Be careful of headlines, they appeal to our sense of the obvious and the familiar, they entrench rather than challenge established stereotypes and memes. What one doesn’t read about every day is usually more interesting than what’s in the headlines. And in the current round of global unease, what’s not being said – what we’ve failed to admit about our Western selves and our local allies – is central to the problems at hand.

Both Iraq and Ukraine, under Western tutelage, failed to create states which welcome diversity. Both Iraq and the Ukraine aggressively marginalised significant communities, with the full knowledge and in some cases support of their Western benefactors. And in both cases, those disenfranchised communities have rallied their cause into wars of aggression.

Reading the Western media one would think it’s clear who the aggressors are in both cases: Islamic State and Russia are “obvious bad actors” who’s behaviour needs to be met with stern action. Russia clearly has no business arming rebels with guns they use irresponsibly to tragic effect, and the Islamic State are clearly “a barbaric, evil force”. If those gross simplifications, reinforced in the Western media, define our debate and discussion on the subject then we are destined pursue some painful paths with little but frustration to show for the effort, and nasty thorns that fester indefinitely. If that sounds familiar it’s because yes, this is the same thing happening all over again. In a prior generation, only a decade ago, anger and frustration at 9/11 crowded out calm deliberation and a focus on the crimes in favour of shock and awe. Today, out of a lack of insight into the root cause of Ukrainian separatism and Islamic State’s attractiveness to a growing number across the Middle East and North Africa, we are about to compound our problems by slugging our way into a fight we should understand before we join.

This is in no way to say that the behaviour of Islamic State or Russia are acceptable in modern society. They are not. But we must take responsibility for our own behaviour first and foremost; time and history are the best judges of the behaviour of others.

In the case of the Ukraine, it’s important to know how miserable it has become for native Russian speakers born and raised in the Ukraine. People who have spent their entire lives as citizens of the Ukraine who happen to speak in Russian at home, at work, in church and at social events have found themselves discriminated against by official decree from Kiev. Friends of mine with family in Odessa tell me that there have been systematic attempts to undermine and disenfranchise Russian speaking in the Ukraine. “You may not speak in your home language in this school”. “This market can only be conducted in Ukrainian, not Russian”. It’s important to appreciate that being a Russian speaker in Ukraine doesn’t necessarily mean one is not perfectly happy to be a Ukranian. It just means that the Ukraine is a diverse cultural nation and has been throughout our lifetimes. This is a classic story of discrimination. Friends of mine who grew up in parts of Greece tell a similar story about the Macedonian culture being suppressed – schools being forced to punish Macedonian language spoken on the playground.

What we need to recognise is that countries – nations – political structures – which adopt ethnic and cultural purity as a central idea, are dangerous breeding grounds for dissent, revolt and violence. It matters not if the government in question is an ally or a foe. Those lines get drawn and redrawn all the time (witness the dance currently under way to recruit Kurdish and Iranian assistance in dealing with IS, who would have thought!) based on marriages of convenience and hot button issues of the day. Turning a blind eye to thuggery and stupidity on the part of your allies is just as bad as making sure you’re hanging with the cool kids on the playground even if it happens that they are thugs and bullies –  stupid and shameful short-sightedness.

In Iraq, the government installed and propped up with US money and materials (and the occasional slap on the back from Britain) took a pointedly sectarian approach to governance. People of particular religious communities were removed from positions of authority, disqualified from leadership, hunted and imprisoned and tortured. The US knew that leading figures in their Iraqi government were behaving in this way, but chose to continue supporting the government which protected these thugs because they were “our people”. That was a terrible mistake, because it is those very communities which have morphed into Islamic State.

The modern nation states we call Iraq and the Ukraine – both with borders drawn in our modern lifetimes – are intrinsically diverse, intrinsically complex, intrinsically multi-cultural parts of the world. We should know that a failure to create governments of that diversity, for that diversity, will result in murderous resentment. And yet, now that the lines for that resentment are drawn, we are quick to choose sides, precisely the wrong position to take.

What makes this so sad is that we know better and demand better for ourselves. The UK and the US are both countries who have diversity as a central tenet of their existence. Freedom of religion, freedom of expression, the right to a career and to leadership on the basis of competence rather than race or creed are major parts of our own identity. And yet we prop up states who take precisely the opposite approach, and wonder why they fail, again and again. We came to these values through blood and pain, we hold on to these values because we know first hand how miserable and how wasteful life becomes if we let human tribalism tear our communities apart. There are doors to universities in the UK on which have hung the bodies of religious dissidents, and we will never allow that to happen again at home, yet we prop up governments for whom that is the norm.

The Irish Troubles was a war nobody could win. It was resolved through dialogue. South African terrorism in the 80’s was a war nobody could win. It was resolved through dialogue and the establishment of a state for everybody. Time and time again, “terrorism” and “barbarism” are words used to describe fractious movements by secure, distant seats of power, and in most of those cases, allowing that language to dominate our thinking leads to wars that nobody can win.

Russia made a very grave error in arming Russian-speaking Ukranian separatists. But unless the West holds Kiev to account for its governance, unless it demands an open society free of discrimination, the misery there will continue. IS will gain nothing but contempt from its demonstrations of murder – there is no glory in violence on the defenceless and the innocent – but unless the West bends its might to the establishment of societies in Syria and Iraq in which these religious groups are welcome and free to pursue their ambitions, murder will be the only outlet for their frustration. Politicians think they have a new “clean” way to exert force – drones and airstrikes without “boots on the ground”. Believe me, that’s false. Remote control warfare will come home to fester on our streets.


8 Responses to “What Western media and polititians fail to mention about Iraq and Ukraine”

  1. Osis Says:

    While you may be correct regarding IS and Iraq you could not be further away from true regarding Russia and its behaviour. In USSR Russians and Russian speaking individuals where empowered by strong russification pushed by Moscow. When all the Eastern block countries regained their independence that privilege was lost. In addition, the current stance of Moscow regarding this does not help Russian communities to integrate within their new host countries.

    In all ex-block countries laws are the same for everyone, but only Russian community is oppressed.

    You yourself write, that they spent a lifetime living in another country. There are now 23 year olds that never lived in USSR and spent all their life in independent country, but see no point in adapting to local customs learn local language.

  2. Vadim Rutkovsky Says:

    >You may not speak in your home language in this school
    You may not also speak English, German, or wear burka there for the same reasons – school is a government institution. Take it or leave to private school, which is not insanely expensive.

    Russian “separatists” require russian to be the second official language – and this leads to crazy side-effects. For instance, there is the same situation in Bealrus – and belarussian-speaking schools are almost extinct (except the ones abroad, in Lithuania and Poland). I also have three documents with different spelling of name (translated from various documents in russian and belarussian to latin) – and it causes an insane amount of headache to prove a stubborn bureaucrat that this document actually belongs to me and I’m not trying to launder money or something.

  3. teh 1 Says:

    The fact of the matter is, for both the US and the Russians, supporting a foreign faction and overlooking their transgressions is intentional. Instability allows them to further and easily continue meddling in those affairs. And now it’s being used as an excuse to again invade Iraq. This will continue ad infinitum.

  4. Oleg Says:

    This is BS, Mark. As native russian, and citizen of Ukraine, I tell you – you’re so wrong in your thoughts about Ukraine. Think about one thing – for many years Ukraine was under pro-russian government, and still you believe that russians are discriminated?

  5. Andrey Says:

    Being a native Russian speaker from Lugansk (Eastern Ukraine) myself, I have _never_ experienced any sort of discrimination described above. It’s pity that having no reliable sources of information made you, Mark, reason on such a sensible subject so superficially. And when you’re trying to find the real reason of the tragedy happening right now in my hometown, please give a thought to the following fact: most of the leaders of separatists are citizen’s of Russian Federation, many of them are affiliated with the RF secret service directly (as Igor Girkin, a kernel of FSB). For me it’s enough to understand who’s the real initiator of this war, and why the locals like me have nothing to do with it.

  6. mark Says:

    @Andrey, as I say, Russia’s behaviour is reprehensible. And while I appreciate your perspective is genuine, so are the perspectives of folks aggrieved at what they perceive to be discrimination. This creates fertile ground for the sort of nonsense Russia is up to; the main issue for me is what governments do in my name, however, and I am writing to point out that the basis for rallying Western support for interventions and partisanship in these disputes is very shallow and self-serving indeed.

  7. mark Says:

    @Oleg, I believe that sloshing from “pro-Russian” to “pro-Western” is a bad way to run a country which has people who lean both ways. What matters is if people feel they have fair access to fair opportunities, who allies with who is a very short-term and unsatisfying way to decide what’s acceptable behaviour and acceptable governance.

  8. ArtūrasB. Says:

    In general, I like this call to try to be unbiased observer when it comes to judging it is truth or not. But this kind of attempt to level things has it’s own pitfalls. I.e., you cannot ignore the “local context”, so to say. We cannot ignore Russian-way of dealing with people’s live – own people, or Polish, Chech, Baltic, nations on Caucasus, etc. You cannot judge with the same attitude in US, UK, France and then Russia. Or Iraq. You cannot fight against violations of your (human) rights same way in Russia as you do it in Germany or Norway. NOT YET.
    Hece you see almost same level of violence in both sides – Ukrainian and Russian.
    I’m not saying I justify this way of conflict solving. But we should use methods which work in certain “local context”. It is sad, but with Russia we have to be tough – the people in power there will only understand this kind of language.
    I’m from Lithuania, I spent half of my life “under USSR”, so I think I know (at least my) “local context”.
    Disclaimer – I support no war. I support peaceful ways to solve all kind of conflicts.