Europe Diaries: Humanism

Humanism is often portrayed as an integral feature of European identity. It is here in Europe that there is respect for a human and their life/rights irrespective of their political, religious, traditional, national, ethnical, or cultural realities. The Europeans, in that sense, are shown to have evolved beyond petty historical, ego-centric instances. Instead, they are ‘modern’, (high-)cultured, ‘enlightened’, and indeed, ‘civilised’. This narrative is not limited to the European geography/audience. Instead, it is also nurtured both explicitly and implicitly via local/international governmental and non-governmental institutions operating within developing countries. More importantly, these stories are essential features of the post-colonial condition whereby the colonised endeavour to reincarnate the ethos and virtues that the coloniser supposedly embodied/embodies. Principally, an emancipated worldview as the one described in the first paragraph is an important milestone in the evolution of humankind. However, the belief that the West, in general, and Europe, in particular, perform this worldview today is wholly misplaced. We shall return to this conclusion in a bit.
The reaction of Europeans to the unjust, condemnable invasion of Ukraine by Russia is heartening. However, this invasion is not the only act of violence in recent years. And yet, Europeans have not reacted in a similar manner to any other recent atrocity. There are three widespread responses to this blatant hypocrisy. For one, some insist that it is only natural to be biased and to react based on geographical/political proximity. Such arguments not only justify racist ethnocentrism but also insist that this is the ‘normal’ way to react. This is strange because such assumptions propagate an indifference to certain human sufferings. This already contradicts Europe’s championing of humanism. Furthermore, with this strategy, they justify violence on certain humans while condemning it on others. Indeed, this is not the first example of such hypocrisy. Several scholars have highlighted how the all-encompassing human-rights are indeed universal; however their applications consistently showcase that the universality of the human in human-rights is still questioned. A second response becomes obvious when complaints on this hypocrisy are invalidated as forms of whataboutism, a phenomenon made popular by populists such as Trump and our very own Kaptaan. By employing this strategy, they not only escape difficult questions but also accuse the complainers of being illogical and unworthy of being listened to. This comprehension of whataboutism, I insist, is quite mistaken. Highlighting hypocrisy and whataboutism are not the same. The latter is a strategy applied by individuals to justify something that is wrong by showing it as a relatively lesser evil. Highlighting hypocrisies, however, does not justify any act but demands a condemnation founded on equal grounds. A third response is relying on the assumption of being un/under-informed. Such discourses blame western media for not exposing their audience to other realities. In that sense, they justify European naivety. Scholars on media framing have long established that spreading of a narrative is never a one-way street. As in, the media not only portrays its editorial biases but also presents the news that is required of it from the audience. In that sense, the western media is not the only accomplice in the construction of this selected reality. The audience too is equally responsible. I shall conclude this writeup with my observation of how this selected-reality is nurtured and maintained. The foremost tool is selective amnesia. The Europeans insist on remembering a certain segment of history which they use to knit a narrative that appeals to their biases. All other versions and instances of history are either forgotten or labelled as propaganda. This is, for example, observed when NATO is seen as a mere defensive force and its war-crimes in Yugoslavia, Libya, Afghanistan etc. are never even recognised.
The second strategy is politicising events they want to stay away from while simultaneously depoliticising events they’d want to invest in. This is observed for example, when they label Palestinian, and Kashmiri struggles as political (and hence not objective). On the other hand, the current invasion of Ukraine is deemed as apolitical (and hence objective) where the unpredictable, unthinking, dictatorial Putin has invaded Ukraine for no reason at all (political or otherwise). Finally, the neo-liberal philosophy that Europe markets is obsessed with living in the future. This inclination is founded on their fetish to improve the present in their own terms. In other words, their motivation is rarely grounded on the present circumstances of those who supposedly require this betterment. Instead, it’s based on a utopian, perfect conception of a future that can only be understood and implemented based on a colonised conception of space and time. The future they predict and want to create must be as they envision. And, for that to happen, they are ready to interject in the matters of states who have chosen trajectories that lead them elsewhere. Through this strategy they are able to pick and choose the realities they want to believe in: the realities of either those who need correction or those that have been corrected.
Europe is not the only biased geography in the world. However, it is important not to conflate nationalism with racism. This writeup started with the assumption that humanism is integral to European identity. Indeed, as has been proven by various accounts of historical and contemporary events, this assumption is largely misplaced. The silence of Europe on atrocities committed worldwide (especially those that it too contributes to) is an important refutation of their assumed positionality of being impartial humanists. As their reaction to the Russian invasion has shown—in the words of their own reporters—a blue-eyed, blonde, Christian human deserves much more sympathy than a coloured non-Christian human. This, of course, is problematic. This, of course, is not humanism.

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