ukraine
Ukrainian ‘refugees’ wait at a train station in Zahony, Hungary, a border town with Ukraine, February 26, 2022 (Photo: AP)

In the world as it has come to be, certain gestures are obligatory while equivalent ones are not.   We are trained to have what can be deemed as inconsistent responses to paired events which are for the most part similar, even identical.   It is a fool’s errand to expect consistency and an exhausting routine to demand it.  Asking for it, too, is fraught.  But pointing out inconsistencies is the job of an intellectual or anyone who aspires to anything resembling morality.  So one must proceed.

In the West, for much of the population, these inconsistencies are invisible because they continue to act out the script we wrote millennia ago.  A thousand year pageant is, even a bit of the way through, the reality that we know.  It is hard to identify inconsistencies when one is consistently inconsistent.  Standard Operating Procedure.

To the small minority that wants consistency, even disbelief and grief cannot be unvarnished.  They are the ones outside the pageant, looking in and wondering how the people inside perceive their actions to be authentic and fair.  Even in tragedy, they cannot mourn because there are larger questions at play that must be addressed.

After the events of September 11, 2001 in the United States, everything written about “9/11” had to lead with a lamentation of tragedy and the obligatory indignation.  To avoid that was to be immediately turned-off and to invite blood-curdling criticism.  Articles expressing even anodyne and simple moral ideas- like suggesting that hate-crimes against Muslim-Americans were execrable- had to be prefaced with the lamentation and indignation.  When the US put the mightiest military the world had ever seen in the Afghani theater, in an imbalance of force the likes of which can hardly be imagined, and one wanted to protest the indiscriminate murder of poor civilians – children included- who had nothing to do with the attacks, the same preface had to be issued.  If one came even close to asking why a crime with a death-toll of 3,000 was considered so much more heinous than far larger ones – committed by the US itself- one was immediately cast as a traitor, even with the obligatory preface issued.

The racist order promulgated by the Europeans and taken to different heights by the Europeans who conquered the planet has been ingrained in the psyche of all humankind.  The traditions of the past weigh like a nightmare on the brain of the living.  Escaping it is impossible but reminding others- and ourselves- of its atavism and moral degeneracy continues to be important.

These features, this framework of racism and race-hate, are perhaps the most persistent characteristic of humankind.  The arc of this moral universe doesn’t bend in any favorable direction.  Racism and race-based hatred are not disappearing into the ether.   The same people who solemnly took each other by the hand and shed tears after 9/11 participated in “watch parties” of the Gulf War, when Baghdad was being “lit up like a Christmas Tree” and “felt good” that “we” were going into Afghanistan to “kick a little ass.”   The same people who write virtuous tracts on “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion,” lamented the passing of the “moral” hero Colin Powell, who happened to preside over the military destruction of Iraq and then made the case for invading it again based on clearly false information.  The brown, Muslim, Iraqis did not figure into the calculus as victims or even as humans, even for those who suggest that they are anti-racist.  On the numbers of Iraqi dead, Powell opined that it was “not a number” he cared much about.

The examples of such pairings and inconsistencies are too numerous to contemplate.  Yet, humankind, in its infinite ability to produce hideousness and cruelty- even for gratuitous reasons—has given us yet one more example in 2022.

Late February, 2022, Vladimir Putin’s Russia attacked the Ukraine with a large force of ground troops.  Revanchism is alive and well the world-over and is particularly strong in Russia.   There is of course a century of evidence (more, really) for why Russian paranoia is justified but whatever the historical tableau, the attack on a peaceful neighbor was foul and unjustified.  Saying this is at once true and obligatory.  In the cesspool of the US political sphere in 2022, one must make clear one’s affinities, lest one be lumped in with over-the-top racist and jingoistic bulldogs that constitute the Grand Old Party.  Yes, during a shooting war, it is important to take a stand.

For the first time in this author’s lifetime, Americans of many backgrounds and sides have indeed taken a stand on something that doesn’t involve their own country directly.  They are in solidarity with Ukraine.  Social media is full of signals of virtue and signs of solidarity with the Ukrainians.  In the recent State of the Union address, many of those in attendance – on both sides of the aisle—wore blue and yellow, the colors of the Ukrainian flag.   Public and private officials are in unison in their condemnation of Putin and defense of the Ukraine.  Aid packages are being run through Congress and private companies and charities alike are donating money, medicine, and other materials to the Ukrainians.

On the one hand, it is nice to see Americans care about anything beyond their borders.  It is also comforting for this author to see that they are largely against the war.  When it comes to wars that unite Americans, it is always the ones that they wage, even against puny countries with no real defenses.  This time it’s different.

But solidarity is not the full story.  The coverage of the War in the media has been predictably pathetic.  The comedian Trevor Noah has pointed this out better than anyone else can.  After all, this war is being waged on blond, blue-eyed, White Europeans, not some “savage or uncivilized” peoples ‘far, far away.”  For this reason- and because it is the Russians and not the US or some other Western power attacking them—Americans have found a soul and “care deeply” about this one.  On the social media site LinkedIn, one person impugned anyone posting about normal things like business trips or marketing tactics when this war was going on.  That he did so as Yemen has been savaged, as Syria was destroyed forever with millions of casualties, and so on, is a consequence of the script we discussed earlier.  He cannot see the inconsistency.  Nor can so many of his interlocutors.

European leaders are suggesting that they must be welcoming of Ukrainian refugees just as Syrian and North African refugees drowned in the Mediterranean and found no welcome mat anywhere in the world.  The same with the Rohingya Muslims. And so on.  They are not “just like us.”  And the play continues.

What is perhaps even more alarming than such attitudes being evinced by White Americans and White Europeans is that an entire phalanx of non-White, West-apers abide by the same script and follow the same playbook.

Such is the success of the play written by Europe so long ago and taken to new dramatic heights across the Atlantic.

As CEOs and Senators alike wore yellow and blue, one has to ask oneself if they ever wore the Red, Green, Black and White of the Syrian flag or the Red, White, Black of the Yemeni version.

Racism is not going anywhere.  It is everywhere.

In hate, there is racism; in love, too.


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