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How to Make Your Friends Xenofobic

© AP Photo / Nathan HowardState Department spokesperson Matthew Miller answers questions about a American solider detained in North Korea after he willfully crossed the border from South Korea during a news briefing at the State Department on Tuesday, July 18, 2023, in Washington.
State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller answers questions about a American solider detained in North Korea after he willfully crossed the border from South Korea during a news briefing at the State Department on Tuesday, July 18, 2023, in Washington.  - Sputnik India, 1920, 14.05.2024
To sum up the long debate about a ‘xenofobic nation’ that touched upon India (and Japan, and many others), it was a fairly useful exercise. We have to thank the venerable President of the US for making his, shall we say, rather unexpected remarks on the subject.
The thing is, we always learn from a debate. As an example, I never knew that India ‘harbours, willy-nilly, nearly 50 million illegal immigrants, mainly from Bangladesh and Myanmar. These immigrants have not been rounded up and deported in the main, in order to observe diplomatic niceties with essentially friendly neighbouring countries. However, border defences with both countries have been considerably strengthened of late’. That was a quote from one of the commentaries of the, and the figure of 50 million is impressive. It’s way above Russia’s several million of people accommodated recently only from Ukraine.
The rest of that publication was predictable, far as I was concerned. I knew, that ‘Economically, what President Biden said makes little sense. India will grow into the third-largest economy in the world by 2030 or earlier, driven in large part by its domestic economy and burgeoning exports’. I knew also, from vast personal experience, that being a foreigner in India is a pleasure.
And then I began some soul-searching. Am I not getting slightly xenophobic, myself, recently? And what may be the cause for it?
Here we need to have a look at a Washington Post editorial, slightly predating Joe Biden’s unfortunate remarks. An editorial, if you didn’t know, is supposed to be a collective manifesto of all the top brass in The Post. And that manifesto is taking Biden to task for not being harsh enough on India for murdering Sikhs all over the Western hemisphere.
These folks are really good at displaying their moral outrage and making friends and neighbors xenophobic as a result. Let’s get some quotes to study that art.
‘While the plot was moving ahead last June, Mr. Modi was being feted at the White House for his commitment to democracy’. And, further on, we hear the roll of thunder: The Post mentions ‘… escalation in transnational repression — governments brazenly attempting to punish, kidnap or assassinate critics, activists, dissidents and journalists far beyond their own borders, violating the laws and norms of other countries with impunity. The practice has become alarmingly frequent, including in the United States. According to Freedom House, the top 10 perpetrators are: China, Turkey, Tajikistan, Russia, Egypt, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Belarus, Iran and Rwanda’.
And, finally – ‘The United States needs stronger laws and other measures to fight transnational repression… How the India case is handled will also send an important signal. If it turns out that India’s security officers plotted to murder on these shores and then escape accountability and punishment for doing so, others will be encouraged to kill with impunity. The United States cannot let this happen’.
So who plotted what, and who got killed? Now comes the funniest part of the story. Let’s quote the same editorial once more.
First, no ‘dissident Sikh political activist on U.S. soil’ had been killed, we are only hearing about a failed plot against one of these. True, the ‘U.S. officials have identified the plotter as Vikram Yadav, an officer in India’s spy agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), and have concluded the operation was approved by the RAW chief at the time, Samant Goel’. But – ‘but officials said no proof has emerged’.
And if there was no assassination and, especially, no proof, then what? Then, simply speaking, you display some modesty and behave decently. Apologize, even.
What is that decent behavior between states in an ideal world? In that kind of world, first of all, there should have been no problem as such. One friendly government is asking another friendly government something like ‘What a renowned terrorist is doing on your territory?’. Facts are being produced and discussed. Then there is such thing as extradition. And then there are many other things, called, collectively, the international law, with clauses like ‘if there is no proof, the accused is proclaimed innocent for lack of evidence’. That works both ways, for terrorists or governments trying to do something about their actions.
But that system obviously does not work in Canada (in a previous and very similar case), or in the US, or in other such places. What works there is something that The Post calls ‘it appears’.
Right, so now I know when I began to get xenophobic, if not about Indians or Chinese, then about Westerners in general. It all began not exactly with ‘it appears’, but with its synonym – ‘highly likely’. The date is March 12, 2018. On that day Theresa May, at that time the Prime Minister of Great Britain, stated, in the Parliament, that Russia – as a nation – was ‘highly likely’ behind a mysterious poisoning of an ex-spy Sergei Skripal, who betrayed his nation, had been convicted in Russia, then pardoned, and who lived in England ever since.
No evidence had been produced by London. Everybody in the world had to accept the fact, that if the Prime Minister is saying that, and since the deadly poison in question, called Novichok, had been developed in Russia long ago, then the attempt to poison somebody with it could only be ascribed not just to some Russians, but to the highest level of Russian government. Oh, and Mr. Scripal is alive, just like in the case of the current US accusations against India.
But why would anyone in the world believe an accusation without evidence? Why, it’s because if you repeat a trick again, people are getting used to it. In 2006 another British government had accused the same Moscow of poisoning yet another Russian in London with radioactive polonium. No reason was given for that exotic, if not idiotic, choice of weapon, costing millions and leaving traces all over Europe. It was just ‘highly likely’ that polonium had been brought to London by Andrei Lugovoi, who, incidentally, got himself poisoned by the same polonium in that murky story.
So, that’s what they do habitually, accusing everyone without proof. But my own and generally Russian anti-Western xenophobia is very special. Lugovoi is an MP today, with a promising political career ahead of him, and you may have a look at his face on his website. I recall his visit to the prestigious Moscow Cigar Club some years ago, where he was presenting his book on the polonium case. You are under sanctions now, was one of the questions, and since that’s a honor today, how about running for President? Lugovoi said – no, but it still may be a remote possibility. And that situation looks familiar to any Indian, I think.
Novichok is the name of a cocktail now, available in plenty of Russian bars. There was a mock battle between two famous barmen on the subject of which Novichok had been registered first as an intellectual property. ‘Highly Likely’ became an internet mem, drawing hoops of laughter any moment when being invoked.
That’s how Russian xenophobia looks like, applied to Westerners. We do not really hate them. We pity them. But we also cover all such feelings under a blanket of telltale Russian humor. Let’s hope such kind of xenophobia will help, one day, to restore the world to normalcy and decency in relations between nations.
Dmitry Kosyrev is a Russian writer, author of spy novels and short stories. He also did columns for the Pioneer and
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