Ukraine unveils the hypocrisy of the West

War shows that as long as refugees are White, Western, and non-Muslim, help is on the way


AP Newsroom

Many similarities can be made of refugees in Ukraine (seen above) with Middle Eastern refugees (seen below).

“Anyone can tell the difference between them [Ukranian refugees] and the invasion of young military-aged men of Muslim origin who have launched themselves against European borders in an attempt to destabilize and colonize it.”

These are the words of Santiago Abascal, Spanish congressman and leader of the far-right party Vox, regarding the Ukrainian invasion by Russia that started on Feb. 24. The offensive words of Abascal are not unique, either. Moreover, they reveal an alarming rhetoric on how Europeans perceive Western migrants versus non-Western ones.

So why the change of heart? Why is it that when Ukrainians need help, Europeans gladly sacrifice all they have to help their neighbors, but will ignore the struggles of other people who need help in the face of the same types of imperialism and aggression? ”

Ever since the conflict, the world has consistently supported Ukrainian people, be it through donating to charities, supporting Ukrainian small businesses, or, most significantly, seeking out Ukrainian migrants in Europe.

According to the United Nations, more than 1.7 million Ukrainians fled the country as refugees to neighboring countries where most were met with welcoming arms, being given sandwiches by guards, baby strollers by locals, and homes for them to reside in. 

At the same time, non-Western refugees are seen as invaders and terrorists, hell-bent on instituting Sharia law on the European populous. They are verbally and physically attacked—just like how a Hungarian camerawoman kicked a Syrian child running from police in a refugee camp. 

In fact, a Danish law passed in 2016 called the “jewelry law,” which attempted to rob migrants and asylum seekers of any cash and valuables they brought to Denmark worth over 10,000 kroner, will “likely” not apply to Ukrainian migrants. This change in precedent is demonstrating its purpose in scaring away Middle Eastern refugees from coming to Denmark and stripping them of their financial assets.

So why the change of heart? Why is it that when Ukrainians need help, Europeans gladly sacrifice all they have to help their neighbors, but will ignore the struggles of other people who need help in the face of the same types of imperialism and aggression? 

Well, Bulgarian prime minister Kiril Petkov described it perfectly: “These people are Europeans,” Petkov said. “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.”

Some might argue that the reason why Europeans try to help Ukraine and not other Middle Eastern countries is because their vicinity to Europe is relatively different. Yet, the Bosnian Genocide of 1995, in which over 8,300 Bosniak Muslims were killed by the Bosnian Serb Army of Republika Srpska, yielded identical results of nonintervention as “their Muslim identity negated that [status as white Europeans]; and rendered them ‘unfit for rescue,’” according to law professor and author Khaled Beydoun. 

It’s also notable that all cases of Russian aggression have been forgotten except for Ukraine. Russia’s invasions of Chechnya, annexations of Crimea, bombings of Syria, and the sending of mercenaries to Libya, all produced radio silence from the West. It’s only when Westerners are the victims that the Western world pledges to stand up against Russian imperialism.

Time and time again, Europeans have shown their determination to keep Middle Eastern refugees out of Europe, going as far as paying billions of recurring payments to countries like Turkey to keep refugees crossing from there to the rest of Europe. 

The Orientalistic belief that those from Asia and the Middle East are inhumane and radically different in their beliefs, struggles, and treatment of others, plagues our Western societies. Why is it that the Palestinian, who protests and rallies in the streets to stop Israeli imperialists from bulldozing their rightful homes and encroaching on their land, is seen as a terrorist? Why is it that the Yemeni, who seeks refuge from poverty, starvation, and American-funded bombs being dropped on innocent people, is seen as a terrorist? However, the Ukrainian, who fights against the same oppression from Russian aggressors, is seen as a freedom fighter. All these people are fighting for similar causes, against similar enemies, and therefore should be all seen as heroic in their own ways. 

Yet, this aspect of heroism in non-Western movements isn’t exposed in Western media. The Middle East is depicted as a war-torn place devoid of liberty and happiness; a place with radical terrorist groups and Western “liberators” trying to fight back against terrorism with no in between. The individual citizens of these countries are dehumanized to seem like they are the terrorists, when in reality they are also the victims of conflict, caught in the crossfire between two sides, often left with no choice but to seek a better life outside the country.

The Ukrainian conflict is not the first of its kind. We’ve seen powerful imperialist countries exploit populations for power countless times throughout history, but some claim that the use of social media in documenting the war has been unique in that the world is provided with practically live updates. Yet, we’re blind to the posts and videos of countless conflicts in the Middle East because it doesn’t fit our Western narrative of not helping those affected by war. 

The hypocrisy doesn’t apply only to European leaders, though. Here in America, we pride ourselves on being outspoken on war crimes and injustices around the world. In contrast, our own war crimes are forgotten and painted over in a smoke screen of liberation. When the UN General Assembly voted against Russia for their justification of war and Russia continued to invade, people were horrified. Yet, this same situation happened not even 20 years ago where the US tried to justify an invasion of Iraq because of their alleged weapons of mass destruction. 

In fact, New Trier alum and Alumni Hall of Honor recipient Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense at the time, was instrumental in the war crimes committed during the war. Knowing that he knew very little about the Iraqi weapons program, he and Colin Powell lied and exaggerated the certainty of WMDs in Iraq. The decision to invade Iraq by the UN was rejected. One month after Powell’s UN appearance, the US invaded Iraq, going against the UN Charter, meaning, “from the charter point of view, it [the invasion] was illegal,” according to then Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan. The eight year war claimed the lives of more than 110,000 innocent Iraqi citizens.

Although the international community is showing solidarity with Ukraine, this solidarity falls through with non-Western populations. This conflict also highlights that refugee status can befall anyone, so we have to consistently look out for everyone seeking help. This is perfectly summed in the words of “The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah: “I think rather than this being a moment to turn on each other, the Ukraine refugee crisis should be a reminder that ‘refugee’ is not a synonym for ‘brown person.’ Anyone could be a refugee. It’s a thing that happens to you. It’s not who you are.”