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Ideas

We Can't Choose Our Refugees Or Enemies — What Racists Don't Understand About War

The European far-right's sympathies for "white and Christian" Ukrainians shows its devotion to the idea of the "clash of civilizations." But it fails to see the basic paradoxes of war, where you may be fighting those who most resemble you and be forced to welcome those who look different.

We Can't Choose Our Refugees Or Enemies — What Racists Don't Understand About War

A train in Pokrovsk station during the evacuation of civilians from Donbas

Farid Kahhat

-OpEd-

In a recent tweet, Hermann Tertsch, a far-right member of European Parliament, clarified what his ilk understood refugees to be. The member of Spain's populist Vox party wrote that "in Ukraine, they are real refugees. Christian, white refugees."

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He was supposedly listing criteria relevant only to the state of Ukrainians, while ignoring the fact that the Russian soldiers who have brutally turned them into refugees are just as white and Christian.


The conflict that yielded the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees — World War II — also had white Christians among its chief victims and perpetrators. Indeed, the identifications that provoked that war were either ethnic nationalism or political ideology, but not religion or skin color.

A Clash of Civilizations?

In any case, being "white" is a relative thing — especially among racists and supremacists. Let's remember that for Adolph Hitler, as set out in Mein Kampf, the Slavs of Eastern Europe, like both Russians and Ukrainians, were inferior peoples.

The radical right in the developed world remains stuck in the Clash of Civilizations thesis proposed by the writer Samuel Huntington, in spite of that failure to explain a good many contemporary conflicts. Huntington underestimated the probability of war between Ukraine and Russia precisely because the countries emerged from the same civilization and have had centuries of close social, cultural and religious ties.

Race and religion appear to be distractions in the conflicts.

And it is for their dogged acceptance of Huntington's theses that people like Tertsch are unable to properly conceptualize events in Ukraine. Indeed, events long before the war in Ukraine revealed the shortcomings in Huntington's thesis, both in 1993 when his article appeared and in 1996, when that turned into a book.

A banner to welcome refugees in Madrid, Spain

Maria Teneva

Counter-examples from history

In those years, NATO (white Christians) intervened in Bosnia-Herzegovina on the side of a coalition of Muslims and Croats, against the Serbs (with Christians on both sides). All the warring sides, including the Muslims, were white Slavs. In 1999, NATO intervened on behalf of the Kosovars (mostly Muslims), against the Serbian ruler Milošević (purportedly the "Christian" side).

Before Huntington's article, the administration of U.S. President Ronald Reagan backed Muslim rebels (who included in their numbers people like Osama bin Laden) in Afghanistan, fighting the Soviet Union (whose people were white and, in many cases, Christian). It was pointed out at the time that strong Protestant influences in the Reagan administration were instrumental in its finding closer affinity with God-fearing Muslims than the atheist Soviet regime.

Race and religion appear to be distractions in the conflicts cited, and have no role in the forging of alliances like NATO. Religion did not cause the wars in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan or Ukraine, and as for race, neither the Afghans nor the Soviets noticed skin color as they fired at each other.

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Society

How India’s Women Are Fighting Air Pollution — And The Patriarchy

India is one of the world's worst countries for air pollution, with women more likely to be affected by the problem than men. Now, experts and activists are fighting to reframe pollution as a gendered health crisis.

A woman walking through dense fog in New Delhi

*Saumya Kalia

MUMBAI In New Delhi, a city that has topped urban air-pollution charts in recent years, Shakuntala describes a discomfort that has become too familiar. Surrounded by bricks and austere buildings, she tells an interviewer: "The eyes burn and it becomes difficult to breathe". She is referring to the noxious fumes she routinely breathes as a construction worker.

Like Shakuntala, women’s experiences of polluted air fill every corner of their lives – inside homes, in parks and markets, on the way to work. Ambient air in most districts in India has never been worse than it is today. As many as 1.67 million people in the country die prematurely due to polluted air. It is India’s second largest health risk after malnutrition.

This risk of exposure to air pollution is compounded for women. Their experiences of toxic air are more frequent and often more hazardous. Yet “policies around air quality have not yet adequately taken into account gender or other factors that might influence people’s health,” Pallavi Pant, a senior scientist at the Health Effects Institute, a nonprofit in the U.S., told The Wire Science.

“It’s unacceptable that the biggest burden [rests on] those who can least bear it,” Sherebanu Frosh, an activist, added. People like her are building a unique resistance within India.

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