Defense of “Whataboutism”



Various leaders across the globe have criticized Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Yet, ironically, they have been responsible for several illegal activities. 

Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, and Deputy Prime Minister, Chrystia Freeland, openly condemned Russia’s invasion and took measures against Moscow. However, their government allows the export of billions of dollars worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia to help that state carry out the genocidal war on Yemen, which has been identified as the worst humanitarian crisis across the globe. Canada has not only failed to provide funds to Yemenis but is also responsible for their misery. 

Trudeau’s condemnation of Russia is a symbol of hypocrisy. He knows that violating another State’s sovereign and killing is atrocious. But, providing arms and ammunition to Saudi for some million dollars is absolutely perfect since Canada is making enormous profit.

With the note of such incidents occurring across the globe, inevitably, ‘whataboutism’ comes into the frame. Whataboutism is an act of responding to an accusation of wrongdoing by claiming that an offense committed by another is similar or worse. 

There are two significant problems with such accusations against those that bring up the hypocrisy of statements from world leaders.

First, the accusation shows that the leaders criticized by the ‘whataboutists’ have nothing to do with the situation in question. In this case, Canada and its other Western counterparts do not have any responsibility for the prevailing situation in Ukraine. Therefore, highlighting their crimes is irrelevant. 

Second, accusations of “whataboutism” intend to close the door to valid geopolitical and international relations observations and media criticism. To put it another way, basically, the accusation has an intriguing impact that stifles thoughtful, free political discourse. 

It is necessary to compare the varied ways the media treats conflicts since they tell us what narratives are rewarded or punished and which people we are motivated to be sympathetic or have hatred for. While Ukrainians are put forth as heroes for resisting foreign occupation, including violent ways. On the contrary, Palestinians are criticized for doing the same. 

Essentially, accusations of “whataboutism” aim to narrow the conversation and deviate their focus to other directions. They want you to think on their terms. They set norms of whose actions may be evaluated and claim that reference to any other issue, no matter how good faith, is apologia.