Opinion |

The West's Fake Values Unveiled in Ukraine

Yair Assulin
Yair Assulin
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell and Ukraine's Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal stand next to a mass grave as in the town of Bucha, on Friday.
European Commission President, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Ukraine's Prime Minister stand next to a mass grave on Friday.Credit: REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
Yair Assulin
Yair Assulin

The war in Ukraine is a formative event. Not because of the terrible war itself, not only because of the murder and the destruction of lives and the refugee situation it brings with it. All these things have also been happening in recent years in Syria and in Afghanistan and in Myanmar and in Ethiopia. And that is just a partial list. This war is a formative event because it exposes again and again, almost daily, in the most documented and open and direct way, the vast chasm between the bombastic, pretentious words of Western politics; of the ostensibly liberal, national order, and its actual actions. In a sense, the great historic role of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, which he instinctively grasped from the very first moment, is to expose this chasm. To expose the lie, really.

It is important, extremely important, to show the shocking images from Ukraine, and it is important to let the voices be heard, and it is also important to point out those who are directly responsible for these crimes, but it is just as important – and for the people of the West, for those who believe in liberty and democracy in its most fundamental form, even more important – to ask ourselves how, if at all, the West is coping with all this. The question is not whether Russian President Vladimir Putin is evil, but whether and how the West can and wants to defeat evil. A conversation that ends with fierce condemnations of Putin, that returns repeatedly to the separation between good guys and bad guys, a discourse whose bottom line is just more variations on harsh statements about Russia, is atrophied discourse. Moreover, it is a manipulation. Yes, despite the sanctions.

And this manipulation is dangerous. Not only because it deepens the West’s self-deception about who and what it really is, and what its real capabilities are, and what really motivates it to action, but because it plants the feeling in people’s minds that everything possible has been done, that nothing more can be done, that this is Ukraine’s fate.

The automatic questions that arise in the face of nearly any critical reading that seeks to look clearly at this reality – what do you propose? What would you have done? – they too are part of the manipulation at this time. When nearly the entire West speaks in a single voice that declares in effect that everything that could be done to this or that degree has already been done, it is in effect stifling the discussion about alternative modes of action that could perhaps develop.

There is no genuine public debate in the West about different possible modes of action against such a murder of civilians; there is not, in the mainstream spaces of the West, a thorough discussion of whether the West is genuinely committed to, not to say whether it even believes in, the values it purports to represent. And if so, what price it is prepared to pay. Without such a profound deliberation, that stems from the situation itself, everything remains stuck. This is why, by the way, Western discourse magnifies to such a degree Russia’s threat to use nuclear weapons. Even if such a threat actually exists, in the current discourse it is mainly an internal instrument to preserve the stability of the status quo. As Walter Benjamin famously said, “That things are ‘status quo’ is the catastrophe.”

The war in Ukraine, for a Westerner observing it from afar, must be a powerful catalyst for the West to conduct an internal self-reckoning. Not only about Ukraine, but in general. This war is another sharp, deep ache in the tooth that is the West. Already, as always happens, it is beginning to grow a little duller; already some are trying to numb it or to distract attention from it, but this tooth is crumbling. The tagline “the end of the age of politics” has been smeared over this war from every direction – and eventually the moment will come when this tooth, which is also us, will break into pieces, and no one will be able to save it anymore.

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