Zakir Naik in FIFA World Cup: Why Europe and Qatar Should Stop Lecturing India on Trade Relations and Religious Tolerance

“Today I have very strong feelings. Today I feel Qatari. Today I feel Arab. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel disabled. Today I feel a migrant worker. I feel like them because I know what it feels like to be discriminated, to be bullied as a foreigner in a country. At school I was bullied because I had red hair and freckles.”

These words of wisdom were part of FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s opening statements as he addressed the media on the eve of the World Cup in Qatar. This speech was a bizarre and cringe-worthy attempt at defending FIFA’s decision to host one of its most significant events in a country known for its terror-sponsorship and human rights violations.

From Qatar Charity being one of Al-Qaeda’s several sources of funding to sponsoring Al-Nusra front in Syria and from members of Qatar’s royal family running a safe house for the founder of Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the predecessor to ISIS, to Qatar being the biggest donor to Hamas, Qatar’s contribution to global terrorism is not news for anybody.

Qatar is also under scrutiny for the working conditions of migrant workers dubbed ‘modern-day slavery’ for their inadequate wages and unfair trials. As per a Guardian report, more than 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have died in Qatar since it won the right to host the World Cup more than a decade ago. Qatari laws discriminate against women and LGBT people with flogging and death penalty being a norm for blasphemy and apostasy.

Exhibiting its commitment to sponsoring the terror agenda, Qatar has decided to host the Indian fugitive radical Islamic preacher Zakir Naik, not only as a spectator, but also as a speaker to give sermons to the audience throughout the tournament. Zakir Naik is known for spreading hate propaganda and creating communal rifts in the society through his inflammatory speeches. He is wanted in India for hate speech, money-laundering and terror links. In 2016, he defected to Malaysia, where he was again banned in 2019 for racial hate speech against Hindus and Malay Chinese. Qatar earlier summoned an Indian envoy to explain the controversial remarks by an Indian leader in the name of “respect” for all religions; however, inviting a known hate-speech propagandist as a dignitary during FIFA World Cup nothing but showcases its glaring hypocrisy on the world stage.

What it also showcases is the fact that the Western world’s supposed commitment to human rights and liberal values takes a back seat when the commercial interests take the wheel. European powers questioned Indian dignitaries over India’s trade relations with Russia citing the latter’s human rights record, both domestically and globally. At the same time, Europe is not only buying gas from Russia but is also cozying up to Qatar where human rights record and terror links are as bright as day.

With a proven resource of 23.8 trillion cubic metres, Qatar has the second-largest gas reserve in the world behind Russia, making it a major player in the global gas market. The Ukraine War has severely impacted the Russian Gas supplies to Europe. Now, winter is coming. Is FIFA World Cup 2022 a botched attempt at whitewashing Qatar’s image on the world stage, to justify its trade relations with Europe?

The FIFA president, having a complicated relationship with words, added these insights to his address, he said, “I don’t have to defend Qatar, I’m defending football and injustice. We see here many government representatives coming to Qatar. They all come because a country which has just sand and pearls turns out to have something much more, it’s gas. If there was no gas nobody would care. Now they all come and they all want something and who is actually caring about the workers. Who? FIFA does, the World Cup does and, to be fair to them, Qatar does as well.”

The delegation offices of the European Union were inaugurated in Doha in September 2022 which allowed the EU to designate a chief of mission and an ambassador in Qatar with the intention of developing long-term strategic agreements. France’s Total Energy signed a cooperation agreement with Qatar Energy for $1.5 billion, making it the largest stakeholder of Qatar’s North Field. Germany followed a similar route, establishing a long-term energy cooperation with Qatar, diversifying its energy supply.

Moreover, Qatar has signed the 27-year-long natural gas supply deal with China, making it the world’s longest gas supply deal in history, which could be another reason Europe is struggling to cover-up for Qatar’s sins. It is a part of QatarEnergy’s North Field expansion plan that will ramp up Qatar’s liquefaction capacity to 126 million tons per year by 2027 from 77 million.

It will potentially make it easier for Europe to buy Russian gas through China without appearing to buy Russian gas at face value. “If Europe is buying LNG from China, then yes, potentially some of it may be Russian, if it’s mixed in particular,” Anna Mikulska from the Centre for Energy Studies at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy said, “I do not believe there are any rules of content origin — in the end it is still an issue of displacement of volumes really”, she added.

Despite their horrendous human rights record, Europe has the legal right to purchase gas from Russia or Qatar or both to fulfil its energy needs; similarly, with all its draconian laws and terror-sponsorship, Qatar, as a sovereign nation, has the right to host a radical Islamist hate preacher on its soil, but the least Europe and Qatar can do is stop lecturing India on the issues of trade relations and religious tolerance.

The author takes special interest in history, culture and geopolitics. He is a proponent of religious reform and identifies himself as “an Indic Muslim exploring Vedic knowledge and cultural heritage through music”. When he is not writing columns, he enjoys playing drums and performing raps. Views expressed are personal.

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