Opinion |

Western Media Likes Its Refugees Blond and Blue-eyed

Sheren Falah Saab
Sheren Falah Saab
A woman holds a child as she arrives with other displaced Ukrainians in Przemysl, Poland, Thursday.
A woman holds a child as she arrives with other displaced Ukrainians in Przemysl, Poland, Thursday.Credit: AP Photo/Markus Schreiber
Sheren Falah Saab
Sheren Falah Saab

The West is embracing Ukrainian refugees and opening its doors to them. And rightly so, from its perspective – they are white and have light hair and eyes, so there’s no reason to be frightened of them. That wasn’t how it acted not so long ago when Syrian, Afghani and Iraqi refugees – those uncontrolled, uncivilized people – were knocking on its doors.

Let’s pause for a moment on the racist statements toward Middle Eastern refugees that Western journalists have made without a drop of sensitivity or compassion. For instance, a CBS reporter described what was happening in Ukraine with great sadness: “This isn’t a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan, that has seen conflict raging for decades,” he said. “You know, this is a relatively civilized, relatively European ... city where you wouldn’t expect that or hope that it’s going to happen.”

The civilized Europeans are the First World, and war isn’t supposed to happen on European soil – as if that soil weren’t drenched in the blood of thousands of years of war between tribes, religions and countries. More generally, war and occupation are evil, ugly things that belong in the cursed countries of the Middle East, like Syria and Lebanon. The racist, colonialist language is patent. Even when covering war, there are “good” refugees and “bad” ones.

This is the story they tell the world, and once again, we’re seeing reporters and media outlets act as spokespeople for white supremacy and moral double standards. Where were all these reporters when Russia invaded Syria with the consent of its war criminal president, Bashar Assad, who massacred his own people with help from Russian President Vladimir Putin?

Western compassion for the Ukrainian refugees is hypocritical. It’s a reflection not only of the West’s economic and technological superiority, but also of its racial doctrine.

One NBC reporter claimed: “These are not refugees from Syria, these are refugees from Ukraine… they are Christians, they are white, they’re very similar [to us].”

And a columnist in the British daily the Telegraph explained his surprise over the fact that this had happened in Ukraine. “They seem so like us,” he wrote. “That’s what makes it so shocking. Ukraine is a European country. Its people watch Netflix and have Instagram accounts, vote in free elections and read uncensored newspapers. War is no longer something visited upon impoverished and remote populations. It can happen to anyone.”

Does anyone remember the horrifying incident of the 12 refugees who fled the war in Syria and drowned off the coast of Turkey while trying to reach the Greek island of Kos? For Syrian refugees, the way is tortuous and blood-soaked, and some simply die along the way.

The West finds it easy to show compassion for civilized European refugees. But when it comes to “barbarian” refugees, we need a photo like that of Aylan, a 3-year-old Kurdish refugee, lying lifeless on the beach in his red shirt and blue pants to remember that war is a terrible thing for all people of all colors.

The enlightened, moral, fair and decent West is crying now, but it forgets that it didn’t do enough for the Syrian refugees. And today more than ever, the media is giving this backing, explaining that the Ukrainian refugees are civilized and don’t threaten our European way of life, so it’s possible to open our doors to them.

The racist statements made by Western reporters about the war in Ukraine prove that Europe hasn’t learned anything from World War II. Orientalist thinking continues to taint the modern worldview and international law, neither of which is capable of seeing the suffering of those on the “wrong” side of humanity – the refugees from Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan and many other places.

As far as the Western media is concerned, all the wars, death and destruction in Middle Eastern countries bear no significance for “humanity” – that is, white people. Refugees from those places are seen as inferior. But refugees from Ukraine are “ours” and therefore deserve to be saved.

A woman from Ukraine listens to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's speech on a phone, at a refugee shelter in Beregsurany, Hungary.Credit: BERNADETT SZABO/ REUTERS

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