Many in Mideast See Western Support of Ukraine as Sign of Unfairness

31 March 2022

Some Middle Eastern leaders say Western countries use one set of rules for the conflict in Ukraine and another for conflicts in the Middle East.

They say that, within days of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Western countries punished Russia and supported Ukraine.

Russia quickly faced sanctions from individual countries and groups like the European Union. That means they placed financial and trade restrictions on Russia meant to punish the country for its actions.

FILE - A Palestinian protester throws a Molotov cocktail towards Israeli soldiers during conflicts in the West Bank city of Hebron, April 3, 2013. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi, File)
FILE - A Palestinian protester throws a Molotov cocktail towards Israeli soldiers during conflicts in the West Bank city of Hebron, April 3, 2013. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi, File)

Many countries also welcomed Ukrainian refugees, and sent supportive messages to Ukraine's armed resistance.

But the actions in support of Ukraine have angered people across the Middle East. Many there see a double standard in how Western countries deal with international conflicts. A double standard is when a set of rules is enforced differently for one group than for another.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki spoke about this feeling to a security meeting in Turkey earlier this month. He said: "We have seen every means we were told could not be activated for over 70 years deployed in less than seven days."

He called this: "Amazing hypocrisy."

Middle East conflicts

The U.S.-led war in Iraq began in 2003. At the time, people in some nations considered the action an unlawful invasion of one state by another. Iraqis who fought the Americans were called terrorists in the news media. Refugees seeking to flee to the West were often turned away and treated as possible security threats.

Russia intervened in Syria's civil war to help Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in 2015. The move was denounced by many Western nations but there was little action. With Russia's help, Syria's forces destroyed cities leading to hunger and death.

Many thousands of Syrian refugees fled to Europe. Some died at sea or were turned back as nations struggled to deal with the mass migration. Some considered the migrants security threats.

In Yemen, a Saudi-led coalition has been fighting Houthi rebels supported by Iran since 2015. The conflict has left 13 million people at risk of starvation. But stories of children starving have not brought continued international attention to that conflict.

Bruce Riedel formerly worked for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. National Security Council. He is now a member at The Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. He said that it was "understandable" that many in the Middle East see a double standard by the West.

Riedel said: "The United States and the United Kingdom have supported Saudi Arabia's seven-years-old war in Yemen, which created the world's worst humanitarian catastrophe in decades."

People around the world have sent Ukrainians supportive messages on social media. The have praised those who take up arms against an occupying army. But critics say that when Palestinians and Iraqis do what appears to be the same thing, they are called terrorists.

Aaron David Miller is with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He said Middle East conflicts are complex. Ukraine's conflict is much clearer. There is a sense of wrongdoing. Russia is widely considered to have launched an aggressive war against its neighbor.

A similar situation happened in the Middle East when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. The U.S. answered by bringing together a military coalition including Arab states that drove out the Iraqi forces.

Elliott Abrams is with the Council on Foreign Relations. He was an advisor to former President George W. Bush when a U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq a second time in 2003. He said there is a difference between Ukrainians battling Russian invaders and rebels in Iraq who fought Americans.

"Iraqis who fought U.S. troops on behalf of Iran or ISIS were not freedom fighters," he said, talking about the Islamic State group. "Making these moral distinctions is not an act of hypocrisy."

But many in the Middle East saw hard treatment of Arab and Muslim migrants as unfair. They considered it proof that Western nations do not support human rights and values when it comes to their culture.

Many feel their suffering is taken less seriously because of the idea that the Middle East has always had violence. They believe that Western nations ignore their part in starting and continuing the Middle East's many long-term conflicts.

Ines Abdel Razek is a director for the Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy. She said, "There's this expectation, drawn from colonialism, that it's more normal for us to be killed, to grieve our families, than it is for the West."

I'm Gregory Stachel.

Joseph Krauss reported this story for the Associated Press. Gregory Stachel adapted it for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

amaze v. to surprise and sometimes confuse (someone) very much

hypocrisy – n. the behavior of people who do things that they tell other people not to do; behavior that does not agree with what someone claims to believe or feel

humanitarian – adj. connected with helping people who are suffering and improving the conditions that they are living in

catastrophe – n. a terrible disaster

decades – n. a period of 10 years

distinction – n. a noticeable difference between things or people

grieve – v. to feel or show grief or sadness

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