My fear, as a European, of the war in Ukraine | Russo-Ukrainian War
I have been an Al Jazeera English news anchor since the channel launched in 2006. Since then, together with brave and talented colleagues past and present, we have always strived to correct the imbalance of international information that gives the West pre-eminence over the global South – an imbalance that was highlighted during the coverage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Al Jazeera exists to be the voice of the voiceless, or certainly the least heard, and I have never sat in the anchor desk without keeping that mission at the heart of my work. And my heart breaks for the people involved in every conflict the channel covers.
But as a continental European, I must admit that I now feel a particular concern about the current war in Ukraine.
Am I falling foul of the same double standards I’ve been working against for years? Do I feel this because Ukrainians, being fellow Europeans, “look like me”?
May be. But the truth is, like most Southern Europeans, my coloring and features are much more typically Middle Eastern than Slavic. My motherland, Sicily, is a few hundred kilometers from the Tunisian coast.
My young son is unlike the many blond, blue-eyed Ukrainian children who make the icy journey to the safety of neighboring countries. He looks like Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian Kurd who never arrived at his destination, but washed up dead on a Turkish beach on September 2, 2015, while trying to reach a Europe that refused him, an innocent victim of the war, safe and legal passage.
Over the past few days, many commentators and journalists have suggested that Europeans believe that war, destruction and displacement belong to distant “uncivilized” countries.
But this is the point with which I most strongly disagree, and which is at the heart of my sense of dread. As a continental European, I know very well that Europe is anything but safe from war. Quite the contrary: Europe has been ravaged by wars within living memory, wars whose scars continue to be felt today.
I use the European term ‘continental’ intentionally, to differentiate it from the UK, where I am now based. Because if the United Kingdom suffered incessant bombardments during the Second World War, it was never invaded as its European neighbors were. It has never been occupied by foreign forces. He did not see his Jewish populations rounded up and deported to certain death. He did not experience a civil war. And after the fighting had finally stopped, he did not have to engage in painful national introspection to try to understand how Nazism, fascism and collaboration could take root.
For continental Europeans now, these are no longer just chapters of history books, but family stories, some of whose survivors are still alive to tell them. I felt firsthand how painful these stories can be when I made my film Fascism in the Family. The clue is in the title.
Despite other historical sins, Britain arguably still has to atone, when it comes to World War II, it was on the right side of European history. This is important because when we talk about “Western media”, we are almost always talking about British and American channels and journalists.
How I feel right now about this war is not represented by their voices. And she is certainly not represented by journalist Daniel Hannan, a staunch Brexit supporter, who in a recent Telegraph article on Ukraine wrote that war no longer happens in “poor and isolated populations”.
When I, as a continental European, hear my European friends and colleagues use the expression ‘I can’t believe this is happening in Europe’, I don’t hear any superiority, although it is often there too. I hear the terrifying disappointment that everything that has been done to prevent another war on European soil seems to have failed.
A new world order was created after 1945. Admittedly imperfect, but NATO, the United Nations and what became the EU were all born out of a desire never to see this kind of destruction on European soil again.
“Never Again” seems to have lasted about 75 years. I know that the same world order has caused devastating and unjust invasions in countries outside Europe. But no one will emerge safe from the terrible situation in Ukraine any longer. European wars tend to intensify.
We will see more double standards in the weeks and months to come, especially when it comes to migration.
The EU reached the historic agreement to grant migrants from Ukraine the right to live and work within the bloc. Right on cue, various far-right European leaders are already talking about distinguishing between “good and bad” types of migrants.
Because in addition to tensions, conflicts and double standards, there are always those who want to exploit them. As there always has been.