What We Sound Like When We Talk About Ukraine: The Myth of Civilized Europe - Trending

Framing the war in Ukraine as one that deserves more pity than other large-scale conflicts currently happening is troubling and must be called out.

As the invasion of Ukraine commenced, an outpouring of deserved support hit an all-time high on media: both in its traditional spaces and on social media. It is shocking, of course, to see all of this play out, despite warnings from US President Biden that an invasion was going to occur.

READ ALSO: Follow The Leader: Lessons We Can Learn From Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky

It’s interesting to note how the situation is being framed. Consider Daniel Hanan (who, it must be said, is a member of the UK’s Conservative Party) who wrote in The Telegraph: “They seem so like us. That’s what makes it so shocking. Ukraine is a European country. Its people watch Netflix and have Instagram accounts, vote in free elections, and read uncensored newspapers. War is no longer something visited upon impoverished and remote populations. It can happen to anyone.”

Or Charlie D’Agata reporting live from Kyiv on CBS News: “This isn’t Iraq or Afghanistan…This is a relatively civilized, relatively European city.”

Or Lucy Watson on ITV: “The unthinkable has happened…This is not a developing, third-world nation; this is Europe!”

In other words: people are shocked when this happens in “civilized” Europe, and less so than in the rest of the world, particularly the global south. This is problematic in many ways, not least because Ireland, for example, was experiencing sectarian violence until the late 90s.

It implies that war-torn violence in the rest of the world is expected: that wars fought in the Middle East are due to “barbarian” actors, therefore less important, because “it happens anyway.” The truth is more complicated than that, oftentimes because the so-called civilized Europeans usually have had a hand in those conflicts.

Another troubling strain of thought is that the invasion of Ukraine and the resulting forced displacement of Ukrainians across borders (not including Russia or Belarus) recalls what Monica de La Villardière said on Instagram was “history’s darkest moments.” Time said as much with its cover:

And yet, this is a thing that has been happening for years and years now. Maybe it’s because no one, including historians, can quite agree what makes something history, versus current events, but the forced displacement of people is something that has never stopped.

From Syrian refugees who seek unsafe passage on boats to make it to Europe (some of whom never do), to the Rohingya trying to escape persecution in Myanmar, this is very much an act that has always been happening, and the countries on the receiving end have usually been less than welcoming.

While the world has been riveted at the action in Ukraine, bombs fell in Yemen, Syria, and Somalia. The silence on those issues is deafening. The repercussions of Russia’s war against Ukraine will have a huge impact on the rest of the world (already, we are seeing oil prices rise) and that’s why our eyes are geared more towards Europe, but every person who is a victim of injustice should be seen of equal worth. We can’t pick and choose who is more deserving of pity.

“If we stand against one aggressor, we should stand against them all,” writes Owen Jones on the Guardian. “If we are repelled by the slaughter of children in Ukraine, we should feel equally appalled by the Saudi the carpet bombing of kids with western bombs; and we should equally condemn atrocities committed by other anti-western regimes, from the barrel bombs of Syria’s Assad to China’s oppression of the Uyghur Muslims.”

The enemy is not merely one man, and the victims are not just located in one place. Performative actions of care have never helped in any situation, and it will not help now.

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