Vinoth Ramachandra

Some Awkward Questions

Posted on: March 20, 2022

Several followers of this Blog have asked me why I have not commented on the horrendous tragedy unfolding in Ukraine.

There are two principal reasons for my silence. The first is resistance to the seductive social media temptation to rush to comment on situations of which one is largely ignorant, let alone unable to change. Others closer to the ground realities, or far more knowledgeable than I am on Putin’s imperial ambitions, have flooded the news media with their “expert” analyses. Why add to the noise, unless one has something (fairly) fresh to say?

But, secondly, regular readers of this Blog would have observed that several of my repeated themes converge on what is happening in Europe today. For instance, there is the perennial double standard and selective outrage of global news media, Western governments (and, sadly, even Western Churches) when it comes to reporting on wars, conflicts and the plight of refugees. My last post was on the challenge that non-White theologies and perspectives pose to the racist underpinning of so much cultural and political life in North America and Europe.

Why does the war in Myanmar, for example, not register the same “news-worthiness” as Ukraine, despite the army there being as brutal as the Russians and guilty of so many war crimes? Why has Palestine, a country occupied by a foreign military power since 1967 (if not 1948), been forgotten- only to resurface in the media whenever a Jewish settler or soldier is killed? If Ukrainians were not blonde and blue-eyed, would their plight have occasioned the outpouring of compassion across Europe that is being celebrated in parts of the global media? And was there any political criticism, before the current war, of NATO’s military expansion and the short-sightedness of Western governments in relation to what may have been valid Russian fears?

It may be awkward, even offensive to many, to raise such questions. And the polarizing propensity of social media deter people further. Will what they say be used to belittle the suffering of Ukrainians, and even to blame it all on the West? Or, if I openly express my admiration for the courage of ordinary Russians, like the news editor Marina Ovsyannikova, who are standing up to the Russian propaganda machine at great risk to their lives, will this endanger the lives of the Russians whom I know?

Then there is the targeting of the assets of Russian oligarchs, companies and Putin’s henchmen. While this attracts huge media attention, it is unlikely to make much of a dent in their fortunes for the simple reason that much of the latter are hidden in the murky world of the “offshore” global financial system (of which I have had much to say on this Blog over the years). Russia has the world’s largest volume of dark money hidden abroad, about $1 trillion, both in absolute terms and as a percentage of its national GDP.

The Panama papers, followed by the Pandora Papers, exposed the staggering levels of wealth secreted away in tax havens and money laundering centres in the Caribbean (several of which are US or British protectorates) and the United Arab Emirates, not to mention anonymous, numbered bank accounts in other jurisdictions, including Europe and Southeast Asia. It is because Western corporations, politicians and the “super-rich”- and their equivalents in the rest of the world- benefit from this corrupt financial system that little or no action has been taken to clean it up and return wealth that has been siphoned away from poorer nations.

I live in a country that is experiencing its worst economic crisis in living memory. It stems from a combination of factors: economic mismanagement and incompetence, the collapse of tourism because of the Covid pandemic, corruption and a poor tax regime, heavy dependence on China which lends at excessive interest rates. The crisis is now exacerbated by the Ukrainian war, as fuel prices soar and trade with Ukraine and Russia (which, together, account for twenty per cent of all our tea exports) grinds to a halt. I am sure there are many other small countries facing similar plights, but which are rarely reported in the Western media which claim to be global media. Which international agency will track and freeze the illicit fortunes of the Sri Lankan politicians and businessmen that have been salted away in “offshore” tax havens? Will the Ukraine war be a wake-up call to the UN or the IMF to overhaul the banking system, strengthening transparency laws and closing all the existing loopholes? I doubt it.

10 Responses to "Some Awkward Questions"

Vinoth, I agree that the “blonde-hair blue-eyed” victims always attract the Western news media. Not just in war, but in commonday news (missing children, milk-carton children, etc.).
I mentioned the Myanmar war in a tweeted message a week ago — the reaction was silence from all who read it. When I mentioned the Ukraine war, stand back because you will get trampled.
I am not a blogger nor columnist, just a retired newspaper writer, tweeter and grandfather from the poor hills of Ohio. But I too get riled when I see Myanmar, Somali,Yemen and other war-torn countries get lost in the news.
I wish the priorities were chosen fairly, but I don’t see that happening.
Take care, Ted

Thank you for bringing balance and clarity and humanity to this topic. So much remains above my head while being deprogrammed from the kind of westernized indoctrination that can distort one’s capacity for critical thought. While this writing touches on many things, part of it is a reminder to me, an African- American woman that ALL lives have value and while we should rightly mourn over lives lost, we shouldn’t ignore the evil of the message that is sent when we dedicate “selective” outrage, concern, grief, support and even generous news coverage to only certain lives. The implications are wicked and a constant slap in the face and yet, i must be careful to not lose my love for all mankind even though these things are constant reminders of the lack of love that exists for my kind ( persons of color).

Status of UN has become irrelevant today.

I think you need to be careful not to read everything through the lens of racism. I am not denying that racism is present and we need to speak up about it when we see it (I have often written to my local media about such issues). Yet, for us here 3 factors contribute to the overwhelming response: 1. Distance: it is close, 2. Time: it was sudden 3. it is very clear who the victims are. We have over the years had lots of coverage of the atrocities in Myanmar, as with Yemen and Syria, despite those areas being far more remote. And even in the case of Ukraine, there has been coverage of the impact it will have on the less fortunate parts of the world through the cost of living and the destruction of the bread basket of the world. That effect will be devastating.

Kudos as always Vinoth for the breadth covered in a relatively short piece. In response to Colin, I have always found the distance argument very unconvincing when it comes to who is worthy of our sympathy and attention. To me this is code language for ‘those who are geographically closer most likely look like us/are culturally similar’. A human life is valuable whether 30 km or 3000 km away. This is a weak defence and fails by its own standards. After all, Palestine/Israel are not so far from Europe. Israel is considered European enough to be part of the Eurovision song contest. Likewise ‘knowing who the victims are’ is simply down to the mainstream Western media deciding to focus on humanising the Ukrainian victims, rather than treat them as a faceless mass, as those living in Global South conflict zones are depicted. Racism has everything to do with which lives Western media and politicians choose to value. Anyway, I’ve also commented on skewed media coverage and public response to the latest Refugees flows on my blog (shameless plug):

I would simply add the following comments to Tolita’s response to Colin:

(a) This war was not “sudden”- it has been threatening since at least 2014

(b) By Myanmar I was referring not only to the genocide of the Rohingiya (which has been well covered in Western media), but the current military operations against various pro-democracy factions and non-Burmese tribes.

(c) These “forgotten wars” are fought with weapons supplied by the US, UK and EU states (as well as Russia and China) and many tyrants (e.g. Syria’s Assad, the Saudi regime) have been supported by Western governments. So Western media have a responsiblity to awaken the consciences of their publics about their tacit complicity in such acts.

Furthermore, while I fully support the call by the US and UK for Putin to be tried for war crimes, I also want to ask “How is Putin different from Churchill or Truman?” Churchill ordered the saturation bombing of German cities (Dresden, Cologne) which were intentionally designed to maximize civilian casualties, while Truman orderd the atom bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Why were they never brought before war crimes tribunals after the war?

And what about men like Kissinger, Nixon, Reagan, Bush, Blair….? And the Israeli military? Why has the Western media largely been silent about their war cimes?

Churchill was blatantly racist and an arch-imperialist. The fact that Britons in a poll conducted at the close of the last millennium voted him the greatest Briton of the twentieth century simply goes to show how “brainwashed” the typical Briton is by the media and the education system.

[…] Church buildings) with regards to reporting on wars, conflicts and the plight of refugees,” stated Vinoth Ramachandra from Sri Lanka, a senior chief with the Worldwide Fellowship of Evangelical […]

[…] even Western Churches) when it comes to reporting on wars, conflicts and the plight of refugees,” stated Vinoth Ramachandra from Sri Lanka, a senior leader with the International Fellowship of Evangelical […]

The last words “I doubt it.” I too doubt everything the so-called mainstream media is presenting. At least you have raised some of the basic questions that everyone has to ask. I hope to get some insights from your next blog on the real situation in Sri Lanka. Wish you in advance a meaningful Easter.

This is a pretty accurate summary from today’s BBC:

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March 2022
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