Ukrainian families now huddle in bomb shelters and dig trenches to fight off Vladimir Putin’s murderous regime. Their battle is for life and death; there is no time for debates about political correctness.
No, those are concerned for the outside world that sits, watches, judges and tweets about a war not outside its door.
This is not to say there aren’t problems with how Western societies, the news media and governments perceive (and refuse to receive) nonwhite refugees from countries and regions such as Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, Kurdistan, Eritrea, Yemen, Honduras, Haiti , Congo, Guinea Bissau and Mexico.
As a matter of international law, no one group has any more right than another in its struggle for self-determination.
In their own words:Ukrainians talk about living through Russian invasion
And every time a journalist refers to a white refugee as “civilized,” they should be called out for it – it is racist nonsense, and we ought to know better and hold public figures more accountable for backward, cruel and dangerous utterances.
It is that kind of language that helped to fuel the ethnic and religious hatred that drove the Balkans war in the 1990s.
Broad strokes are unhelpful at best
We also ought to know better than to paint with broad strokes about how Ukrainian refugees are being embraced by the world.
Ukraine, like any other conflict, is not happening in a vacuum. Complicated historical and cultural factors merit attention and cannot be easily glossed over. People turn refugees away for all kinds of (right and wrong) reasons – even when they look like “them.”
My USA TODAY colleague Thuan Elston fled Vietnam with her family in 1975 shortly before the fall of Saigon. She wrote in a 2015 column about the Syrian refugee crisis: “Just as some European nations are turning away today’s refugees and migrants, not all of Vietnam’s neighbors were welcoming. Malaysia and Thailand frequently pushed boats full of desperate refugees away from their coastlines, sometimes after first giving them food and gasoline.”
In an attempt to be inclusive, those of us on the political left sometimes lump all refugees into the same bucket as if the circumstances are the same. We also demand that the same rules apply no matter the nature of the conflict – or the geographical and demographic factors at play in specific cases.
thisweek, progressives have criticized European nations for supposedly being more welcoming to Ukrainian refugees than they have been of migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
We can expect, merely because of proximity, that countries in the European Union like Poland and Germany will more quickly respond to a refugee crisis so close to their borders.
In situations of oppression – whether Ukraine, Afghanistan or another country – we need action, not just arguments. And receiving refugees, any refugee, is certainly action. As Slavoj Zizek says in his book about him, “Heaven in Disorder,” in these times “decent people are not the enemy.”
In the past week I have been in touch with several people in Ukraine, including a man who has said that he will die protecting kids with cancer as their city is bombed. I have met a father of fouran author and filmmaker, who has left his family to fight for his country.
We must stand united
There is a time to question policies and actions by the international community in response to the Russian attack on the sovereign nation of Ukraine. But my biggest concern now is for the people in the bomb shelters hoping to make it through the night.
My priority now is the Russians who, at great risk to themselves, are protesting the Kremlin’s terrifying and illegal aggression.
How do we save lives? How do we stop the suffering?
That is how I approach any human rights violation or war crime, regardless of whether it’s an illegal bombing in Gaza, white supremacists in Minnesota or human rights abuses against asylum seekers at the US-Mexico border.
In the media, as in government, we must focus on the kids losing their fathers in a senseless war. There will come a time for commissions of truth and inquiry. There will come a time for justice in response to systemic human rights abuses. But for now, we must stand united with Ukraine and the Russian resistance to Putin.
Most important, we must stand together.