'Hypocrite reader – my twin – my brother!'
Exactly a century ago, the English modernist poet Thomas Stearns Eliot wrote The Waste Land. He structured the poem as a collection of fragmented dramatic monologues, "a heap of broken images." Waking up from the horror of the Great War, no total picture of life was available to him. He reflected on the fragmentary ruins of Europe with symptoms of death all around. For him, the once-great civilisation was dying and was guilty of ennui – a personification of apathy and inactivity.
He found his fellow creatures blooming like lilacs on a graveyard who were not willing to endure the pains and efforts needed for a change. In one of the most memorable lines, Eliot quotes the French poet Charles Baudelaire to warn his readers not to think of themselves as morally superior to others. We all have our flaws, and we all have contributed to the breakdown of the system. He ends the first section by stating, "Hypocrite reader – my twin – my brother!"
I mention The Waste Land to reflect on the West and its hypocrisy that we have all witnessed in recent weeks. Thanks largely to the Western media, the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar has been in the eye of the storm.
Ever since the Gulf state won the bid to host the biggest show on Earth, the massive moral industry has been finding faults in the way it is organising the event. Traditional "football fortresses like Barcelona and Berlin are turning their backs on the World Cup" while "Germany, Spain, France and Belgium are refusing to show any World Cup games" (Daily Mail). BBC has relegated the live-streaming to a red button option. Why? They accuse the Qatari government of bribing FIFA for getting the nomination in the first place, of using migrant workers to build the infrastructure ever since the nomination, leading to the death of over 6,500 people, and of maintaining the death penalty for homosexuality.
Gianni Infantino, the president of the international football association, lashed out against the West for their hypocrisy, reminding his fellow brothers that "for what we Europeans have been doing for the last 3,000 years, we should apologise for the next 3,000 years before starting to give moral lessons to people." Infantino reminded the press that the Western business companies who operated in Qatar had done nothing to improve the quality of the migrant workers' lives.
Western governments have continued to procure natural gas and oil from Qatar while their media outlets unleashed their political and moral bombast on human rights. Qatar's track record in exploiting its migrant workers is no different from many parts of the world. A law enacted in 2017 to protect workers has helped little to stem the rot. Then again, when we hear that many of the construction projects were implemented by non-Qatari firms, Infantino scores a point. The expat consultants receive attractive pay packages with relocation and tax-free benefits. In contrast, migrant workers from Bangladesh, India, Nepal or Sri Lanka have to pay for their recruitment. Those in white collar jobs had the choice of doing something for the ones in blue collars. Our hypocritical brothers did not speak then. And they are not asking their fellow friends to hold their tongues either.
For a country like Bangladesh, which depends a lot on its migrant workers for remittance, the gala event offered an opportunity when Qatar spent over USD 229 billion to build its infrastructure. The big question will be how to reengage these workers who might be redundant now that this construction mania is over. Will the West intervene? Very unlikely so. It is the same West that lectures us on the plight of the displaced Rohingyas in the refugee camps and has no qualms over the floating migrants in the Mediterranean. As for the LGBTQ issue, only 33 countries have legalised same-sex marriage. Why single out a nation, then?
Now that the event has tabled all its major teams, football is finally taking the centre stage. We have already seen some major upsets where former champions like Argentina and Germany have tasted defeat to their Asian counterparts. This is a perfect response to the Eurocentric and Orientalist languages that we have experienced.
"The desert World Cup," according to BBC, is "blighted by a dust storm of controversy." Another British tabloid headlined, "Grunting camels outside England's Qatar HQ leave team facing sleepless nights." Earlier, another news report complained that the event in Qatar "robbed us of a summer of football." A German TV complained about the carbon footprints due to the number of air conditioners and flights bringing in visitors for the games.
Ironically, Europe depends a lot on the energy supply from Gulf states – including Qatar – to withstand the winter of discontent that is looming large due to the Russia-Ukraine war. Yet, the underlying tone of Europe has been you cannot buy everything, not "our" football. They probably forget that this is not UEFA; the World Cup is international. In the opening ceremony, Morgan Freeman, who narrated the segment "The Calling," rightly reminded the crowd, "We gather here as one big tribe and Earth is the tent we all live in."
We need a long soul-searching to set our moral standards for us, for our twins, and for our brothers (and sisters).
Dr Shamsad Mortuza is a professor of English at Dhaka University.