By Imraan Buccus
Almost 20 Years ago Durban hosted a huge march against the looming invasion of Iraq by the US-led coalition. Many activists from Durban, and others from elsewhere in the country travelled to Iraq to act as ‘human shields’.
They hoped to build international support for mediation, with Durban-based Iraq Action committee member Abie Dawjee and senior advocate of the Durban Bar, Reggie Reddy, being among the 40 ‘human shields’ who included professionals, businesspeople and housewives.
The impressive activism in Durban was not unique. The global protests against the coming war were the biggest in human history, with an estimated 36 million taking part.
This was the highest point of anti-war activism since the movement against the Vietnam war in the 1960s. In both the 1960s and the early 2000s people across the world were mobilised against imperialist wars.But today that momentum has been lost.
Every war must be opposed and we should be in solidarity with every victim of every war. However today there is almost total silence on the attacks on Yemen carried about by the Saudi Arabian regime with US backing.
There are two reasons why one war – the war in Ukraine – is, quite rightly, a major issue while another war – the war in Yemen – is almost completely ignored. One reason is that the US supports the war on Yemen and backs the regime waging the war, but opposes the war on Ukraine and backs the Ukrainian state.
The other, of course, is that most of the victims of the war in the Ukraine are white and Christian while most of the victims of the war in Yemen are brown and Muslim.
As the West rushes to impose sanctions on Russia there is silence about Saudi Arabia, Israel and other states embroiled in wars and other kinds of violence and repression.
More than a million died as a result of the US led war on Iraq but people like Hillary Clinton and George W Bush are not treated as global pariahs. The double standard could hardly be clearer.
Understandably this leads many to conclude that the attempts to isolate Russia in business, academia and sport are fundamentally a matter of white solidarity with other white people, or a project of US foreign policy, or a mixture of both.
To be clear Vladimir Putin is a hard-right-wing nationalist who runs a vicious kleptocracy and has committed a criminal act in invading Ukraine. But this does not mean that we should not ask why it is that there is such silence on the war in Yemen, or why America was not isolated and sanctioned for its illegal and criminal attack on Iraq.
For as long as the global media focuses on white lives in the way that it does, and sides with US foreign policy objectives in the way that it does, the majority of the world’s population will question the sincerity of efforts to offer solidarity to the people of the Ukraine. Of course, though, the solution is not to refuse solidarity to the people of the Ukraine but to ensure that solidarity is offered to everyone who is a victim of war.
A life in Yemen should matter just as much as a life in the Ukraine. This is not ‘whataboutery’, it is a simple statement of a coherent ethical orientation to the world.
We need to restore the genuine internationalism of the 1960s and early 2000s and make sure that there is opposition to all wars, no matter the race and religion of either the victims or the perpetrators.
Dr Buccus is Al Qalam editor.