(May 29, 2015 / JNS)
In a normal world, it wouldn’t be Israel that is the target of a campaign for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions. The tiny Gulf emirate of Qatar is a far better candidate.
Why Qatar? There are many reasons. Let’s start with its internal system of governance. Although a smattering of ordinances inherited from the period of British rule remain in place, Qatar is a state based on Islamic sharia law. Practically, that means you can be stoned to death for blasphemy, apostasy and, of course, the paramount “crime” of homosexuality. And if you’re a non-Muslim about to fall in love with a Muslim in Qatar, don’t—such “illicit” sexual relations will result in your receiving several lashes.
About 2 million people live in Qatar, but only 10 percent of the population, at most, possess the rights accorded to full Qatari citizens. There’s a word for that, and it’s frequently applied, deceitfully and wrongly, to Israel. I’m talking about apartheid, of course. The term is far more accurate in the Qatari case because, as in South Africa during the bad old days, a wealthy, privileged, and enfranchised minority rules over a downtrodden, disenfranchised majority. The group that suffers most from this grotesque system are Qatar’s migrant workers, estimated at approximately 1.4 million, who come to the emirate to earn money for their families back in countries like Bangladesh and Nepal, and who end up, quite literally, as slaves in private houses or on construction sites.
There is, nonetheless, a twist. We know that other Gulf Arab states, most obviously Saudi Arabia, are similarly repressive. Unlike the Saudis, however, the Qatari royal family is extremely skilled when it comes to public relations and marketing, into which they’ve invested billions of dollars of revenue gleaned from their oil and natural gas exports.
As a result, many Westerners regard Qatar as an Arab version of Singapore: conservative and traditional, maybe, but also an economic powerhouse that fosters an entrepreneurial business culture. That false image is reinforced by Qatar’s global economic profile, which befits the world’s richest country on a per capita basis. Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, with assets of $256 billion, has bought up choice properties, companies, and financial institutions across the world. If you buy a Volkswagen car, if you shop at the Sainsbury’s supermarket chain or at the exclusive Harrods department store in the U.K., if you attend a soccer match involving the leading French club Paris St Germain (PSG), or if you bank with Credit Suisse, a good portion of your hard-earned cash will be going into Qatari coffers.
Indeed, anyone who watches soccer will be struck by how many top clubs, like Spain’s FC Barcelona, wear jerseys embossed with the Qatar Airways logo. Qatar also promotes itself through the grandly named Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, a “non-profit” that is entirely funded by the royal family. In America, the Qatar Foundation partners with the Weill-Cornell Medical College and has enabled several prominent international universities, among them Carnegie Mellon, Texas A&M, and University College London, to set up campuses in the Qatari capital, Doha.
But it is in the world of sport—and soccer in particular—that Qatar has established its dominance. Much of the slave labor in the country is used to build the stadiums for the 2022 World Cup that Qatar, for the moment anyway, is hosting.
Like Russia, which hosts the World Cup in 2018, Qatar was awarded the 2022 World Cup thanks to its bribery of key officials at FIFA, world soccer’s governing body. This week, 14 FIFA officials were indicted by the U.S. on corruption charges, many of them related to Qatar. Those officials will stand trial here because, in using American banks to carry out these illegal transactions, they broke American laws. In the coming months, we can expect an endless stream of stories that will underline just how FIFA has become the most corrupt organization in the world, and many of those will have Qatar at the center.
Now, therefore, is the time to say loudly and clearly that Qatar should be stripped of the 2022 World Cup. Other countries far better suited to hold such a competition, among them England, the United States, and Australia, had their bids dismissed simply because they are not in the bribery business. Handing the World Cup back to one of these democracies isn’t just the right thing to do in terms of morality—it will actually save lives. The International Trade Union Confederation, which diligently monitors the barbaric treatment of Qatar’s slaves, predicts that 4,000 migrant workers will have died by the time the first ball is kicked in 2022. Now, I love soccer, but the idea of watching a competition built upon a foundation of death and exploitation leaves me physically sick.
Just as sickening is the news that the callous Qataris refused to allow Nepalese migrant workers to return home after the recent devastating earthquake. Under the “kafala” labor system that operates in Qatar, employers seize the passports of their migrant workers, force them to work more than 12 hours a day in the searing heat, and then dump them in the squalid, unsanitary camps that pass for living quarters. Tek Bahadur Gurung, Nepal’s labor minister, recently revealed that his country had “requested all companies in Qatar to give their Nepalese workers special leave and pay for their air fare home. While workers in some sectors of the economy have been given this, those on World Cup construction sites are not being allowed to leave because of the pressure to complete projects on time. They have lost relatives and their homes and are enduring very difficult conditions in Qatar. This is adding to their suffering.”
You, dear readers, know what to do with Qatar. Boycott. Divest. Sanction. Tell your elected representatives that this nasty and oppressive little emirate should not be honored with sport’s most popular and lucrative competition. Tell Qatari representatives on social media (the Qatar Foundation’s handle on Twitter is @QF) exactly what you think of their slavery policy, and ask them whether their “community development programs” apply to the migrant workers living in that desert hell.
One final point of note: Qatar is the main financial backer of the Palestinian Islamist terror organization, Hamas. That truly is a match made in heaven.
Ben Cohen, senior editor of TheTower.org & The Tower Magazine, writes a weekly column for JNS.org on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics. His writings have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Haaretz, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. He is the author of “Some of My Best Friends: A Journey Through Twenty-First Century Antisemitism” (Edition Critic, 2014).
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