“They seem so like us. That is what makes it so shocking. War is no longer something visited upon impoverished or remote populations. It can happen to anyone”. This quote from an article by The Telegraph resembles the racist coverage of the Russian-Ukraine war. The reporting revealed that colonial and imperialist ideas of what life has value still exist; the 18th-century notion that some races are biologically more advanced and civilised than others.
The Arab and Middle East Journalists Association (AMEJA) released a statement condemning what it called ‘orientalist and racist’ coverage, particularly noting how journalists have compared the conflict in Ukraine to those in the Middle East, which it says, ‘ascribes more importance to some victims of war than over others.’ Unwittingly, the world announced that war belongs in certain places, that it is okay for non-white nations to be invaded and bombed, and that they are more ‘equipped’ to handle conflict. It revealed how race still plays a huge role in people’s morality and political analysis, and discourse.
This has led to the question of not only who gets to be a victim but who gets to get away with imperialism. From the start, the war triggered immediate condemnation by several countries, including sanctions by the US. Now, Russian vodka is being pulled off shelves in the UK, American and Canadian stores. Even the International Cat Federation banned Russian cats! Recently, Netflix, KPMG and even TikTok to name a few, have announced their suspension of services in Russia. The world has responded to Russia’s interference with Ukraine in a way that it hasn’t to Western imperialism. Russia now appears to be the poster child for state invasion.
There is no excuse for the invasion. However, the double standard of America and its allies regarding state intervention must be called to question. Whilst Joe Biden has correctly mentioned that “nations have a right to sovereignty and territorial integrity”, the United States remains the only government in the world to formally recognise Israel’s illegal annexation of Syria’s Golan Heights, which was seized by force in defiance of the United Nations. Nor does this explain his refusal to support Palestinian self-determination outside the parameters agreed to by Israeli occupiers; the current prime minister of Israel ruled out Palestinian statehood. The rhetoric currently pushed by the West and their corporate allies is a dangerous one steeped in a political power struggle. By scapegoating Russia, they have excused their own violent interventions that have destroyed and displaced many lives, promoting the arrogant and dangerous idea that “some states are justified for intervening”.
At the same time as the Russia-Ukraine war ignited, U.S Africa Command (AFRICOM) launched an airstrike in Somalia against suspected al-Shabab fighters ‘after they attacked a partner force in a remote location’. This is the 5th US airstrike in Somalia under Biden’s presidency. Under his predecessor Donald Trump, the number of airstrikes in Somalia went from 11 in 2016 to 64 in 2019 to 54 in 2020. As Spencer Ackerman noted, “With minimal spillage of US blood, treasure and less media attention, a war like the one the US wages in Somalia can persist as long as there is funding for it… After 15 years, AFRICOM doesn’t need to justify the operation beyond signing off with ‘violent extremist organisations like al-Shabab present long-term threats to the US and regional interests.’”
The Biden administration’s insistence on freedom contradicts the US’s support for brutal dictatorships in Egypt, Saud Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. Further, as a Senator, Biden was a strident supporter of the US invasion of Iraq on the deceptive grounds that Saddam Hussein had amassed a vast arsenal of chemical and biological weapons and a nuclear program. The point here is not to undermine Russia’s actions by highlighting that countries like America have done similar or worse. Instead, it is to ask why we do not give all violent state interventions the same attention and, more importantly, victims of wars the same support.
The reporting is always one-sided, lacking nuance and context, suggesting that the Global South is expected to be unstable. Hence, when these places are attacked, it is talked about in a way that suggests it is their norm.
Perhaps, as the current situation has shown us, countries like the US have got away with their Western imperialism because they choose the right victims, people who they can easily ‘other’ due to the world’s ingrained biases. Conflicts in Mali, Chad, Sudan, Somalia, Iran and Afghanistan are either underreported or treated with sensationalism bias, and most of the world accepts it. When the US invaded Iraq, it was justified because they were liberating the people of Iraq and preventing them from making ‘weapons of mass destruction. Most simply accepted these reasons that the war was in the people’s best interest. This is easier to believe because of the colonial perspective of such countries as poor, uncivilised, and needing a white saviour. It explains why when war happens in places like Iraq or Somalia, the coverage is usually only about the issues in those places instead of the actual harm civilians face. The reporting is always one-sided, lacking nuance and context, suggesting that the Global South is expected to be unstable. Hence, when these places are attacked, it is talked about in a way that suggests it is their norm.
This essay is not a ‘whataboutism’ situation; it is not about choosing one imperialist over the other. Instead, it interrogates why we denounce some state interventions and leave others alone. We should be condemning both with the same vigour. However, it seems racial capitalism has completely taken control of the narrative. Whilst we vehemently condemn the Russian intervention, we should also be condemning all western interventions in states. There is a saying, wherever the US “intervenes,” conflicts, chaos and terrorism will appear. This is the right time to speak about western imperialism, especially as they currently condemn Russia. We must always be aware that for leaders of these nations, all of this is simply a scramble for world dominance.