Ever since Qatar was announced as host twelve years ago, the 2022 FIFA World Cup has been subject to intense controversy. This is due to the country’s dire human rights record and the corruption scandal surrounding the awarding of hosting rights.
However, as the tournament unfolds, Qatar’s status as a fundamentally illiberal regime has increasingly become the elephant in the room. The deeply conservative country has claimed it is ready to welcome the world, but in practice, we have seen a succession of controversies that highlight significant differences in values between Qatar and the Western world.
As such, a debate has emerged within the West over whether observers have any legitimacy in criticizing Qatar over what many claim to be mere cultural differences. But many of the issues at stake in Qatar go far beyond what could be considered culture.
Qatar was entirely unprepared to host a major global sporting tournament upon being granted the hosting rights for the 2022 World Cup and thus required a huge amount of infrastructure construction. To facilitate this, Qatar brought back the worst elements of the kafala, or sponsorship-based employment system for foreign workers, despite the government’s previous assurances of reform.
Although the exact figure is debated, thousands of migrant workers have likely died in Qatar since 2010, when the country was announced as the host for the 2022 World Cup. Contractors subjected these workers to brutal conditions and confiscated their passports. Until 2018, the Qatari state would not allow migrant workers to return home without an exit visa. Furthermore contractors often delayed the payment of wages by several months.
The treatment of women and LGBTQ+ people in Qatar are further examples of the country’s abysmal human rights record. To this day, women remain tied to a male guardian and are forbidden from traveling, marrying, studying, or working many jobs without their guardian’s permission. For sexual activity between individuals of the same sex or even the mere suggestion of it, the penalty is up to seven years imprisonment.
Furthermore, freedom of expression is virtually nonexistent in Qatar, and this reality has only worsened in recent years. The Qatari regime jails activists and has detained journalists who have attempted to investigate the deaths of migrant workers. During the World Cup, the Qatari state has pressured FIFA to sanction teams and players who openly displayed support for the rights of LGBTQ+ people.
The idea of excusing Qatar’s terrible human rights abuses on the grounds of cultural differences is not only anti-liberty and anti-reason. It is disingenuous and utterly reprehensible. The Qatari government is ultimately responsible for its abusive actions.
Modern-day slavery is not culture. Rampant institutional homophobia and misogyny are not culture. These are serious issues that have no place in any society, not cultural differences that ought to be respected and held above criticism.
Considering something to be culture and abuse concurrently depending on where and when it is happening is an affront to the very concept of human rights. It is entirely inconsistent to argue that things that would normally be condemned should not be criticized merely because they are happening in another country.
Just because the persecution of women, LGBTQ+ people, journalists, activists, and many others is normalized and within the law in certain places does not make it any less immoral.
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