Much has been written in recent weeks about the world cup, the moral status of Qatar as a state, and the forms of protest that footballing teams ought to adopt. It seems relatively self-evident to some, that alleged Human Rights abuses from the suppression of women’s rights to laws outlawing homosexuality ought to be opposed and condemned.
The logic behind this seemingly self-evident stance is as follows: moral sincerity requires that one is not participant in supporting or even appearing to condone immoral practices. Alas, boycotting the world cup entirely seems to be a hard ask, and so spurned on by commentators and critics from Gary Lineker to Joe Lycett, the news cycle has been dominated by discussions about the moral inadequacy of the Middle East, and the strategies that should be adopted by Qatar’s guests to make clear the magnitude of visitors’ disapproval.
Much like the conversation following the disparate European treatment of Ukrainian refugees in comparison to Syrians fleeing war, more reasoned voices have pointed out the lucid hypocrisy accompanying this self-righteous approach. Whilst the Danish kits are toned down in protest at Qatar’s human rights record and their treatment of migrant workers, the conniving ‘jewellery law’ has been utilised in Denmark to seize assets from arriving refugees. Human rights and freedoms are of utmost importance of course unless you wish to wear a niqab or burqa in Denmark: following the ‘burqa ban’ of 2018 you will be made to pay a fine of 1000 kroner for your troubles.
All the indignation regarding Qatari treatment of migrant workers is hard to reconcile with the story last November of over 27 refugees who died in the English Channel, struggling for hours whilst English and French authorities argued over who was responsible for dealing with the emergency. Since then, hundreds more dinghies carrying refugees and asylum seekers have crossed the channel in incredibly unsafe conditions, whilst the UK government has provided over 166,000 visas to Ukrainian refugees. The Home Secretary Suella Braverman, seems only interested in actualising her callous ‘dream’ of seeing a plane taking off to Rwanda, carrying with it those who would seek refuge in the UK.
Pointing out these hypocrisies though does not really seem to get to the crux of the problem. Indeed, there are many – particularly from the political left – that are critical in both cases: two wrongs simply do not make a right and it remains possible to censure both what happens ‘here’ and what happens ‘there’. This point though fails to deal sufficiently with the air of superiority which is nauseatingly pervasive in Western assessments of the moral landscape in the Middle East.
In 1996, a then younger senator by the name of Joseph R. Biden Jr voted in favour of Bill Clinton’s Defence of Marriage Act, which sought to defend definitionally marriage as being constituent of a man and a woman, blocking federal recognition of same-sex marriages. As late as 2008, Biden was clear that neither him nor Barack Obama supported ‘redefining from a civil side what constitutes marriage.’ It was four years after Qatar was awarded the World Cup in 2010, that the first same-sex marriages took place in the UK.
But see the West has progressed. And in light of such progress, those adherent to a morality resonant with what might quite literally be called yesterday must catch up. The 18th century placement of the West at the forefront of humanity, ever progressing towards the apotheosis of human existence is a narrative that dies hard. The perdurance of that idea allows a Western visitor to a country over ‘there’, to demand that they catch up, and embellish themselves with the illuminated garb of progress.
When the US World Cup rolls around in about four years’ time, people may very well make mention of America’s less than infrequent bombing of thirty-odd countries since the end of the Second World War, and her various Human Rights abuses. But consider for instance, if football teams arrive donning armbands and customised shirts, implicitly demanding that American laws are reshaped to suit Asian or African sensibilities. Imagine they demand that for the duration of their stay, alcohol is not sold, football stadiums are gender segregated, and LGBT practices are discontinued, all with contemptuous mien, haughtiness, and arrogance. The awkwardness attached to imagining the shoe of the cultural critic on the Oriental or African foot, is what the ‘two wrongs do not make a right’ crowd have failed to deal with seriously.
There are tough questions to be asked. What right do Western commentators have to judge other cultures, and on what basis is this done? Why is it prima facie assumed that Western morality is superior to all others? What guarantees will the sanctimonious advocates of today’s morality give, that they will not call the rest of the world backward tomorrow for not adjusting to the moral zeitgeist of then? Is it so hard for these models of rectitude to realise that the enlightening promises of progress are for some instead a dismal invitation to relativism, instability, and purposelessness? And finally, why is it so hard for them to realise that the ephemeral sensibilities of the West are in fact not absolute?
With all of the above in mind, the decision of the BBC not to broadcast the opening ceremony of the World Cup is not only an overstep that a publicly funded broadcaster should not have made, but also a move which prevented potentially millions from viewing a message of coexistence in the world as recited from the Quran during the presentation: ‘We have made you into different nations and tribes, so that you may know one another’. Rather it seems that a decision was made, to opt for adherence to a narrative of cultural domination, where the ethics of the global metropole are exported and imposed on the rest of the world, ipso facto being considered as superior.
At the very least, this is the olive branch that ought to have been grasped.