The Western world’s criticism of the Gulf country hosting the football World Cup – mostly over claims about human rights violations – only exposes the moral bankruptcy of countries which have a lot of soul-searching to do.
Over the past few weeks, Western criticism of Qatar over human rights and individual freedom have intensified into a sustained and coordinated smear campaign ahead of the 2022 World Cup.
Recently, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser criticised Qatar’s organisation of the World Cup, stating that it was “very tricky” for Germany to be associated with the host country over what she alleged was human rights abuses by Qatar.
In response, Qatar summoned the German ambassador to condemn Faeser’s comments. Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al Thani, Qatar’s Foreign Minister, responded quickly and unequivocally. He accused Germany of “double standards” and advised Berlin to conduct a healthy dose of self-criticism.
Faeser, however, made a volte-face soon after and praised Qatar for the “very good laws” Doha had enacted to protect human rights.
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) too had followed suit with Secretary-General Nayef al Hajraf praising the leading role of Qatar in “building bridges between civilisations and bolstering understanding between peoples within the boundaries of mutual respect” and slammed Germany’s remarks.
A few weeks ago, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani, the Emir of Qatar, also complained about the “unprecedented” campaign targeting the country. He characterised this malicious defamation as full of misinformation and disinformation, a protracted campaign which has been ongoing since Qatar won the honour of hosting the football World Cup way back in 2010.
It is true that in the past human rights organisations had been critical of the systemic problems related to migrant workers’ rights stemming from the Kafala system which has since been scrapped. However, in the past 3-4 years, the UN’s International Labour Organisation (ILO) has praised Qatar’s reforms, including removing the exit visa for domestic workers, establishing a non-discriminatory permanent minimum wage and easing job change procedures.
Similarly, international trade unions and experts concur that these efforts are genuine and constitute great progress. These actions are way more advanced than what other Gulf nations have in place for their migrant workforce. Naturally, there is always scope for improvement.
On the other hand, given the progress on this issue, one would question whether this mean-spirited mudslinging against Qatar has any aim or purpose. Talking about sanctions and whatnot can be very counterproductive, and Germany should have understood this well from its recent experience of facing adverse effects of Western sanctions on Russia.
While many observers consider the criticism by Western countries as disingenuous at best, two main points must still be underlined in the context of the weaponisation of human rights.
First, this approach is cost-effective compared to other forms such as embargo, blockade or armed conflict. In addition, the framing of situations via human rights lenses tends to attract international public opinion. Unfortunately, the reductionist approach used in this context is unfair and unethical since it intentionally ignores the target country’s political, social and economic progress.
This injustice leads to questions about the motives of the Western mainstream media. Notable to cite the British media here since The Guardian, The Times, Daily Express, The Sun, Daily Mail, The Telegraph and Metro UK have mentionedQatar approximately 1,735 times in their headlines, 40 percent of which are about the World Cup.
Such an organised campaign shows that considerable focus has been placed on mere allegations of human rights abuses and bad working conditions for migrant workers. The Western media reported little on the tremendous efforts to host the 2022 World Cup in Doha.
For example, there was not a single piece of coverage on how Qatar has made the tournament accessible to spectators with disabilities. Because of such bias, Western media coverage should question its “comforting sense of moral superiority” when it asserts bold claims about the political perspectives towards sport and entertainment.
As a result of shaping public perception of a country based on alleged rights transgressions, two birds are hit with one stone. The reputational cost would become much higher for a country cast before the global public as a “criminal”, triggering global polarisation.
France also decided against broadcasting World Cup games in public on big screens in its several cities under the pretext of allegations of human rights abuses and bad working conditions for migrant workers. Given the growing incidents of anti-Muslim hatred in France, at times even state-sponsored, a reasonable response that one could expect from Qatar would be, “You should be the last to talk about human rights.”
Western criticism of Qatar for hosting the 2022 World Cup is inherently hypocritical and leads to a dead-end. Instead of engaging in international dialogue and negotiation to improve the rights of migrant workers, Western nations choose to play the blame game.
The new labour law abolishing the Kafala system has laid the grounds for better working conditions, making Qatar the first country to do such a reform.
Constructive and well-grounded criticism based on factual truths should never be replaced by deep-seated prejudices and instrumentalisation of human rights as a pretext to defame any country.