How Ukraine crisis laid bare Western biases, prejudices and double standards

Special How Ukraine crisis laid bare Western biases, prejudices and double standards
Short Url
Updated 16 March 2022

How Ukraine crisis laid bare Western biases, prejudices and double standards

How Ukraine crisis laid bare Western biases, prejudices and double standards
  • Vastly different treatments received by Ukrainians and Middle Eastern nationalities from European governments
  • Comments heard on TV testify to casual racism of Western journalists in their coverage of the war

LONDON: The invasion of Ukraine has exposed anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bias across European policymaking and news media. For hundreds of thousands of hounded, rejected or stranded refugees and asylum-seekers, the revelations of prejudice and favoritism must come as no surprise, though.

In the most recent incident — a textbook case of double standards — a Danish politician suggested that Ukrainian refugees could be exempt from laws that had allowed authorities to seize the assets of Syrian and Iranian refugees.

Rasmus Stoklund, immigration spokesman for Denmark’s Social Democratic government, told Danish paper Ekstra Bladet last week that the so-called jewelry law should not be applied to Ukrainians fleeing the conflict because they are from a “nearby region.”

Later, Stoklund said: “The jewelry law is made for if you leave the nearby region where you are safe, and travel through safe countries … but that is not the case for Ukrainians.”

The highly controversial laws meant incoming asylum-seekers were allowed to keep assets worth up to 10,000 Danish krone ($1,468), but anything valued above that figure could be seized by the state to pay for their stay in the country.

The potential exemption of Ukrainians from this law has highlighted the vastly different treatment that Ukrainians have received since their country was invaded, compared to what Syrians and other nationalities — most of them Middle Eastern and African — experienced while fleeing similar conflicts over the past decade.

“The 2016 law was largely symbolic, meant to send an unwelcoming, hostile message to people who might otherwise seek refuge in Denmark,” Judith Sunderland, associate director of Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia Division, told Arab News.

“Now the authorities want to send the opposite message of welcome, but only to Ukrainian refugees.

“Carving out an exemption for Ukrainian refugees is clearly discriminatory — if they don’t have to hand over their valuables, why should any refugee?”

French police officers proceed with operations during the eviction of migrants from a camp site in Calais, northern France. (AFP/File Photo)

The proposed change “crystallizes the stark contrast between the EU’s response to Ukrainian refugees and the bloc’s response to Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis, Eritreans … the list could go on.”

Sunderland added: “The empathy and generosity extended to Ukrainians should stretch further to all refugees, regardless of their nationality, religion or skin color.”

Her concerns are echoed by Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, who believes “the Danish law was wrong in the first place — no matter who it applied to.

“So, at one level, (I am) delighted if Denmark lifts this law for Ukrainian refugees,” he told Arab News. “But, as we are seeing in many countries, there is a completely different reaction to taking in and how people deal with, Ukrainian refugees than refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and other areas.”

This, according to Doyle, “should not be the way countries concoct their refugee policies.”

Denmark’s London embassy did not respond to a request for comments by Arab News.


* 6.7 million Syrian refugees.

* 2.7 million Afghanistan.

* 2 million Ukrainian refugees.

Source: UNHCR

As of Tuesday, more than two million people had fled Ukraine, a country with a pre-war population of about 40 million. The vast majority of those displaced by the Russian invasion have poured into the EU.

Poland has been a key European voice amid the Ukraine crisis and has taken in the highest number of refugees — more than 1 million people in less than two weeks.

Likewise, as of Monday according to UN figures, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia had provided refuge to at least 180,000, 100,000 and 123,000 people, respectively.

“We will do everything to provide safe shelter in Poland for everyone who needs it,” Mariusz Kaminski, Poland’s interior minister, said last week, failing to mention that, during the Syrian war, Poland, as well as Hungary and the Czech Republic, had essentially refused to take in any Syrian refugees.

This outright refusal to shelter Syrians earned them a reprimand from the European Court of Justice for refusing to follow EU-wide laws on refugee intake. Slovakia, for its part, only accepted a minute number of Christian refugees during the Syrian crisis.

During the Syrian war, Poland, as well as Hungary and the Czech Republic, had essentially refused to take in any Syrian refugees, while many other refugees have faced unsympathetic treatment at the hand of authorities in France and the UK. (AFP/File Photos) 

Kaminski also omitted to mention that, just months ago, his government erected a $380 million wall between Poland and neighboring Belarus to block thousands of non-European refugees seeking asylum in the EU.

As many as 19 of those refugees died in the months of that border crisis — now largely forgotten amid the Ukrainian furor — which displayed to the world, unequivocally, the Polish government’s hostility toward non-European refugees.

Doyle said: “There is an argument that geographic proximity can perhaps lead a country to take more numbers of refugees … but it certainly shouldn’t lead to discriminatory policies based on race, ethnicity and so forth.

“The world is watching. The world is seeing a very different set of standards being applied to Ukraine and conflicts in the developing world,” he said.

News of the proposed changes to Danish legislation follows a plethora of controversies online and in the media surrounding coverage of the Ukrainian conflict compared with other such conflicts and crises outside of Europe.

Twitter videos circulating online, accruing millions of views, have testified to the casual racism mainly of Western journalists in their coverage of the war.

In contrast to refugees from Syria or Afghanistan, almost 2 million refugees have fled Ukraine in the weeks since the invasion by Russia, with many of them welcomed by neighboring European countries. (AFP)

For example, early in the conflict and live from Kyiv, Charlie D’Agata, CBS News senior foreign correspondent, said: “Now with the Russians marching in, it’s changed the calculus entirely. Tens of thousands of people have tried to flee the city. There will be many more, people are hiding out in bomb shelters.

“But this isn’t a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan that has seen conflict raging for decades. This is a relatively civilized, relatively European — I have to choose those words carefully, too — city where you wouldn’t expect that, or hope that it’s going to happen.”

His “relatively civilized, relatively European” comment — for which he later issued an apology — drew widespread condemnation, with accusations of racism pouring in from Arab journalists, many of whom had been covering conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere for years.

In another case, a guest invited onto the BBC’s coverage said that the Ukrainian war was “very emotional for me because I see European people with blue eyes and blond hair being killed.”

But for Doyle, this kind of media discourse is not causing anti-Arab or anti-Middle Eastern bias; in fact, it is a “reflection of a broader, underlying racism,” he said.

Doyle added: “I think there is a public opinion issue here. We’ve seen for some time the growth of far right, anti-immigrant views and anti-refugee views.

“And that has confirmed what most of us came to realize: That they are anti-immigrant if they come from non-European countries, from Muslim majority countries — but they are not so anti-immigrant if they come from European countries like Ukraine.”

Moscow praises Musk's peace plan after Tesla and Zelensky clash in Twitter showdown

Moscow praises Musk's peace plan after Tesla and Zelensky clash in Twitter showdown
Updated 22 sec ago

Moscow praises Musk's peace plan after Tesla and Zelensky clash in Twitter showdown

Moscow praises Musk's peace plan after Tesla and Zelensky clash in Twitter showdown
  • In a Twitter poll the Tesla boss proposed Ukraine permanently cede Crimea to Russia
  • Kremlin spokesperson said Russia welcomes Elon Musk proposal
UNITED NATIONS: Billionaire Elon Musk on Monday asked Twitter users to weigh in on a plan to end Russia’s war in Ukraine that drew immediate condemnation from Ukrainians, including President Volodymyr Zelensky, who responded with his own poll.
“Which @elonmusk do you like more?,” Zelensky tweeted, offering two responses: one who supports Ukraine, one who supports Russia.
Musk, the world’s richest person, proposed UN-supervised elections in four occupied regions that Moscow last week moved to annex after what it called referendums. The votes were denounced by Kyiv and Western governments as illegal and coercive.
“Russia leaves if that is will of the people,” Musk wrote.
The Tesla Inc. chief executive suggested that Crimea, which Moscow seized in 2014, be formally recognized as Russia, that water supply to Crimea be assured and that Ukraine remain neutral. He asked Twitter users to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on the plan.
“Dear @elonmusk, when someone tries to steal the wheels of your Tesla, it doesn’t make them legal owner of the car or of the wheels. Even though they claim both voted in favor of it. Just saying,” Lithuania’s President Gitanas Nausėda tweeted in response.
Musk, who is also chief executive of SpaceX, followed up his first tweet with another poll: “Let’s try this then: the will of the people who live in the Donbas & Crimea should decide whether they’re part of Russia or Ukraine.”
He said he didn’t care if his proposal was unpopular, arguing that he did care “that millions of people may die needlessly for an essentially identical outcome.”
“Russia has >3 times population of Ukraine, so victory for Ukraine is unlikely in total war. If you care about the people of Ukraine, seek peace,” he posted on Twitter.
In February, when Ukraine’s Internet was disrupted following Russia’s invasion, Musk responded to a tweet by a Ukrainian government official seeking help. Musk said SpaceX’s Starlink satellite broadband service was available in Ukraine and that SpaceX was sending more terminals to the country.
“SpaceX’s out of pocket cost to enable & support Starlink in Ukraine is ~$80M so far. Our support for Russia is $0. Obviously, we are pro Ukraine,” Musk posted on Twitter later on Monday.
Ukraine’s outspoken outgoing ambassador to Germany, Andriy Melnyk, had a blunt reaction to Musk’s peace plan. Melnyk himself faced criticism in July for defending the controversial World War Two Ukrainian nationalist leader Stepan Bandera.
“Fuck off is my very diplomatic reply to you @elonmusk,” tweeted Melnyk.
On Tuesday, the Kremlin praised Tesla boss proposal for suggesting a possible peace deal to end the war in Ukraine.
“It is very positive that somebody like Elon Musk is looking for a peaceful way out of this situation,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in a conference call.
“Compared to many professional diplomats, Musk is still searching for ways to achieve peace. And achieving peace without fulfilling Russia's conditions is absolutely impossible,” he added.
As of 1030 GMT on Tuesday, Musk's original poll had garnered more than 2.5 million votes, with some 60% opposed to the plan.
Peskov said on Tuesday that “bots” - phoney twitter accounts - were “actively participating in the voting”. He provided no evidence.
Moscow had always been open to a negotiated end to the conflict, Peskov added. He criticised a new Ukrainian decree, signed by Zelenskiy on Tuesday, which says Kyiv will not negotiate directly with Putin for an end to the conflict.

Philippine media groups demand protection after journalist’s murder

Philippine media groups demand protection after journalist’s murder
Updated 04 October 2022

Philippine media groups demand protection after journalist’s murder

Philippine media groups demand protection after journalist’s murder
  • Radio journalist Percival Mabasa killed by two assailants on Monday night

MANILA: A Philippine journalist has been shot dead while driving in the country’s capital, police said on Tuesday, prompting condemnation from media groups and activists, who described his assassination as a blow to press freedom.
Radio journalist Percival Mabasa, 63, was killed by two assailants at the gate of a residential compound in the Las Pinas area of Manila on Monday night, police said.
“That the incident took place in Metro Manila indicates how brazen the perpetrators were, and how authorities have failed to protect journalists as well as ordinary citizens from harm,” said the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.
The national police vowed to bring justice over the attack. The government had no immediate comment.
It followed the fatal stabbing last month of radio journalist Rey Blanco in central Philippines.
At least 187 have been killed in the past 35 years in the Philippines, according to international watchdog Reporters Without Borders, including 32 killed in a single incident in 2009.
Mabasa’s family called his killing a “deplorable crime” and demanded “his cowardly assassins be brought to justice.”
Rights group Karapatan described him as “one of the country’s fiercest truth-tellers.”
Videos on Mabasa’s YouTube channel, which has 216,000 subscribers, showed he had been critical of the previous president and some policies and officials in incumbent Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s administration.
“We are not discounting the possibility that the shooting could be related to the victim’s work in media,” local police chief Jaime Santos said in a statement.

Trump files $475 million defamation lawsuit against CNN

Trump files $475 million defamation lawsuit against CNN
Updated 04 October 2022

Trump files $475 million defamation lawsuit against CNN

Trump files $475 million defamation lawsuit against CNN

NEW YORK: Former US President Donald Trump on Monday sued CNN, seeking $475 million in damages, saying the network had defamed him in an effort to short-circuit any future political campaign.
The lawsuit, filed in US District Court in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, focuses primarily on the term “The Big Lie” about Trump’s false claims of widespread fraud that he says cost him the 2020 presidential election to Joe Biden.
CNN said it had no comment on the lawsuit.
Trump repeatedly attacked CNN as president, which resonated with his conservative followers. He has similarly filed lawsuits against big tech companies with little success. His case against Twitter for knocking him off its platform following the Jan. 6, 2021, US Capitol insurrection was thrown out by a California judge earlier this year.
Numerous federal and local election officials in both parties, a long list of courts, top former campaign staffers and even Trump’s own attorney general have all said there is no evidence of the election fraud he alleges.
Trump’s lawsuit claims “The Big Lie,” a phrase with Nazi connotations, has been used in reference to him more than 7,700 times on CNN since January 2021.
“It is intended to aggravate, scare and trigger people,” he said.
In a statement Monday, Trump suggested that similar lawsuits would be filed against other news organizations. And he said he may also bring “appropriate action” against the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by his supporters. The lawsuit comes as he is weighing a potential bid for the presidency in 2024.
New CNN chief Chris Licht privately urged his news personnel in a meeting more than three months ago to refrain from using the phrase because it is too close to Democratic efforts to brand the former president, according to several published reports.

Duolingo in talks to offer ‘cheap and secure’ English-language tests for UK visa applicants

Duolingo in talks to offer ‘cheap and secure’ English-language tests for UK visa applicants
Updated 04 October 2022

Duolingo in talks to offer ‘cheap and secure’ English-language tests for UK visa applicants

Duolingo in talks to offer ‘cheap and secure’ English-language tests for UK visa applicants
  • The online tests would help applicants from 67 countries that do not have any accredited testing centers save time and money, CEO says

LONDON: Duolingo has confirmed it is discussing with the UK government plans that would allow visa applicants around the world to take an online English-language test through the company’s popular language-learning app for less than $50.

Duolingo’s CEO and founder, Luis von Ahn, said during an interview on Sunday that the business is ready to offer “cheap and secure English-language tests” to people who are required to pass one to work or study in the UK.

“Harvard, Stanford, MIT … and I believe there are 75 universities in the UK that accept the test,” he said. “But we’re not yet accepted by the UK government. I think they’re coming around to agreeing that online tests are good.

“We’ve been talking to them. I don’t know how fast the UK government moves. My experience is that all governments move very slowly. So I don’t know how long it will take but I think that will be really good for the world if it happens.”

Duolingo has been offering English-language tests to students seeking admission to universities since 2016. Von Ahn said that initially, some universities were reluctant about the company’s proposal over concerns that the tests would not be fair or secure. But the increased use of online technology during the COVID-19 pandemic helped overcome much of the skepticism and accelerate the adoption of online tests as an alternative to expensive in-person examinations.

“I applied to come to the US to study,” said Von Ahn, who is originally from Guatemala. “In my country, they ran out of these tests so I had to fly to a neighboring country, El Salvador, which in the late 1990s was a war zone. It cost me $1,000 just to fly there and take the test. It was ridiculous.”

Currently, people who apply for visas to work or study in the UK are required to demonstrate their English proficiency by taking a “secure English language test” at an accredited center in one of 134 countries and territories worldwide.

This means that people in 67 countries — including Mali, Niger, Uruguay, Paraguay and Guatemala, as well as many Caribbean and Pacific islands — have to travel abroad to take the test.

Von Ah said that in addition to its mission to “make language education accessible to everybody,” Duolingo wants, through its online English-language test, to address this inequality among countries by making it easier and cheaper for all visa applicants to take the test.

According to market and consumer data company Statista, 239,987 work visas and 432,279 student visas were issued in 2021 to people applying to enter the UK. Of the latter, 27,520 went to students from the MENA region.

Von Ahn founded Duolingo with business partner Severin Hacker in 2012, quickly establishing himself as one of Silicon Valley’s leading entrepreneurs.

The California-based education-technology firm is now valued at $4 billion and offers tuition in more than 40 languages. In the past few years the company has expanded the services it offers beyond traditional language-learning courses. As well as the Duolingo English Test it now offers Duolingo ABC, which helps children learn to read, and is preparing to launch a math app next year.

Snapchat launches Family Center parental-control feature in Saudi Arabia

Snapchat launches Family Center parental-control feature in Saudi Arabia
Updated 04 October 2022

Snapchat launches Family Center parental-control feature in Saudi Arabia

Snapchat launches Family Center parental-control feature in Saudi Arabia
  • It allows parents to monitor the online safety of their children by providing details about people with whom youngsters are communicating through the app

DUBAI: Instant messaging service Snapchat, in cooperation with Saudi Arabia’s General Commission for Audiovisual Media, has launched in the Kingdom its Family Center parental-control feature.

The new feature was introduced to the app in August in the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. It was launched last month in the UAE at an event attended by Deputy Prime Minister Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al-Nahyan and other government officials.

Family Center is designed to give parents and guardians more control over children’s Snapchat habits. It allows them to view details of the people with whom a child is communicating without seeing the content of the conversations, to protect the privacy of the young person. Any suspicious accounts can be easily reported to Snapchat.

Family Center is designed to be used both by parents and children. Parents and guardians are required to install Snapchat on their own devices and then link their accounts to those of their children to access the feature. They can also invite other family members, age 25 or over, to use the feature.

According to a study by data analytics and brand consulting company Kantar, 71 percent of parents in the Kingdom use Snapchat.