I am neither a football fan nor a follower of the sport. Rather, I am critical of the unimaginable extravagance that the game has spawned, not least the salaries of top players in the West, many of whom are paid hundreds of thousands every week. This is much, much more than the wages of doctors, engineers and scientists; the budgets of scientific research centres; and other things that are more beneficial to humanity.
However, it is hard to avoid football until the end of the FIFA World Cup being held in Qatar, so I am not here to criticise the game and explain its pros and cons. The fact is, that an Arab Muslim country is hosting the World Cup for the first time, and the success of the preparations and organisation — with an opening ceremony that amazed us all — suggests that the ultimate goal for Qatar was to let the whole world get a message of tolerance, peace and love.
Everyone agreed that the message was received and this goal was reached when Qatari philanthropist and activist Ghanim Al-Muftah recited the Qur’anic verse, “Indeed, We created you from a male and a female, and made you into peoples and tribes so that you may know one another. Surely the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous among you. Allah is truly All-Knowing, All-Aware.”However, in the midst of the football fans’ immersion in the global event, the decade-old demonisation campaign escalated under various pretexts, most notably the host country’s violation of workers’ rights and LGBTQ rights. All family laws and values upon which society is based were criticised and they even raised issues that are beyond human control, such as Qatar’s high temperatures.
Then, apparently instigated by French MEPs, the European Parliament dealt another blow to the host country. One of the members said that Qatar was exploiting the tournament to spread Islam; another said that its laws derive from Islamic law and allow for children to be taken from their mothers in favour of their fathers. Inevitably, yet others raised the issue of LGBTQ and workers’ rights again.
I was astonished at the words of the MEPs and the hatred, racism, lies and misguidance they spouted. It was as if the so-called clash of civilisations had just begun. They do not differentiate between good and bad; it is enough for them that you belong to the Arab and Islamic civilisation.
The rabid attacks started 12 years ago when Qatar won the right to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The Western media went crazy, wondering how an Arab Muslim country would be able to cope. They began investigating alleged bribes, but the conclusion was that the selection process was not marred by any corruption.
However, this was not the conclusion that the media wanted, so the demonisation continued. At times it was about workers’ rights, and at other times it was LGBTQ rights; sometimes it was both at once. Figures were published by the Guardian to show how many migrant workers died building the infrastructure for the tournament. It turned out that the figures were incorrect according to reports from the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
The issue of LGBTQ rights is not unique to Qatar. Many countries in the Middle East, Africa and many Islamic countries, and even some of a secular Christian nature, do not allow or condone same sex relationships. The issue is based on religious beliefs, traditions and culture in the societies concerned.
We have seen the old Western democracies seeking to impose their values and start a discussion about an issue that many societies do not wish to talk about. Open LGBTQ relationships are generally prohibited in Arab and Muslim societies, and this position cannot be compromised.
The West talks a lot about freedom of beliefs and opinions, so how can it tell Qatar to accept and impose such relationships on a society that rejects them? Even if the government in Doha had agreed, and tried to enforce change on its citizens, the people would not have accepted it; violence would probably have resulted.
Throughout the run-up to the World Cup, the Western media rarely mentioned the reforms that Qatar introduced in respect of migrant workers’ rights, most notably the abolition of the sponsorship system, the adjustment of wages, the establishment of a fund to compensate workers, and the establishment of a monitoring and accountability system to prosecute any violations. It is true that these reforms are not ideal and contain loopholes, and that it will take a long time to develop a fair labour system. However, the country has taken giant steps in this regard and should be encouraged to build on what has been achieved in a conservative environment that generally dislikes change.
In any case, where is the perfect system in the West for Qatar to borrow from? It doesn’t exist. In a society based on free market capitalism, the rights of workers, immigrants and minorities will always play second fiddle to profits. Many crises have exposed the harsh treatment of these groups based on their ethnicity and religion.
Beyond the borders of the European Union and the West in general, workers on low wages produce the consumer goods that are coveted in the richer nations. The same equation affects the workers employed in exploration for much sought after minerals and fossil fuels. Working in bad conditions in Asian and African countries, thousands die every year without any action being insisted upon by the West to improve their lives.Meanwhile, countries such as France, for example, refuse to apologise for their colonial past in Africa, and are still pulling the strings behind coups and assassinations of those who do not comply with French interests and control of the workforce. The supposedly ex-colonial state still benefits from the mineral wealth and natural resources of its former colonies at the expense of the indigenous populations.
When the West talks about modern slavery, it is blatantly hypocritical and misleading. The Global Slavery Index indicates terrifying numbers in the region, Europe and Central Asia, covering 51 countries where there are more than 3.5 million people trapped in some form of modern slavery.
The Regional Brief for Europe and Central Asia (2017) confirms that modern slavery not only affects adults, but also children. In fact, 4.1 per cent of all children in the region are victims of child labour, the vast majority in high-risk jobs.
Another ILO report on the economics of forced labour indicates that in developed economies and the EU, forced labour generates €46.9 billion in profits annually, with the largest proportion of these profits coming as a result of sexual abuse.
This bitter reality and the violations and looting of people’s wealth at the hands of the West was highlighted by FIFA President Gianni Infantino when he said: “We are taught many lessons from Europeans, from the Western world. What we Europeans have been doing for the last 3,000 years, we should be apologising for the next 3,000 years before starting to give moral lessons.”
Qatar does not need praise from the West and did not need the BBC to broadcast the opening ceremony in order for the world to see that this will be looked back on as a successful World Cup. Plaudits were received from all over the world, with major media coverage — your loss, BBC — and appreciation, so why would the host country pay attention to the known naysayers who never have a good word to say about all things Arab and Muslim?
Qatar has invested billions in the West; it has huge investments in property across London, for example. As a direct result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, when the European countries turned their backs on each other, Qatar came to their aid and provided them with 13 per cent of the gas needed to cover the deficit due to Russian supplies being stopped. The war has exposed the selfishness of some European countries that refused to provide others with gas.
Many now believe that dealings with the West, and particularly the EU, will not be the same when the World Cup comes to an end. Qatar can do a lot in terms of reviewing its huge investments and gas exports in return for full respect. According to a report by the Financial Times on 26 November, such reconsiderations have already started.
Qatar has been criticised from the moment it won the right to host the World Cup. Not even its neighbours were happy, because hosting such an event would enhance its soft power and open the door to talking about human rights the rights of migrant workers, as well as freedom of expression, none of which are particularly favourable in any Gulf State.
Facing up to such attacks involved Qatar in rejecting the fierce attempts to steal what was left of our basic instincts that underpin all of the Arab and Islamic nations. People across the region insisted that we would not lose our principles for the sake of a month-long football tournament.
This honourable position of the host country and the Arab and Muslim people was not adopted by the Arab and Muslim governments, the Arab League or the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. There was no satisfactory or acceptable response from them. Instead, they nodded then buried their collective heads in the sand, as if the attacks on Qatar were of no concern to them.
It is enough for us, as Arabs and Muslims, to know that the effects of what the West has done to us — the killings, the ethnic cleansing and displacement, and the looting of our natural resources and wealth — are still present in our lives and likely to be there until well into our future. We will not allow them to lecture us and strip us of the most precious thing we still have, our basic instincts and understanding of what is right and what is wrong.
The West must understand that its sense of superiority and the relationship based on dependency adopted when dealing with the Arab and Muslim world lead to disharmony. We all have our own values and principles, many of which differ, but there are common denominators that can be built upon for the good of humanity. If we all learn anything from the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar, let it be that.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.