Hafsa Kara-Mustapha says the blatantly anti-Arab and Muslim coverage of this World Cup by Western media is proof that no amount of ingratiating yourself to the West will change how it views Arabs – backward, uncivilised and dispensable.
Most articles criticising the blatantly racist coverage of the World Cup appear to start with the disclaimer: “While we recognise there are major problems with migrant workers living in Qatar…” Well not this one.
As journalistic integrity has slowly disappeared from the media landscape we have all become accustomed to viewing an item of news becoming real by mere virtue of repetition. It goes viral, is shared countless times and eventually becomes so engrained in our minds no one challenges it, or even attempts to understand the origins of this information.
In recent years whenever an article covering the rapid success of the Arab Gulf monarchies appears, it would have to include the supposedly appalling living conditions of labourers hailing from the Indian subcontinent or a story about a Philipino nurse being unfairly dismissed from her job.
Contrast that with articles on “Israel the start up nation” and note how in the financial pages no mention is ever made of the criminal treatment of Palestinians routinely shot dead by Israeli terror forces or the medieval siege conditions imposed on the Gaza Strip.
That of course would be “antisemitic” even if the entire creation of Israel, by Jewish settlers from Eastern Europe, was built on expropriated Palestinian land as opposed to oil resources naturally found in the depth of the Arabian deserts.
There is no doubt issues arise with workers in Qatar or anywhere else as they do on building sites or hospitals across Britain (hence the existence of employment tribunals), but this obsessive focus on workers in the Gulf reveals a more sinister motive, one designed to simply demonise yet another Arab Muslim country.
In the run up to the start of the World Cup reports were doing the rounds of at least 6,500 migrant workers dying since Qatar was awarded the tournament.
That figure is admittedly shocking but let’s look back at its origin and where it emerged from. It was the Guardian newspaper, a once working class championing media, turned corporate loving pro-Israel outlet, that first broadcast the astonishing numbers.
Beyond the headline we find that the figures were compiled from the numbers of deaths recorded in the embassies from which workers tend to come from ( India, Pakistan, Bangladesh etc…). While these figures cannot be disputed they would need to come with a context, i.e a clear explanation that these Indian or Pakistani nationals died as a direct result of poor working conditions. But they don’t.
The Guardian’s report merely states how many died over a period of 12 years. Though the headline mentions 6,500 migrants dying, further down in the article it appears 37 were linked to the construction of football stadia.
On my last visit to Qatar, those workers I interviewed all complained of the difficulties of living far from their loved ones but their main fear was not having their contracts renewed. At the time Dubai, prior to signing the Abraham accords with Israel, was the subject of demonisation, and talk of difficult working conditions for migrant workers was focused on the UAE.
In both these destinations workers told me they would happily return to either Qatar or the UAE as both their living conditions and salary were far better that what they could expect in their home countries.
Contrast these headlines with stats about the UK for instance. How many people seeking asylum in the UK have died since entering the country in 2010? Some will have died from accidents, illness or even self-harm while others will have simply died of old age.
Some 180,000 asylum seekers have arrived in Britain since 2010 so can we imagine 200, 500 or even 6,000 dying among them in the past decade? And if we ballpark the figure to its lowest estimate what effect would a headline stating: “200 asylum seekers have died in the UK” have?
Is Qatar next?
Reports on Qatar or indeed any other non-white non-Western country consistently project negative images of nations racked by violence and brutality. The neo-colonial mindset of the “brown savage” mistreating people is forever present in these media narratives while ensuring Western brutality is always packaged in a more palatable format.
This, in fact, is such a recurrent theme that it has become tiresome to even write about, yet again. The disgraceful coverage of Western media of Qatar has proved that despite the horrors of the war in Iraq, the unnecessary destruction of Libya, and the shameful demonisation of Afghan refugees (created as a direct result of Western politics), old racist habits die hard.
Regarding the death toll of migrant workers there is no doubt those from poorer backgrounds experience living conditions that impact their quality of life and in the long run their life span. England captain Harry Kane can afford a rainbow coloured Rolex to make a political stand while David Smith from The Aylesbury estate in Walworth South London will struggle to pay his electricity bill this winter. These types of disparities need to be exposed and rightly challenged wherever they take place, but disproportionate focus on those in the Arab world are discriminatory.
After all, how far would the money spent on a 12 day funeral for the Queen have gone in helping poor families now resorting to food banks in the UK? Shouldn’t it have been toned down in light of the living conditions of many Britons forced to make the difficult decision of eating or heating?
That said, while it is necessary to call out this normalised form of anti Arab racism which goes unchallenged it is of course also necessary to retain a critical eye on all governments and their actions. I see blatant anti Arab racism and feel the need to denounce it, but that does not make me blind to Qatar’s past crimes.
In 2011, Qatar devoted millions in collaborating with Western countries, and the warmongering organisation known as Nato, in destroying fellow Arab Muslim country Libya.
Like Qatar today, Libya had invested billions of its oil wealth in Western capitals as well as the development of major infrastructure in the country and across the African continent. Those billions were used to back countless projects in London, Paris, Brussels and elsewhere and were simply stolen from the Libyan people when UN resolution 1973, designed to impose a no fly zone on Benghazi, turned into regime change.
Perhaps what is more worrying is that this exaggerated demonisation of Qatar is starting to look eerily like the months that preceded the destruction of Libya. First the late Gaddafi was welcomed to Western capitals or was meeting a flurry of Western leaders only for him to become the object of a smear campaign that prepared public opinion for war on the once most prosperous African nation.
Over the past decade we have seen Sheikh Tamim of Qatar go on frenzied shopping sprees across Europe injecting much-needed funds into moribund football clubs and infrastructure projects. Are we being readied for regime change? Will we be looking at the destroyed football stadia of Doha in years to come as we witnessed the ruins of the Olympic villages of Sarajevo after the former Yugoslavia was engulfed in a sudden and brutal civil war?
Western economies rely heavily on wars to keep their military complexes going. While no longer keen on seeing their own dying in needless massacres, proxy wars and regime change operations have proven very lucrative over the years. With a major cost of living crisis plunging much of Europe in disarray let’s hope all this exaggerated virtue signalling is just that, and not an insidious conditioning of public opinion to support upcoming unrest in Qatar.
If that is the case, Qatar will have learned that no amount of ingratiating yourself to Westerners will change how it views Arabs: backward, uncivilised and above all whose lives are dispensable.