Middle Eastern refugees are blocked from crossing the Belarus-Poland border in 2021. Photo: Al Jazeera / Screengrab

Poland is building a wall to keep out refugees from Middle Eastern countries such as Iraq, a country where Warsaw deployed the fourth-largest military force of the “US-led coalition” (with more than 2,500 troops) in April 2005.

On the other hand, refugees from Ukraine (which, over a period of five years, was the third-largest “peacekeeping” military force in Iraq) can enter the European Union under a special temporary protection system and, besides the legal right to stay inside a EU member state, the directive enables access to the education system, labor market, health care, housing, professional assistance and social welfare.

The EU has not activated the same protection regime for other refugees, for example those fleeing war in Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan; wars in which the US, the EU member states, and Russia are directly involved.

Whose wars?

Refugees (including many children) coming from Middle Eastern countries have been racialized and discriminated against for more than just a couple of years. Back then Vladimir Putin – who is today using refugees as a political tool – was a “trustable partner” for many who abhor him now. And this despite the fact that the Russian “operations” in, say, Grozny or Aleppo were no less brutal and criminal than those of today.

Some try to explain these and many other inconsistencies by pointing out that Ukrainians are Europeans, as if religious and/or ethnic-based discriminations are somehow acceptable, and/or wars in the Middle East have nothing to do with European armies, weapons and forged legal pretexts.

Others resort to the argument that there has never been a war like the one in Ukraine since World War II. Yet in Europe alone, the Yugoslav wars (1991-2000) – largely fought by regular army units – resulted in the killing of 140,000 human beings. About 20,000 women were raped. In Srebrenica, about 8,000 boys and men were butchered in a few days.

On top of this, “between 80% and 87.5% of the victims of the Kosovo conflict died during or in the aftermath” of the NATO bombing. 

Nowadays, it is considered by many as somehow normal to overlook all this, as if it did not happen in the heart of Europe. 

On top of these common omissions and discrepancies, it should be noted that the ongoing illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine, which is in violation of the UN Charter and is shaking Europe’s security architecture, has consolidated a number of concepts and assumptions that in previous conflicts – including the two contexts mentioned above, Yugoslavia and Iraq – have enjoyed a much more limited support in Europe and North America.

The first assumption is that “pre-emptive self-defense” (which is the pillar of the United States’ “war on terror”) is always illegal and immoral, and deserves coherent reactions.

The second is that massacres involving children and families are always the responsibility of those perpetrating them, and that there are no “collateral damages” when civilians are involved, nor any justification for persecuting journalists who expose crimes against humanity (if Julian Assange exposed Russia’s war crimes, US authorities would hail him as a hero).

Last but not least, a number of analysts have recently started to advocate publicly that any population that suffers an invasion of its land by a foreign army must receive weapons to support its resistance and tackle its oppression.

Normalizing (some) annexations

Many among those supporting the supplying of a huge quantity of weapons do so on the grounds that “normalizing annexation” has “huge negative consequences for peace and security,” and that the aggression against Ukraine could set a precedent, inasmuch as it might give the impression that sovereignty and borders are now negotiable.  

And yet these assumptions and concerns are/were hardly mentioned in the case of the Golan Heights, Western Sahara, and plenty of other similar contexts.

Such double standards and expressions of hypocrisy remind us, once more, that the problem is not those who embrace coherence (conflated by some with a form of “whataboutism”) and firmly condemn all forms of aggression, discriminations and selective use of international law, but those who use harsh and clear terms (including regarding the supplying of weapons) only when wars, injustice and spheres of influence touch their interests, while selectively cherry-picking what enrages them.

Lorenzo Kamel

Professor Lorenzo Kamel teaches global history and history of the Middle East and North Africa at the University of Turin, Italy. Among his books are The Middle East from Empire to Sealed Identities (Edinburgh University Press, 2019) and Imperial Perceptions of Palestine (Bloomsbury, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @lorenzokamel.