I am never one to look at the size of my neighbour’s house or the shine of their car. But lately, I can’t help feeling jealous.

My thoughts are with the Ukrainian families whose lives have been devastated by the tragedy of war. I love all neighbours equally and am part of the majority who desire peaceful coexistence. However, the support for Ukraine has been nothing short of miraculous. Everyone from MPs to celebrities has rallied together to provide humanitarian relief. Even your average Brit has contributed significantly by, for instance, booking an Airbnb in Ukraine without occupying the room! This support is most justified given the circumstances. But although the display of unity fills me with pride, there is still a piece of me that is jealous.

How so? I can only describe this as a kind of whataboutism: ‘Yes, but what about …?’

What about X …?

The mind cannot help but ask: what about my Palestinian neighbours? My Uyghur Muslim neighbours? My African American neighbours? And so many others that continue to be oppressed.

The world took notice when an American policeman used disproportionate force that killed George Floyd. Still, there were those that refused to believe this was an act of violent racism. Some even used Floyd’s criminal record to try and justify what happened. The tragedy, however, accelerated a conversation that was much-needed, prompting numerous organisations and the sporting world to voice their support.

Football players started ‘taking the knee’ as a form of protest before each game. Arsenal FC and other clubs wore T-shirts with the ‘Black Lives Matter’ (BLM) slogan and players spoke out against police brutality. I felt proud but this also became one of my ‘but what about’ moments.

Sports & Politics

In December 2019, the German footballer Mezut Özil stood up for the Uyghur Muslims and China’s documented mistreatment of this minority population. Almost immediately, Arsenal distanced themselves from Özil, with this official statement:

‘As a football club, Arsenal has always adhered to the principle of not involving itself in politics’.

As a form of damage control, Arsenal largely exiled Özil from major sporting events.

Paul Pogba is another case. When he and others raised Palestinian flags after a football match the headlines were negatively centred around ‘discipline’ and ‘punishment’. Meanwhile, numerous footballers and clubs, including Arsenal, have since been raising Ukrainian flags. This time the headlines are supportive.

In fact, since the start of Russia’s ‘military operation’ in Ukraine, clubs have cut commercial ties in the country and FIFA has banned Russia from the World Cup. Even EA Sports have joined in solidarity, removing the Russian national team and clubs from their gaming platform. Where is the apolitical stance this time?

I have cited football because it’s an area that many can relate to. However, Russia has been sanctioned in every possible way to strong-arm it into submission. Assets have been frozen to target oligarchs. Trade halted. While military and financial support have been pouring into Ukraine like oil. Meanwhile, media coverage has been extensive. Former footballer Gary Linekar interviewed the Ukrainian Man City left-back, Oleksandr Zinchenko. TV presenter Holly Willoughby cried on national television as she watched a video of a Ukrainian girl singing ‘Let it go’.

Amidst the emotional outpour, once more a familiar question surfaces: why isn’t there the same support and uproar for countries like Palestine? Or Yemen? Or Syria? Or even the numerous countries of Africa that have seen ongoing power struggles and coup d’états? There is none. At least, not on this scale.

I scroll through the main media channels and there is minimal to no coverage. Before a single Ukrainian became a refugee, there were and still are over 80 million displaced people globally who require urgent humanitarian relief. Over a decade ago, I was collecting donations with a bucket for these countries. To this day, they are still fighting for their lives.

All Lives Matter

Why are we more sympathetic to certain countries than others? Ukraine’s Deputy Chief Prosecutor, David Sakvarelidze, hints at the reasoning. Describing the present situation as ‘very emotional’, he goes on to say:

‘because I see European people with blue eyes and blonde hair were being killed’.

Similarly, CBS correspondent Charlie D’Agata indicated the motivation for being more sympathetic with the plight of Ukrainians, saying that Ukraine:

‘isn’t a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan, that has seen conflict raging for decades. This is a relatively civilized, relatively European [… ] city, one where you wouldn’t expect that, or hope that it’s going to happen’.

When the BLM movement was rightfully gaining exposure and traction (decades too late, arguably), the detractors insisted that ‘All Lives Matter’. Is that so? Prove it. The trouble is, this latest conflict shows otherwise.

In a different world, all lives would matter equally. But as the great George Orwell once said:

‘all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others’. 

Until I see a world where a vulnerable Palestinian girl evokes a similar response from Holly Willoughby as the Ukrainian girl, I will continue to feel jealous. I am sure Ms Willoughby’s tears were genuine, but until all lives really do start to matter, I will keep saying: yes, but what about …?

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