Racism Isn’t a One-Way Street

There are lessons for all of us in the way the Ukraine invasion has been covered

Racism Isn’t a One-Way Street
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There is an Arabic expression that, roughly translated, says: “Whatever the house needs does not go to the mosque.” It’s another way of saying that charity begins at home.

I found myself thinking of that expression while following the coverage of the Ukraine crisis, specifically the outrage over the imbecilic pronouncements by some correspondents and Western officials while explaining why their readers, viewers and public should be sympathetic to the plight of the Ukrainians. Apparently, beyond the fact that they are forced to flee their homes by a hegemonic tyrant with no regard for the rule of law, they also watch Netflix, hail from a “civilized” part of the world, are IT specialists and read uncensored newspapers.

This is of course racism. War is not unique to faraway places, nor is indecency, nor should our sympathies be so wrapped up in prejudice. There was nothing civilized about the world wars that Europeans initiated or the Holocaust or colonialism and the theft of historical artifacts, many of which still sit in Western museums. In fact, there was a full-blown genocide in Europe less than 30 years ago in Bosnia, though that apparently doesn’t count in headlines proclaiming the first land war in Europe in 70 years. During the Cold War, even the West didn’t really count Ukraine or the rest of Eastern Europe as part of the apparently civilized first world — they were literally part of the “second world.”

The racism of the recent coverage was ably written about by my colleagues Asser Khattab, contributing editor and author of our newly launched newsletter on the media, Just Landed, and our editorial director, Rasha Elass. You should read their piece here.

Now with those caveats out of the way, I want to raise an issue that the coverage brings to the fore, at least in my mind. The prejudice unmasked by the coverage has also served to highlight an utterly shameful hypocrisy on our part as Arabs. We are all too quick to condemn the prejudice of the West against refugees from our part of the world while doing absolutely nothing collectively to improve their lot.

Take the American invasion of Iraq, which forced many Iraqis to flee to neighboring Syria, where tens of thousands of women were reportedly forced into prostitution to survive. Or take the war in Syria itself, which led to the flight of millions of people to neighboring countries and farther afield. That farther afield, by the way, does not include the wealthiest countries of the Middle East — the Gulf states — which have tribal, religious, cultural, linguistic and blood ties to Syria and which were actively involved in arming some of the factions in the war. They took nobody.

Instead, they delegated that task largely to Lebanon and Turkey, both of which struggled with the influx to varying degrees — Lebanon more so. Refugees in both countries were subjected to a multitude of abuses, including racism, despite sharing skin color and borders. They were blamed for economic crises caused by Lebanon’s ruling mafia and Turkey’s Erdoğan, forced to return home to a war-torn country or leave, denied basic paperwork and residency procedures, and in Lebanon barred from even building concrete structures to house them, which is part of the reason their tents flood every winter and their babies die of cold exposure.

The absence of charity is perhaps best exemplified though by Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, who remain largely barred from participating in the workforce despite their parents and grandparents having been there since 1948, largely confined to overcrowded camp towns, with the only prospect of a future being if they leave.

The West is racist, but so are we. Charity begins at home, so let’s not lose sight of our failings as we eagerly deal out judgment.

From this week (Monday Feb. 28-Friday Mar. 4, 2022)

Clowning Around at the Kyiv Children’s Hospital | Read more

Why Putin Is Playing Poker, Not Chess | Read more

Podcast: The Ukraine Invasion in an Age of ‘New Wars’ | Listen here

Chechens Fighting Chechens in Ukraine | Read more

On Ukraine’s Border, Suffering, Loyalty and Hope | Read more

Is Poland Sending Fighter Jets to Ukraine? | Read more

Libya: a Prime Example of Enduring Disorder | Read more

The Defenders of Kyiv Dig In for Russia’s Siege | Read more

Estonia’s Spymaster: The Danger of Putin’s Frustration | Read more

How Western Muslims Fare May Foretell the Future | Read more

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