Russia Ukraine crisis
Russia Ukraine crisis has exposed some very harsh truths about our current world order Image Credit: Gulf News

“I haven’t just had my children killed, my whole family were killed. My two brothers were killed, my brother’s two sons, my sisters’ sons were killed, my cousins and their children. There wasn’t anyone left to kill.” This chilling statement is from a woman named Hatidza Mehmedovic. And she is not from Ukraine. She is from Bosnia, born in the town of Srebrenica in 1952 — the town that in 1995 witnessed one of the worst atrocities in modern history.

I am not a cynic by nature. But there are some events that compels one to display some sort of cynicism. The ongoing Russia war in Ukraine is close to that. What is happening today is unequivocally unacceptable. The war should end immediately and Ukrainians have the right, like everyone else, to freedom and safety. One million of them have fled their country to safety in neighbouring countries, we are told.

Almost all politicians, analysts and writers, particularly in the United States and the West, describe the war as the most dangerous political and humanitarian crisis in the heart of Europe since World War Two. It is not. That was Bosnia. The Srebrenica genocide in July 1995 is arguably one of the worst in Europe’s history, if not the worst ever, period.

A grim history

With the disintegration of Yugoslavia in 1992, the Bosnian Serb forces targeted Srebrenica as they planned to seize control of a block of territory in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina and annex it to the adjacent newly formed Republic of Serbia. This meant that all Bosnian Muslims in that territory must be expelled (or eliminated as demanded by the leader of the Bosnian Serbs Radovan Karadzic who in March 1995, ordered his forces to “create an unbearable situation of total insecurity with no hope of further survival or life for the inhabitants of Srebrenica.”).

From the beginning of March until July 1995, the town was besieged, starved and bombed. A part from the usual statement deploring the situation, the world just watched helplessly as the Bosnian Serb forces, supported by the trained forces of the ministry of interior of the Republic of Serbia, entered the town on July 11. A United Nations ‘peacekeeping’ force, some 200 soldiers from the Netherlands, surrendered the town (willingly, some say) to the invading Serbs.

The killing, the rape and torture went on for full four days — from July 12 to 16. More than 8,000 men and boys, as young as 4 years old, were executed and dumped in mass graves. Remains of many of those murdered on those four days have yet to be found. The massacre went on uninterrupted for full four days without the intervention of the ‘free world’, the same world that deployed all its available resources to punish Russia — from Netflix blackout and YouTube boycott (as part of historic economic, financial, political, cultural, sport and technological sanctions we have never seen before) to delivering heavy arms and rockets to the Ukrainians.

Unforgettable atrocities

Reading the testimonies of the survivors of the Srebrenica genocide (on, like the one above from Hatidza Mehmedovic, will bring you to tears, literally. Then you begin to wonder where the world was at the time, why the Europeans allowed such an atrocity take place in the heart of the continent without lifting a little finger.

I have always resented the idea that there is ‘double standards’ in the West’s world view. I thought that was ridiculous notion. I believed that common interests, including trade, guided international politics. No skin colour, race or religion matter. But watching the endless coverage of the war in Ukraine whilst remembering the Bosnian one forced me to think otherwise. Could it be that major global institutions actually have to check the colour of the victim before they act? This appalling view nevertheless began to challenge my normally empirical, rational view of global politics.

Legitimate grievances

No country can rationally justify waging war on its neighbour. It can be argued that there are legitimate grievances voiced by Moscow for years about the immediate threat from Ukraine, which has become an advance military post for Nato to encircle Russia including the deployment of military infrastructure, high-tech surveillance and alleged nuclear and biological weapons secret programmes. But that is what diplomats are for, they talk these issues to death. And so far in this crisis, the diplomatic route has not been exhausted. The war is an unacceptable option. But still the threat was close and personal.

In 2003, the US invaded Iraq, a country more than 11,000 kilometres away, to change its regime. True, Saddam Hussain was a dictator and his regime was ruthless that had oppressed Iraqis for decades, but was it the US job to invade a small country, killing thousands and displacing millions on what has been proven later to be falsified information on Iraq’s programme of weapons of mass destruction. The ‘free world’ went along. More than that, several Western countries took part in the invasion, contributing thousands of troops and military equipment.

Not a single western country dared to utter the words of international law or hint at sanctioning the US the way the West is dealing with Russia today. Was it about the identity of the victim in 2003 that made the difference we very well see today? I tend to think so, now. I tried really hard, but couldn’t come up with a reason other than that.

Two set of values

The Russian offensive in Ukraine has exposed something that many of us in this part of the world have for long refused to recognise: The West has two set of values, one for western societies and another for the rest of the world. The concept runs from top to bottom — from leaders to your regular Joe on the street. (Surely not all Joes, but a sizeable chunk of the population). We thought that the Trump folks were the fringe — a racist lot, like a blemish on America’s near perfect face. But recent rants by correspondents, television anchors, political leaders have exposed the actual way they look at the ‘inferior’ — i.e., rest of the world.

Last Sunday, Peter Dobbie, an anchor on Al Jazeera English TV described Ukrainians fleeing the war as “prosperous, middle-class people” who “are not obviously refugees trying to get away from the Middle East, or North Africa. They look like any European family that you would live next door to.” On the same day, NBC News correspondent Kelly Cobiella said this on air: “These are not refugees from Syria, these are refugees from Ukraine; they are Christian, they are white, they are very similar.”

Two days earlier, CBS News foreign correspondent Charlie D’Agata told viewers, “This isn’t a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan, that has seen conflict raging for decades. This is a relatively civilised, relatively European.” (Charlie D’Agata later apologised). And you would think that these people are educated, intellectuals.

Even within the neighbouring countries that received those fleeing the war, the double standards was there for all to see. Stephanie Hegarty, correspondent for BBC News who wrote on Twitter, February 26, 2022: “A Nigerian medical student at Poland/Ukraine border (Medyka-Shehyni) told me she has been waiting 7hrs to cross, she says border guards are stopping black people and sending them to the back of the queue, saying they have to let ‘Ukrainians’ through first.”

The contempt for the ‘non-Europeans’ is not a new concept, just take a quick glance of the 17th century French philosopher Montesquieu’s well known manuscript ‘The Persian Letters’. In this manuscript, aimed at criticising the French monarchy, Montesquieu writes in details about the barbaric nature of the Orientals — cunning, deceitful, with lust for women, money and blood. Many thought that this line of thinking was outdated in a globalised world. Wrong. The Ukraine war may have shown that in many parts, the Montesquieu thread of thinking was never really discarded.