Qatar will never be like us – and that is not wrong



Jacob Hoekman, RD

Photo RD

Thousands killed in stadium construction. Workers treated miserably. A poor record on freedom of expression. No equal rights for the LGBT community. Women disadvantaged. A corrupt clique of administrators.

The list of primarily Western criticisms of Qatar is almost endless. It has become an "us versus them schism" of global proportions. We, in the West, are on the morally right side. At the same time, they, in the Arabian desert, have understood little of it - unless they adopt our postmodern liberal values. The difference from the colonial mindset of a century ago is not significant when viewed this way.

Us vs them

Journalist Jakob Hoekman researches history to find answers to difficult questions related to the news.

And that's not even mentioning all the criticism. What is ignored by the secular press is the position of Christians in Qatar. Especially the tiny community of local Qatari Christians is having a tough time. They are rejected by their families and chased by the government. Becoming a Christian is a form of social suicide for a Qatari Muslim.

In short, plenty of criticism can be levelled at Qatar, and rightly so. The leaders of the peninsula in the Arabian Gulf, led by Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, will no doubt have been scratching their heads over the past few months. All things considered, was it really such a good idea to host the World Cup now? After all, it has cost billions and billions of euros and, in the end, it seems impossible to satisfy the critics.


Yet the question does not let itself be stopped whether all this criticism carries the same weight. At least two cultural-historical reasons can be given for why Qatar should be allowed to shrug off some of the criticism.

The first is the hypocrisy that lies beneath much of the criticism. Qatar needs to change, and now. Yet, at the same time, the West is happy to do business with the peninsula. The United States, the United Kingdom, and other European countries have signed extensive arms deals with Qatar. The emirate is also badly needed for gas now that Russian pipelines are no longer a viable option.

Furthermore, criticism of human rights in Qatar by the United States, for example, apparently goes hand in hand with not taking those same human rights too seriously oneself. The US prison Guantanomo Bay in Cuba and the waterboarding of prisoners are not substantially different from the exploitation of workers.

And speaking of corruption, Western politicians were happy to be feted by Qatar's sheikhs. David Mundell, a British MP, accepted gifts and trips from Qatar worth a total of nearly £7.5 million.

So Qatar is not the pariah it now appears to be. The West itself accepted the country as a serious partner in global politics much earlier.

In any case, it was partly the West that ensured Qatar could host the World Cup in a shadowy and corruption-ridden process. Therefore, accusations of corruption and bribery should not be addressed first and foremost to Qatar but to the deeply corrupted FIFA. This soccer association has shown its darkest side in this whole process.


Long story short, the West does not have a clear conscience in its criticism of Qatar. But that is not all. The second reason why Qatar should not take all criticism seriously goes deeper. It lies in the belief that Qatar does not need to become a copy of Western countries. In the well-founded view, Qatar is allowed to go its own developmental course in people's history.

In what is this view grounded? For example, in the moral pluralism that characterises Abraham Kuyper's thinking. Many orthodox Christians think exclusively: only the Christian faith is true, which has consequences for the position of other cultures. Other Christians, on the contrary, believe according to the mould of secular liberalism. That says everyone should think liberal, including people in other countries and cultures. However, they will not do so, as is evident in Qatar.

The late Dutch theologian Kuyper offered a way out of that impasse: that of Christian pluralism, in which more sounds are allowed to be heard side by side - even the Islamic sound, and even if it goes against the democratic ideal. Kuyper thus offers, as it were, a window through which we can look at the multicoloured reality. Making room for pluriformity. For other colours, smells, shapes and tastes than we are used to and appreciate.

Of course, that does not mean that the truth content of those other views is the same. Some things are still just plain wrong. Racism, for example, or exploitation of employees.

With the Bible as a norm, there needs to be little discussion about this. What it means is that the freedom we enjoy to shape our lives is reciprocal and applies to other cultures as well.

Finger pointing

In this regard, Qatar's well-known scholar Nayef bin Nahar hit the nail on the head last week when he was momentarily fed up with the selective outrage against his country. "I don't know when Westerners will realise that their values are not universal," he wrote on Twitter. "But let us not forget that the West is not the spokesperson for humanity." This is not a pleasant reminder, but one that may save one from being too dramatically liberal.

This article was translated by and published by the Reformatorisch Dagblad on November 26th.



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