US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken recently spoke out against a ban on rainbow bracelets at the World Cup tournament in Qatar, which several European team captains intended to wear in support of of LGBTQ rights and against discrimination. Blinken marked the ban as “troubling” and a restriction on “freedom of expression.”
The secretary’s scolding came on the heels of another rather “troubling” event on the world stage: a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in the US state of Colorado that killed five people and injured 18 others. This, in a country that considers itself the global role model in terms of respect for free speech, human rights and all that good stuff, and yet where it is increasingly difficult for people to exercise their right not to be massacred in night clubs. , primary schools, places of worship, shopping malls, etc.
In 2016, the US witnessed its worst mass shooting in history when 50 people were killed in an attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
This year, an independent UN human rights expert found that LGBTQ rights in the US are “under concerted attack” and are being “deliberately undermined” by state governments. Add to this picture the institutionalized racism and discrimination that constitute “freedom” in the US, and it seems that US officials might have slightly more pressing matters to attend to on the home front than World Cup bracelets. .
Indeed, as host of this year’s World Cup, Qatar has come under intense US and European attacks over the issue of gay rights, as well as the exploitation of migrant workers (not to mention the apparent violation of the human right to drink beer in sports stadiums). After all, Orientalism refuses to die, and what better backdrop for liberation from repressed Western chauvinism than a soccer tournament in a veritable Middle Eastern desert, an enduring Orientalist symbol of Arab backwardness and resistance to progress?
The point of denouncing Western criticism is not to rudely assert that the Gulf emirate is categorically above reproach. It is, rather, to highlight the massive hypocrisy on display when countries that continue to commit more human rights abuses than Qatar could dream of decide to unilaterally give themselves the moral high ground.
It is like when the United States criticizes the oppressive behavior of the government in Cuba. The criticisms are not necessarily invalid in and of themselves, but they have zero moral traction given the US’s superior record of oppression, including its barbaric 60-year embargo on the island and its operation of an illegal prison and torture center. in the occupied Cuban territory. in Guantanamo Bay.
As the old saying goes, look in the mirror before judging others.
Navid Zarrinnal, a scholar of Iran and the Middle East at Stanford University in California, told me in an email that “Western supremacist attitudes and cultural imperialism” are on display at the World Cup, “disguised” as usual, as “defense”. for human rights”. This arrangement naturally makes it difficult for Western states and NGOs to “prioritize self-reflection over their savior anxieties.”
People who “parachute into Qatar to lecture them on gay rights,” Zarrinnal said, ignore the long history of homosexuality in the Arab world, which is “reflected in its poetry, visual art and social history.” He went on to describe how the Western powers, now with their footballers at the forefront, have reduced the landscape to a simplistic narrative of repression, the salvation of which depends entirely on whether Arab homosexuality can “mould itself into the same LGBTQ identities that they have in their own countries.” ”.
On the eve of the start of the World Cup, Gianni Infantino, the Italian president of FIFA, delivered a rambling speech that, despite a couple of condescending detours into Orientalism, delivered some valid jabs at Western hypocrisy: “I think that because of what we Europeans have been doing in the last 3,000 years, all over the world, we should be apologizing for the next 3,000 years before we start giving people moral lessons.”
He also criticized the selective reporting of the abuse of migrant workers in Qatar when Western companies had long been content to profit from working conditions in the country – which he said had improved considerably in the context of the World Cup. and when Europe itself, lethally xenophobic anti-migration policy, is to blame for thousands and thousands of refugee deaths in the Mediterranean Sea and beyond. (Of course, European racism and xenophobia can be selectively reduced in the interests of football; there weren’t many Brits complaining when 21-year-old British Nigerian footballer Bukayo Saka scored two of the goals in England’s World Cup opener. this year. )
As for what the United States has been doing around the world for much less than 3,000 years, this includes killing Native Americans, enslaving Black people, and serving as the architect of a global capitalist system based on gross inequality, the mass trampling of rights and submission of workers.
Even as the US violates everyone else’s borders to wreak military and economic havoc, it furiously enforces its own, a practice that, as in Europe, has made US-bound migration an often deadly undertaking. . Not that life is a peach for those successful border crossers, many of whom perform crucial services to the US economy and yet are drastically underpaid, demonized by society, and used as political scapegoats.
In other words, it’s all pretty “worrying,” to borrow Blinken’s term. Just as he worries that a country that has bombed countless human beings feels empowered to lecture on any subject related to human rights.
Writing recently in The Guardian, David Wearing, a professor at the University of Sussex and author of AngloArabia: Why Gulf Wealth Matters to Britain: observe that much of the discourse surrounding the current World Cup is fueled by “racist cartoons” pitting an enlightened West against a hopelessly uncivilized Middle East. This “selfish mythology,” Wearing notes, obscures regional history and legitimizes Western interference (civilized bombing, anyone?) – it also “externalizes and circumscribes blame for human rights abuses… while preserving a narcissistic sense of innocence.” western”.
Wearing concludes that the 2022 World Cup, far from being an “alien” phenomenon to the West, is in fact a “representative example of the world that Western power built”. And with stakeholders still up in arms over the tournament’s alleged contravention of Western values, it’s time to break that proverbial mirror.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.