BY HAVVANUR FADILA
DUBAI DEC 03, 2022 – DAILY SABAH
No other country has been criticized as Qatar has been for hosting a sports event and this has resonated across the Arab world since they saw the stereotypes about Arabs as racism targeting them all, not just Qataris. (Getty Images Photo)
What can be called ‘Qatarphobia’ can help comprehend the unfounded claims about Qatar so far as the Gulf country made the news for bribing FIFA officials to host the tournament and filling the streets with fake supporters who do not look like the citizens of the country they cheered for
Ever since Qatar was awarded to host the World Cup, the Gulf country has been put under the microscope by the West. There have been critical statements from Western politicians, as well as some misleading headlines in the newspapers. Although it is a soccer tournament, Westerners have been talking about anything but. The attitude has not changed even after the kickoff. This op-ed is not to say there are no human rights issues in Qatar, nor to say there are. The first rule to defy the West’s imposition and the obvious Eurocentrism is to question on what grounds we talk about what we talk about. If we cannot do this, we cannot talk about a soccer tournament as a sports event without putting LGBTQ rights in the spotlight…
Germany came forward with its political statements as its politicians one-sidedly evaluated Qatar’s stance on human rights. The Europeans, after centuries of mistreatment of other humans, have decided they should have a say in how things should be, and ever since they sat on the iron throne they have been judging others, though selectively. This selectivity of Western sensitivity towards the issues they make inquiries about led some to call them “hypocrites.” FIFA President Gianni Infantino lashed out, saying, “I am European. For what we have been doing for 3,000 years around the world, we should be apologizing for the next 3,000 years before giving moral lessons.”
One could take a step forward and try to give perspective to Germany’s bizarre outrage about Qatar hosting the World Cup and say that the two countries have other issues yet to be resolved and this might be affecting German politicians’ judgment. In recent trips to Qatar, German politicians could not make Qataris submit to their demands, for example, in regard to LNG trading while Europe is cornered by the Russia-Ukraine war. There is nothing black and white in politics and politicians might be saying “you have human rights issues” while not saying publicly “accept my terms in other issues” at the same time since we have not seen such outrage during negotiations when it comes down to business.
Anyone with fair judgment can also claim that the German politicians could not have been outspoken regarding the human rights issues in Israel if Israel were to host the World Cup instead of Qatar. German politicians are known for their reluctance when it comes to criticizing Israel and this is directly linked to their selectivity about the subjects they prefer to prioritize. To let Israelis enjoy the World Cup in Qatar, Israel had to allow Palestinians to fly out of Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel-Aviv along with Israelis.
Accredited media and ticket holders will be allowed “to travel on these chartered flights with no restrictions as they have an equal right to enjoy the tournament,” a FIFA spokesperson said in a statement. Why do Palestinians not have equal freedom of movement in everyday life but are entitled to it only when it’s tangled with Israelis’ right to attend the tournament on direct flights? And why have we not heard any outrage from German politicians about the Palestinians’ violated right to freedom of movement, especially for those in an open-air prison in Gaza, until now or will we ever hear about it after the tournament ends? We can all assume that they will play the three monkeys “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” about this issue while asking all of us to discuss what human rights they selected to care for and from which angle.
Western media hypocrisy
On the media side, the British media is at the fore with its coverage of Qatar. Some British media outlets manipulated the minds with misleading headlines that later spread to other European countries. The reputable British Guardian newspaper published in February 2021 the news that was captioned: “Revealed: 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar as it gears up for World Cup” which later was revised to: “6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar since World Cup awarded.”
Even though the Guardian amended its manipulative headline, the damage it sought to inflict with this manipulation was done and now many people, soccer fans or not, believe that the deaths of thousands are directly linked to the construction of World Cup stadiums.
Another reputable media company, the BBC snubbed the opening ceremony for the World Cup 2022 to discuss the allegations laid against Qatar and how it was “the most controversial World Cup in history.” While soccer fans in other parts of the world were watching the opening ceremony that included memorable cultural elements, on BBC One, British taxpayers were subjected to listening to the presenters’ bias towards Qatar instead. One of the broadcasters, Gary Lineker, was recorded saying: “Ever since FIFA chose Qatar back in 2010, the smallest nation to have hosted football’s greatest competition has faced some big questions. From accusations of corruption in the bidding process to the treatment of migrant workers who built the stadiums where many lost their lives.”
No other country has been criticized as Qatar has been for hosting a sports event and this has resonated across the Arab world since they saw the stereotypes about Arabs as racism targeting them all, not just Qataris. Qatari politicians have been using Western and Arabic media outlets to counter the criticism and highlight what they have been doing to improve workers’ rights. Not only ordinary Arab people, but also Qatari politicians viewed the biased statements from the Western world as racist.
On Nov. 6, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammad bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said the Western approach is racist when he spoke to Sky News: “We can say that they are highly racist given that a country like Qatar, an Arab Islamic country, a small country, was able to compete with large countries that consider that they are more deserving of hosting this tournament.”
In an interview with Al-Jazeera Arabic two weeks prior to the tournament, the CEO of the World Cup 2022, Nasser al-Khater said: “European countries feel they have a monopoly over the World Cup. Europe has hosted 11 tournaments out of 22 tournaments, of course, it refuses that a country like Qatar or an Arab Muslim country hosts a tournament like the World Cup.”
It can be speculated that Europeans think that their countries are the right choice for hosting the World Cup, however, it’s true that many Westerners think Qatar should not have been awarded to be the host. According to a poll conducted by the Frankfurter Allgemeinen Sonntagszeitung newspaper, 65% of Germans do not believe Qatar should have been awarded the 2022 World Cup. How much of the German people’s opinion in this regard is shaped by the negative comments coming from their politicians should be investigated separately. What could be called another Eurocentric approach is the presumption that the World Cup should not have been in winter as it’s always been in summer. However, this approach limits the number of countries that can host the World Cup based on geographical and seasonal suitability and if that is the case, there is no need to call it the “World” Cup.
In some cases, the Western attitude has exceeded criticism and come across as downright Islamophobia under the disguise of “freedom of speech.” The French weekly Le Canard Enchaine published a cartoon in its October 2022 issue entitled “Qatar, Behind The Scenes” depicting the players of the Qatari national team chasing a soccer ball in the sand while carrying machetes, guns and rocket launchers, with one of them wearing a suicide vest. There will be outcries from the French if anyone rejects that this isn’t about freedom of speech but racism and Islamophobia. It is racism and Islamophobia, however, the French cartoonists seem to enjoy the publicity when their application of “freedom of speech” resonates differently in the Islamic world, which they often target and cause controversy.
What can be called “Qatarphobia” can help comprehend the unfounded claims about Qatar so far as the Gulf country made the news for bribing FIFA officials to host the tournament and the Ecuadorian players to win the opening match, in addition to filling the streets with fake supporters since they do not like citizens from the countries they cheered for.
The Times of London even claimed that “Qataris are unaccustomed to seeing women in Western dress in their country” in a photo caption that was later deleted. Perhaps the British media should report from Qatar where many Western expatriates live and work while wearing their Western clothing. British expatriates, which includes many women expatriates, rank ahead in the number of Western expatriates working in the Gulf as the region was a former protectorate of Great Britain. The British companies and expatriates enjoy the influence that still lasts across the Gulf while receiving the heftiest contracts and paychecks when well-known British media outlets publish prejudice about the region and its people without fact-checking.
If we were to evaluate Qatar’s human rights records, we would have to look through the West’s Eurocentric and Orientalist lenses and this is why we should abstain from it, at the moment.