations are moving events out of the country. UEFA switched the Champions League final from St Petersburg to Paris. Poland and Sweden announced their refusal to play against Russia in the 2022 Qatar World Cup qualifiers. A decision acclaimed by Polish President Andrzej Duda who wrote on social media: “You don’t play with bandits!”
On the media level, all headlines and focus are set on the Russian-Ukrainian war. Covid-19 which not long ago was the main subject in everyone lips has now given place to this war. Not a day passes without a mention of the Russian-Ukranian war. Less than a day since Russia invaded Ukraine, we already had more information than we had in a week during the Iraq war. The Russian- Ukrainian war indeed, could be considered as one of the most documented war in human history, given the mediatic attention it is receiving.
All these actions show how our society is sensitive to the suffering of others and the deep desire of our world to fight and eradicate all forms of violence, to create a society where peace and love reign. And we cannot but only rejoice of such good actions.
While we rejoice over such good deeds in the face of the horrors of this war, we need to stop a while and ask ourselves if the Russian-Ukrainian war is the only war going on in our world today? Is Ukraine the only country which has been invaded by a super power? Are the refugees of this war the only refugees we have in our world today? Are other war victims less human than the Ukrainian victims?
The Palestinians, Yemenis, Afghans, Iraqis and Syrians must be wondering what they have to do to make their sufferings as noticeable as those of the Ukrainians.
Indeed, one cannot but raise eyebrows at the lack of such reactions to other conflicts across the world. We could cite the case of Libya, Palestine, the invasion of Iraq among others.
The volume of media coverage of the war in Ukraine is in itself a double standard compared to the relatively low media attention given to the conflict in places like Ethiopia’s Tigray region where a war has been raging since 2020; or the jihadist crisis in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, to name but a few. And the most appalling thing is that when the unthinkable things happen in these places like on the African continent, they are usually reported in terms of issues and numbers and trends rather than in terms of people and emotions and lives destroyed.
Another element which is also a double standard is FIFA’s decision to suspend Russia from international competition. A decision that breaks with a tradition of inaction by the governing body of football in the face of ethical breaches by member states.
Indeed, previous persistent calls on FIFA to suspend Israel over its treatment of Palestinians have fallen on deaf ears. Similarly, football protests over China’s treatment of its Uyghur population did not result in censure of the Chinese national team. To justify its refusal to act in these instances, FIFA cites the principle that sports should not be political. Yet it did otherwise with Ukraine.
Furthermore, the very way our world approaches tragedy differs from one region to another. This can be seen among the many media interventions regarding the Russian-Ukrainian war: A CBS News correspondent in Kyiv Charlie D’Agata stated for instance: “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 – I have to choose those words carefully, too – city where you wouldn’t expect that, or hope that it’s going to happen. ”
The question is: Are Iraqis or Afghans or non-Europeans less humans, since they are deemed inferior – “uncivilized”?
There is also the Ukraine’s former deputy general prosecutor, David Sakvarelidze who said: “It’s very emotional for me because I see European people with blonde hair and blue eyes being killed every day with Putin’s missiles and his helicopters and his rockets,”
Is it less emotional to see non-European people, with Brown eye and dark hair being killed?
Moreover, one cannot but also note the drastic change in tone regarding Ukrainian refugees as compared to other refugees. This has been particularly seen with states that have moved from “We are not going to let anyone in” – after the European Court of Justice ruled that these countries’ asylum policy contradicts EU law – to “We let everyone in”, referring to Ukrainians. Countries that yesterday closed their borders to refugees are now opening them wide to other refugees. Why such an attitude? What has changed?
One could say that the problem is more complex than that.
One may also say that the openness towards refugees fleeing the Ukrainian war might be rooted in the geopolitical implications and the geographical proximity of this crisis, as opposed to conflicts in other continents. However, there were reports of different treatments towards specific groups of refugees fleeing Ukraine. Africans for instance have been struggling to pass the borders; prompting the reaction of the African Union which appealed to all countries to “show the same empathy and support to all people fleeing war notwithstanding their racial identity”.
What does this say about us?
All these facts and declarations still show how far we are from truly embodying the first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stipulating that all humans are born equal.
They show how years of dehumanization have made the deaths of people in Africa and the Middle East more tolerable.
They show that European nationals are treated with much more compassion. A treatment which should be the same for all refugees and individuals in general. Compassion must arouse in response to all human suffering.
They also show how much our reactions are still tied up to our geographical origin and our environment, and perhaps still to our races.
With this, there is the danger of becoming insensitive to the suffering of people of different colors, from different regions, especially people who find themselves in war zones, and of not seeing the suffering of others on the same level as that of those who are close to us.
All these facts and declarations show also the weight of the West in world politics. As a matter of fact, they show that the West has not had the right discernment in its management of crises in places like the Middle East and Africa.
In other words, all these facts and declarations show the double standard of the West.
It is this double standard that we are trying to denounce. We are not denouncing it with a view to creating a certain hatred towards the West or with a view of dragging the knife in the wound of those who feel aggrieved by such a double standard; but with a view to drawing our attention so as in our quest to create a society where everyone is equal, other problems are not created.
Let us remember the end of the novel quoted above, Animal Farm: In their desire to create a more just society, the animals of the farm at the end found themselves in a situation much more tragic as the state in which they were at the beginning.
To avoid such an ending for us, it is essential that we examine this double standard and ask ourselves why this is so.
Perhaps on a more personal level, we should ask ourselves if we ourselves do not have double standards in our relationships with others? Are there not double standards in our church? Are there not in our society, the SMA, double standards?
We are all opposed to war, and that is good. And in this sense, our desire to fight it and support the victims should be the same for everyone, regardless of nationality, race, religion or tribe.
The grief and despair we feel for Ukraine should be the same grief and despair we feel for Yemen, Palestine, Syria, Libya, Nigeria, and Mali.
We say: No, to “double standards.”
Brice Ulrich AFFERI