|How the western media and politicians started to relentlessly target Qatar in stark comparison to World Cup in Russia or in USA yet its own migrant laws are a disgrace|
Ismail Y Syed
EVER since Qatar was nominated for the World Cup, it has been subject to relentless attacks and condemnation mainly from the west like no other. Many of the criticism and condemnation are indeed legitimate but this is where it stops: consistency or more so, lack of consistency from the west.
In the previous World Cup events held in Russia and elsewhere, there has been little condemnation, certainly not at the time of celebrating the opening ceremonies; in fact if any, there was justification to celebrate such events. That is so until the World Cup reached the Arabian Muslim Gulf State, Qatar.
Qatar certainly isn’t a saint, notwithstanding migrant labourers under terrible conditions and human rights issues. If BBC decided to air World Cup 2022 in the first place, then it should also have aired opening ceremony showcasing the best of what Arabian Muslim cultures have to offer, which all host countries of World Cup get to showcase their soft power of their respective cultures, not least when Arab and Muslim cultures are so greatly misunderstood in these current dangerous times in the face of rising far right populism in the west. There was a message of humanity from the recitation of the holy Quran with verses pointing out to common roots of entire humanity.
Celebrating cultures should not be conflated with FIFA-World Cup sins. Now here is the question: would BBC have refused to air ceremony of World Cup or any sporting events or any other global cultural events eg Eurovision etc taking place, say in the apartheid state Israel, would that have been brave? Or perhaps when the next World Cup is hosted in the US, a country ridden with illegal wars and ready to bomb other nations to stone age?
However, one can’t deny the great finesse of diplomacy displayed in the run up to the World Cup interview by Qatari foreign minister, which would be studied by schools of diplomacy and foreign service in the years to come, of a state that is slightly smaller than Connecticut yet managing to curve its own foreign policy partially if not fully, independent of the western alliance. Fact is, Qatar certainly isn’t a nation of western-style drone-led baby-killers or carpet-bombing B52 bombers after waging illegal wars that kills millions of civilians and create mass refugee crisis; neither it is a backer of fascist supremacist children-bombing apartheid state Israel unlike the so-called human rights-upholding west. For the White westerners, gays and lesbians ie homosexuality, and women peer pressured to roam around as barely dressed as objectified for infotainment before the spectators, deserve protection at any cost than the protection and respect for Palestinian children and babies’ lives under brutal illegal indiscriminate Russian-style Israeli bombing raids or for the people of the wider Arab and African world, as a trade-off. No, this is not whataboutism; such killings of Palestinians living under illegal Israeli occupation just happened yet ignored all the while the world or more so the west remains focused on gay and LGBTQ rights in Qatar.
There is certainly an issue of migrant and manual labour workers and gross rights-violations in the decade of preparation for the World Cup. Qatar is among the first nations in the Gulf to address inhumane labour laws and address concerns to some extent, notwithstanding there’s still a long way to go. The greatest legacy if any, it would be the World Cup focus of applying pressure and becoming a legacy—if not an ideal legacy—for improving working conditions of its vast migrant workers in Qatar and beyond. Now here is the most interesting part: the major construction conglomerates and consultants hired are from the west, along with employing tens of thousands of western expatriates facilitating or condoning the exploitation of cheap labour. It is equally important that the employing western corporations and their subcontractors also take responsibility for involving cheap labour as well as the key sponsors. The US and other western countries claim to have great labour laws and worker protection rights—until it comes to illegal migrants as a result of the west’s very limited access to legal migrant routes.
But here is where west’s so-called inclusive worker rights ends: Qatar does have serious human rights issues but the whole issue of racist border controls in the west that underpins exploitation human-smuggling shows, that it is the white-dominating western countries which create so-called “illegal” human beings by artificially constructing nation state borders, like no other. US has over 11m+ of undocumented migrants who have little rights if any. This isn’t whataboutery but drawing attention to real underpinning issue of human exploitation, that is, borders. The western white-majority countries top the list when it comes to putting up human-exclusion borders, hardly host refugees that runs into many millions—a crisis caused as a result of its political meddling and waging endless destructive wars—like the countries in the Global South do eg Pakistan, Turkey, Lebanon. Unlike UK and US, Qatar and other Middle Eastern countries at least provide access to “legal” routes for both skilled and unskilled migrants.
Now, here is the real pointer: having “better” or “not better” labour laws is of relativeness, it is only part of the story, notwithstanding the conditions deemed inhumane when viewed from the west’s lenses. Question is, is US or western labour law any better without factoring globally and politically inter-related events? At least the (regrettably) poorly paid migrant workers in Qatar—most if not all—are legal, they can go back if they choose to (and return if they wish to), roam around freely without the fear of racist notorious border officials (commonly known as ICEs and CBPs) in UK or US who would rather let the human migrants drown in English channel or die in the Sonaran Desert while crossing into US. In US, UK and elsewhere, majority of slave-like poorly paid migrants are undocumented/illegal who fear for their lives due to constant fear of being hunted down by ICEs. It is indeed a psychological trauma—despite many of them probably earning in underground economy more than the average workers in the poorest nations.
Let’s not even get down to white supremacists-leaning ICE and CBP (border) officers in the US and other western states along with of course racist police offers where over half of black and people of colour constantly degrading treatment despite being citizens or legal immigrants in their respective western states, let alone the undocumented ones. Qatar police authorities don’t tend to treat the inhabitants based on social or legal stratification in such manner.
Even illegal workers there—very few in terms of real value compared to the west—can expect to share water and drink from the same floor with the government officers and security force officials when breaking fast in Ramadan, for example. And yes, fair pay is very important. No doubt about this. But it’s the mental peace among most migrants in the Middle East—despite their terrible work conditions which needs addressing—knowing of not having to worry of getting caught due to illegal status that outweighs (whilst acknowledging improving working conditions of migrants is a must) most poorly paid modern day slavery of undocumented migrants in the US and other western states.
As for labour laws in the US and other western countries being morally more superior, let’s get this right: the H1-B work visas for skilled migrant workers are nothing short of modern day slavery or western near equivalent of the Middle East’s Kafalah system, albeit the former may comparatively be more humane but the stress and consequence of suffering are no less. Foreigners on US or UK work visas such as H1-B—even if getting paid a higher salary which average unskilled Americans can only dream of—are contractually indentured labourers. Even if foreigners getting paid annually $150-200k+ but many, more often than not, are often made to work in excess of 130+ hrs a week by exploitative employers to hit the targets, sometimes with less than three hours sleep each day and that so at work place.
Those workers on H1-B visas face abuses from sponsoring employers with the threat of revoking H1-B work permits or denying support for future application for permanent residency/Green Card. With the stress of extremely long working hours and denial of time-off for Jumah (Muslim Friday prayers) and religious festivals eg Eid etc, this amounts to indentured labour. In fact many in working in the tech and financial sector face threats of “severe repercussions” and threat to being sued for “financial damages” if they exit their employers prematurely. More so, the west must realise that it is of little use of having excellent labour laws that are effectually applicable to only selected group ie own citizens and legal immigrants when such laws are equally matched by shutting off most of the legal routes for migrants of all walks to life including unskilled migrants, and thus feeding into human smuggling.
Finally, the west, more so Anglo-Americans in UK US must know that bifurcating issues into domestic policy and foreign policy—as if boasting with so-called human right laws of the former in abstract and in isolation of the latter (as often cited with examples of liberal administrations eg Obama-style mass civilian-killing babies-killing drone attacks)—is dangerous. The supposed humane freedom-loving domestic policies and warmongering imperialist foreign policies of the west can no longer remain mutually exclusive. They are both interconnected and interdependent and are reflection of each other values in a globally interdependent and interconnected world. More so, mass refugee crisis, undocumented migrants, climate crisis etc exist as a direct result of the destructive policies of the Global North eg energy-dictated interventionist policies and subsequent meddling in other regions, illegal wars, regime changes, man-made climate disasters, shareholders’ profit-maximising corporate policies to keep up the demand side, patents and prohibition of technology transfers etc.
Now when it comes to society values or socio-cultural legal norms other than universally recognised health and physical well-being with minimum safety standards, those values are relative which varies from region to region. White values or white western values—as much as it may sound plausible or look compelling—need not be imposed on others as universal, thus to civilise the other, certainly not in a host country whilst visiting. Regions and different societies have different norms and terms on range of issues eg defining adulthood when it comes to socio-cultural and socio-legal norms eg age of consent. Some places define the puberty age of 13-14 as age of consent (and thus able to mutually determine their physical and marital needs or face legal punishment as adults in case of committing crimes) as much as absurd it may sound (though that has drastically been reduced outside the west, while some states have the age of 21 as the age of consent for various age-related privileges (thus anyone below is seen as child or not as fully matured adult).
Secular state laws and subsequent legislations, other than theocracy-based laws, are shaped by society and their sociopolitical norms which are subject to change over passage of time. Days aren’t far when the natural human needs of same-sex gender relations would get another competition from the perceived natural sexual relation needs between humans and animals, animals that are deemed to be worthy of identity status and to be treated “fairly” like human adults “without discrimination” or God forbid, when children of certain age collectively lead movements and bargain to be given age discrimination-free fair treatment, like consenting adults (thus God forbid, all the consequences that may come with it). Should the supposed “natural tendencies” of what are predominantly found in white western society (but also found sporadically in non-western societies) should be translated as universal in a world where values and sociocultural and socio-normative tendencies are relative and diverse? Sociocultural and socio-legal norms including socio-natural tendencies and socio-identity constructs—as opposed to universally acknowledged scientifically driven norms—need not be imposed in the world where sociocultural and socio-legal norms are matter of relativity, varying from place to place and regions to regions. Respect for the culture in the east or the Global South ought not to be pushed back if not respected when in their respective host territories, as it is the case of western orientalists and white liberal progressive movements pushing their narratives on others.
No society or culture is perfect. But when it comes to white Europeans, certainly of the west, alongside the Enlightenment era scientific discoveries (it is debatable how original were those scientific discoveries, given many were founded on theories advanced by pre-modern era Arab, Persian and Indian scientists but that is another debate for another day), only White European origin people in Europe and wherever they settled in Americas, Africas and Australasia managed to outdo in both mass settler colonisation through mass ethnic cleansing of indigenous people, and mass slave-trading like no other—much more than the Muslim or Arab empires of the pre-modern enlightenment era Middle Ages. At least in the conquered Arab and Muslim world, the conquered subjects became citizens or equal subjects with the rest in the empire (eg Ottoman citizens) and not treated as inferior sub-graded human just because of the “cursed” skin colour or because of where they geographically originated from.
Slave emergence in Muslim or Arab-conquered lands were mostly restricted to conditions of war until the war ended as per norms of the era—as opposed to systematic transatlantic slave trade—where most of the slaves were formed by being captured from the enemy frontlines or battlefield as per the norms of the war at the time.
In fact, Muslim empires encouraged slaves to reach higher echelons of academia and administration, become jurists/Muftis and judges and political advisors (become advisors to wazirs and sultans). Rather, unlike the Judeo-Christian White west, Arab and the Muslim world in Asia witnessed slave dynasty Mamluk empires. Put simply, the slave ownership, let alone slave trading, as much as it was discouraged under the Islamic legal Quranic maxim of “Fa Tahrīro Raqabah” (translated as “to emancipate and set free a neck ie a slave” at any given opportunity of misconduct), the slave masters had additional responsibility—in additional to overall slaves’ welfare—of ensuring for slave’s education and faith upbringing. Countless slaves from non-Muslim territories (following becoming prisoners of war in the battlefield as per norms of the Middle Age era) were repeatedly seen to be freed, often on converting to Islam or for recognising their service.
To the contrary, the modern 18-19th century Enlightenment industrial revolution era’s Afro-Caribbean black slaves in Americas—majority of who were forcefully enslaved through kidnapping and random trafficking by collaborators in times of peace—were seldom freed despite converting to the faith of their white supremacist slave-owning masters.
Put simply, when white colonial and slave-legacy war crimes-committing western countries couldn’t find anything else to whitewash their crimes, when the west couldn’t find anything else to whitewash war crimes committed through illegal wars or wash away the sins of backing a settler colonial apartheid states like erstwhile white-ruled South Africa and current Israel—the latter a Eurocentric settler-supremacist state that is backed by western supplied fighter jets for indiscriminate bombing over Palestinian civilians including children and babies—they are now using “gay-washing,” “homo-washing,” and “pride-washing” of their white supremacist superiority complex-driven heinous past and existing war crime-racist attitude that is inherently rooted in their White DNA, save for sizeable grassroots level white activist communities, albeit the latter is often suppressed or marginalised by the prominent ruling establishment and even shunned by progressive white academics. That is even before looking at the millions of undocumented so-called “illegal” migrants in the west, notably EU, US and UK combined, roaming around without a shelter to live at or leading slave-like lives.
In fact in many cases, offering help to undocumented migrants help or place to stay can be deemed to be a criminal act. This is not helped by the fact that many Ukrainian women and children, sadly and despicably, have all but become slave-like objects for those likely to belong to affluent middle class middle-age white men and women alike in Western Europe and North America.
To sum up, poorly treated migrants and migrant exploitation in the Middle East certainly needs addressing but that deserves a consistent and sincere approach, not by the double standards of the west and thus use it as “migrant rights-washing” of the west’s ongoing war crimes or backing war crimes-ridden settler apartheid and autocratic states, or worse, use the plight of poor migrant workers in Qatar and the Middle East out of bigotry and Islamophobia as it seems to be in the case here by targeting Qatar. More importantly, the west would only be in position to lecture others on migrant rights when it does away with its politically constructed migrant-pushback border security where most of the legal routes for migrants are all but shut, and subsequently removes exclusivity of workers’ rights and labour laws, which in practice until now, is only reserved for legal migrants.