Qatar was most unwise in its choice of Muslim proselytizers to invite. Zakir Naik, who was given pride of place, is wanted in his native India for hate speech and money laundering; he is now forced to be a peripatetic preacher because, should he return to India, he will be put on trial. Writes Hugh Fitzgerald
While the soccer matches in Doha were exciting, especially the final with Argentinian Lionel Messi rising to the occasion — his last — in other ways Qatar’s big moment on the world stage was a devastating failure. Both Qatar’s attempts at proselytizing for Islam, and its failure to provide, as promised, world-class facilities for visitors, were distinctly off-putting. More on this can be found here: “Qatari Islamization of the World Cup Backfires,” by Hany Ghoraba, Algemeiner, December 22, 2022:
While fans will remember the 22nd World Cup as one of the best final matches in tournament history, the games also will be remembered as the most controversial.
The controversies have nothing to do with anything that took place in a match. Unlike any other World Cup, the host country, Qatar, used the global spotlight to proselytize visiting soccer fans, media, and others.
Some of the most controversial radical Islamist preachers were present, including Indian televangelist Zakir Naik. Naik, who is wanted by Indian authorities for money laundering and hate speech, traveled to Qatar despite issuing a 2021 fatwa that said professional football is haram, or prohibited. He reportedly gave religious lectures and posed for pictures with Islamist missionaries from around the world.
“If [Osama] bin Laden is fighting the enemies of Islam, I am for him,” Naik said in 2006. “If he is terrorizing America, the biggest terrorist, I am with him. Every Muslim should be a terrorist.”
Qatar was most unwise in its choice of Muslim proselytizers to invite. Zakir Naik, who was given pride of place, is wanted in his native India for hate speech and money laundering; he is now forced to be a peripatetic preacher because, should he return to India, he will be put on trial. Zakir Naik is also on record as supporting Osama bin Laden, and insisting that “every Muslim should be a terrorist.” This is the man who was given a warm welcome by Qatar at the World Cup games. This did not sit well with those who knew Zakir Naik’s history.
Naik’s presence was just one example of Cup fans being subjected to religious indoctrination.
The Qatari Ministry of Awqaf (Endowments) and Islamic Affairs set up a pavilion to introduce Islam to visiting World Cup fans. The government also gathered a multinational group of preachers to introduce visitors of Qatar to Islam and persuade them to convert, a short video published by Al Jazeera shows.
The elaborate pavilion, where a team of proselytizers stood ready to offer lessons in Islam to fans, did not appear to have a great success, but it was not for want of trying.
A Mexican national team fan was videotaped converting to Islam.
That lone Mexican fan appears to constitute the only Qatari success at proselytizing during the games, for had there been others, one can be sure they would have been videotaped and posted on social media.
Beyond the preaching, Qatar’s conservative ideology generated another controversy for fans and vendors. It banned alcohol sales at the games, breaking a promise made before the tournament.
“I’ve been to several World Cups and it is the first time that not even in the stadiums, they will serve beer. I think it’s a bit bad because, for me, beer and football go hand in hand,” said Portugal fan Federico Ferraz.
As a result, Budweiser is seeking $47 million from FIFA, the international football body. Budweiser has sponsored FIFA competitions since 1986, and has never encountered sales restrictions before.
Before the Games began, Qatar had pledged not to allow its adherence to Islam to affect the running of the Games. Foreign women would not, for example, be forced to wear hijabs, and that pledge was kept. So Qatar’s ban on alcohol – affecting mainly the sale of beer at the stadiums — certainly came as a shock to Budweiser, which has been one of the Games’ sponsors for the past nine World Cup Games; it will now be seeking to recover tens of millions of dollars from FIFA.
Attempts to spotlight Islam also suffered from the attention given to allegations of corruption and to Qatar’s infrastructure failures. Despite spending as much as $300 billion in infrastructure and stadium construction, Qatar hardly delivered the promises it made when it was awarded the games in 2010.
In 2010, Qatar had promised world-class accommodations for the more than one million visitors who were expected to attend in 2022; the actual number was 1.4 million from all over the world. But Qatar’s accommodations fell far short of what had been promised.
Visitors complained about the quality of the fan villages and zones due to a lack of adequate or affordable hotels. Fan villages and fan zones are designated areas full of tents for visiting fans for accommodation and celebration. Many ended up staying in tents or shipping containers which lacked adequate sanitary facilities.
Media reports revealed that more than 6,500 foreign workers died during the construction of the new facilities, further tainting Qatar’s organization of the tournament. Other workers were kept in appalling conditions, crammed in unhygienic dwellings. Many were not paid by the Qatari government….
The 6,500 migrant workmen who died while building the infrastructure for the games have been repeatedly mentioned in all the stories about the games in Qatar. The wretched conditions under which they labored, with 14-hour days and, in summer, temperatures that went as high as 120 degrees Fahrenheit, the insalubrious and filthy dormitories in which those workers were stuffed – all this became part of the story of the 2022 World Cup games, much to Qatar’s chagrin. It has for so many decades mistreated its army of foreign workers without any consequences that it hardly expected these 6,500 “expendables” to become front-page news.
Even as the games in Doha were going on, the European Parliament passed a resolution that reflected its deep unhappiness with the choice of Qatar as host. That measure stated – too late to affect the choice of 2022’s host — that international sporting events should “should not be awarded to countries in which fundamental and human rights are violated, and where systematic gender-based violence is prevalent.” It was clear that Qatar was the prime example of a country that met both criteria, as it both violated “fundamental and human rights” and engaged in “systematic gender-based violence.” Rich little, nasty little Qatar was held up for international scorn and contempt.
In addition, the resolution called for “full investigations into the deaths of migrant workers in the country and to compensate to families in cases where workers died as a result of their working conditions.”
The families of the 6,500 dead workers deserve compensation; a minimum figure of $400 million USD has been mentioned; that amount may go higher. Will Qatar at long last offer a modicum of decency, or will it try to brazen it out, and stick to its current claim that “only 400-500 workers” died, and refuse to permit any outside investigation of the workers’ deaths?
Qatar suffered another black eye when several popular singers refused to perform at the Cup. Dua Lipa denied even considering the idea. “I look forward to visiting Qatar when it has fulfilled all the human rights pledges it made when it won the right to host the World Cup,” she said.
Rod Stewart said he rejected a $1 million offer to perform.
Qatar has discovered that it can’t buy everyone. Celebrated singers turned down huge payments to express their own disapproval of Qatar’s mistreatment of workers, women, and homosexuals, and made sure everyone knew it. Another slap in Doha’s face.
Morocco became the first African country to advance to the Cup semi-finals, defeating Portugal and Canada and tying Spain to get there. Qatari media celebrated the Moroccan victories as a “Victory for all Arabs.” And Qatar’s ruler, Prince Tamim Bin Hamad, broke protocol by waving a flag and cheering the Moroccan team’s win over Spain.
Moroccan fans chanted the Islamic Shahada, “There is no God but God and Muhammad is his prophet,” during the Dec. 14 match against France.
France won, 2-0. Apparently chanting the Shahada wasn’t enough to bring victory to those Moroccans.
After Sunday’s final, Prince Tamim placed the Arabian traditional cloak “Bisht” on Argentinian captain Lionel Messi before he raised the World Cup. Qatari and Islamist journalists, including the Muslim Brotherhood’s Ahmed Mansour, hailed it as a victory for Arabic traditions.
Prince Tamim himself wrapped Lionel Messi, in his moment of triumph, in an Arabian “Bisht” – a black ceremonial cloak akin to an abaya, so that he would appear before the world as embracing Arabic traditions, though Messi had neither asked for, nor wanted, such a garment. It was an outrageous way to appropriate the Argentinian victory, or try to, for the Arabs. Western journalists were appalled. “The bizarre act that ruined the greatest moment in World Cup history” read the headline from the British newspaper, The Telegraph. “Absolutely grim” declared the headline on Fox Sports, and “disgraceful” read Yahoo Sports. Mark Ogden, a senior ESPN journalist wrote that “all the pics are ruined by somebody making him wear a cape that looks like he’s about to have a haircut.”
Despite the broken promises and blatant human rights violations during the World Cup, Qatar still has apologists trying to convince people the country lived up to the games’ ideals.
The World Cup is “proof, actually, of how sports diplomacy can achieve a historical transformation of a country with reforms that inspired the Arab world,” Greek MEP Eva Kaili and ex European Parliament vice president said last month.
Kaili was charged by Belgian investigators last week for allegedly receiving bribes from Qatar. Sources say that €150,000 was found in her apartment. She was voted out of the European Parliament and her assets were frozen by Greek authorities. Belgium and the European Parliament opened an investigation this week into other members who may have been bribed by the Qatari government.
Kaili, who praised the World Cup event in Qatar, turns out to be one of the bought-and-paid-for fixers in the European Parliament whose support Qatar bought with enormous sums of cash; she’s now been kicked out of the EP, her assets frozen, and she almost certainly is now facing a prison sentence for corruption. And there are dozens of others in the European Parliament now being investigated for having been on Qatar’s payroll, including one deputy in whose apartment 600,000 Euros were found.
Qatar condemned the Belgian and European investigations on Sunday and warned that they could impact diplomatic relations and its supply of natural gas to these countries.
Qatar has just made matters even worse for itself. With a genius in reverse for public relations, it has condemned the investigations into those it managed to corrupt and threatened to withhold natural gas from the European countries now looking into its malodorous machinations.
Hosting an Islamized version of the World Cup only helped to focus a spotlight on Qatar’s grave human rights violations. It certainly failed to assist the small Arabian Gulf state improve its global image.
Qatar’s official post-mortem on the World Cup is that everything went off splendidly. But not in the eyes of anyone outside the Arab and Muslim countries. Qatar was shown up as a wicked simon-legree of the Arab Gulf, responsible for the deaths of 6,500 migrant workers who built the World Cup stadiums, for which it denied responsibility. It was intent on using the Games as a venue for attempts to proselytize, bringing in such preachers as Zakir Naik, a wanted man in India, and setting up pavilions with teams of proselytizers who in the end apparently had to be content, out of 1.4 million visitors to the Games, with persuading a single Mexican fan to convert. Famous singers turned down huge sums offered by Qatar, in order to express their disapproval of the country, publicly embarrassing the Al-Thani family. The final blow to Qatar’s image is the investigation, that is just getting started, into that country’s campaign to corrupt many members of the European Parliament. Qatar’s attempt to blackmail the EP from continuing its investigation, by warning it could withhold deliveries of gas, has only made matters much, much worse.