Ferguson From Abroad

by Dish Staff

National news in the US is world news everywhere else, and the continued chaos in Ferguson, MO, is drawing some international attention, including a brief Twitter lecture from the Iranian Supreme Leader on America’s moral bankruptcy. Zack Beauchamp finds that more than a little ironic:

The Iranian government itself does not treat minorities particularly well. Take Iran’s Kurds, for example. About 6.5 million Kurds live in western Iran, but not in peace. A 2009 Human Rights Watch report documents widespread restrictions on Kurdish free speech (like banning books), denial of due process rights to Kurds suspected of political dissidence, and torture of Kurdish detainees. Dozens of Kurds are on death row, often convicted of political offenses.

But here’s the catch: Khamenei, awful as he may be, still has a point about Ferguson. Despite the staggering hypocrisy of his tweet, he’s correct that the police conduct in Ferguson is unconscionable and racist. The United States doesn’t, or shouldn’t, want human rights-abusing enemies to be able to point to things like this to whitewash their own abuses.

It’s not just Iran, either. Josh Kovensky takes note of how Ferguson is being covered in the Russian media:

An RT article, “Protests Against Police Tyranny have Spread Across the Main Cities of the USA,” suggested that the nation is on the brink of chaos as the “rage of Americans … spreads across the entire country.” Sputink i Pogrom, a nationalist newsmagazine, tweeted out, “What do you think? Should Russia grant Obama asylum in Rostov after the Ferguson Maidanites occupy Washington?” And Svobodnaya Pressa, a popular Russian news website, ran an article calling the Ferguson protests “AfroMaidan,” in reference to Euromaidan protests in Kiev, Ukraine, earlier this year. 

In that Svobodnaya Pressa article, Sergei Bespalov, the docent of the humanities division of the Russian Academy of Agriculture and State Service, attributes the events in Ferguson in part to the “fact” that white Americans have “prejudice towards African-Americans … in their blood.” Bespalov predicts further unrest, adding that “if [Obamacare] is cancelled, this could … provoke racial conflicts,” and that “a significant part of African-Americans and Latinos could perceive [Obamacare’s cancellation] as a challenge from the white majority.”

This coverage harkens back to the way Ameircan racism was portrayed in Soviet propaganda during the Cold War, Karoun Demirjian adds:

The United States’ problems with racism have long been a favored topic for Russians, dating back to the heyday of the Soviet Union. During the 1920s and 1930s, Soviet leaders pointed to the existence of Jim Crow laws in the United States as a way of asserting the moral superiority of the Soviet Union. Racism, which was illegal in the Soviet Union, was deemed a systematic byproduct of capitalism. In the civil rights era, especially, the Soviet Union used American anti-black racism as fodder to challenge the United States’ claims to leadership of the “free world.”

Soviet and modern-day Russia alike have had their own problems with racism as well, of course – to the point where Russia was recently rated by one publication as one of the worst countries for people of color to travel in. But that stigma doesn’t cause the Russian government to pull any punches with the United States over the situation in Ferguson – or to refrain from using it as an opportunity to highlight America’s race problems to their fullest extent.

In light of this international scrutiny, Max Fisher’s tongue-in-cheek “if it happened there” version of the Ferguson story is particularly relevant:

Missouri, far-removed from the glistening capital city of Washington, is ostensibly ruled by a charismatic but troubled official named Jay Nixon, who has appeared unable to successfully intervene and has resisted efforts at mediation from central government officials. Complicating matters, President Obama is himself a member of the minority sect protesting in Ferguson, which is ruled overwhelmingly by members of America’s majority “white people” sect.

Analysts who study the opaque American political system, in which all provinces are granted semi-autonomous self-rule, warned that Nixon may seize the opportunity to move against weakened municipal rulers in Ferguson. Missouri’s provincial legislature, a traditional “shura council,” is dominated by the opposition faction. Though fears of a military coup remain low, it is still unknown how Nixon’s allies within the capital will respond should the crisis continue. Now, international leaders say they fear the crisis could spread.