Poynted remarks

IssueApril - May 2022
Comment by Claire Poyner

Yeah, so: ‘whataboutery’; where people argue that we shouldn’t campaign on a certain issue by asking ‘What about the men?’ or ‘What about poor white people?’ and so on.

‘When’s it International Men’s Day?’ used to be a common complaint on 8 March. I hope by now most people know that’s on 19 November. And every other day of the year, of course.

It’s only certain issues of course. Nobody whines ‘What about those with heart disease?’ when people are fundraising for charities campaigning, and researching into, other diseases like cancer.

I have never heard people complaining about campaigning against badger-culling by insisting that ‘Birds of prey are under threat, too’, though I guess it’s possible that some do – it’s certainly true anyway.

Let’s be clear here, being a single-issue pressure group does not mean that the people involved are single-issue. Many are involved in a multitude of pressure groups to varying degrees. I’m currently a paid-up supporter of around 13 organisations plus a handful of joint memberships with my partner.

I’m looking to slim these down for financial reasons (anticipating the often-reported cost of living crisis) but how to decide?

Is nuclear war more or less likely than catastrophic global heating?

Is the fact of the royal family irrelevant in the world scheme of things?

Are birds more important than trees? I’m still struggling with this decision.

So back to whataboutery. Is it whataboutery to point out that, actually, wars and skirmishes are going on in many other parts of the world?

Maybe some should point out the hypocrisy of ‘welcoming’ Ukrainian refugees to the UK (that’ll be the day) when officialdom, and a not-inconsiderable amount of popular opinion, appears to be opposed to refugees (or ‘asylum seekers’, if there’s a difference) coming to the UK. (Do we know why there is an apparent difference in attitude towards Ukrainian refugees versus, say, Libyans or Iraqis? What do you think, reader?)

The Guardian recently had an editorial on this which I mostly agreed with. They pointed to the shocking story of the war in Ethiopia (population 117 million). The Ethiopian government thought it wouldn’t be difficult to crush the forces of the rebellious Tigray region (population 5.4 million). Fighting continues 16 months on.

Saudi Arabia is the UK’s biggest arms customer and one of the world’s most authoritarian regimes. There is little doubt that UK-supplied weapons have been used in Saudi attacks on Yemen, riven in conflict since 2014.

In Syria, the war has now entered its twelfth year. In Myanmar, military and security forces have bombarded populated areas with airstrikes and heavy weapons and have been deliberately targeting civilians.

Of course, those of us who are pacifists are against all wars. That’s a given. And we’re not (most of us) responsible for the output of the mainstream media, or Politics with a capital P, which make it all about the biggest or most popular issue of the day.

What can we do about that? Should we be doing anything about that? Why can’t people decide on their own priorities and work on them without it being suggested they don’t care about the others? Or maybe they do not care about the others? How do we know? Is it any of my business if some people are only concerned about animal rights and think ‘humans can campaign for rights themselves, animals need me to stick up for them’?

Giving people the benefit of the doubt and letting them get on with their thing seems appropriate. It’s all to the good that people are willing to offer a spare room to a refugee. Offer prayers. Write letters to local and national papers. Hold vigils in the town square. Raise money to send humanitarian aid wherever it is needed.

I do however reserve the right to mention other issues which are apparently being ignored or forgotten about, without suggesting that the Russian invasion of Ukraine is not important.

It clearly is, and the fact that there is a real risk of nuclear war adds a considerable amount of danger and anxiety.

As the Guardian editorial on 18 March says: ‘The victims of these other wars deserve the same level of support and solidarity rightly seen for the people of Ukraine. Those already too often overlooked must not be pushed further into the shadows.’

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