The non-stop coverage of the men's football World Cup in Qatar provides a unique global occasion to witness what Islamisation looks like, albeit on a temporary scale. We can also see how confused the de-Christianised West is. The event gives Christians an opportunity to reflect on how to witness in such a cultural climate.
LGBT focus prioritises self-expression
Press coverage has focussed overwhelmingly on the LGBT rights controversy, mainly because post-Christian Western countries have made LGBT rights the symbol of human rights and Western values. There was a huge backlash after James Cleverly, the Foreign Secretary, said that LGBT fans needed to respect Qatari norms by refraining from public displays of affection. He later explained his words as 'safety messaging'.
It is evident that the LGBT focus is linked to grounding human rights in self-expression. Expressing whatever we feel our true selves to be is a fundamental human right, according to the current secular consensus. This is what lay at the heart of some Wales fans' disappointment with the initial ban on wearing rainbow hats in the stadium. The restriction was lifted for Wales v Iran last week. This came after the fiasco about One Love armbands for players.
The 'One Love' armbands controversy
In September, the Emir of Qatar told the UN that "the Qatari people will receive with open arms football fans from all walks of life". Then thirteen European football teams signed up to the campaign to allow players to wear 'One Love' armbands against discrimination at the World Cup. The armband featured a heart with rainbow colours to protest physical punishments for homosexual behaviour in Qatar. This contravened FIFA's rules, which do not allow teams to wear their own armbands for the World Cup.
Two months later the football associations involved revealed that they had dropped plans for players to wear the armband. The reason given was FIFA's threat of sporting sanctions in the form of yellow cards. FIFA released a statement insisting that players could only wear armbands provided by FIFA.
Sham marriage of convenience shown up
It may be that Qatar is playing bait-and-switch about allowing public support of LGBT rights. In the West, the LGBT movement and Islamic movements historically gravitate towards the hard left politically, as this suits their common opposition against Christianity and historic Christian norms. They do not have anything positive in common. Their strategy amounts to 'my enemy's enemy is my friend'.
This World Cup has exposed their political marriage of convenience as the sham marriage that it really is. One minute, Western pro-LGBT fans are disappointed with restrictions. The next, they are elated to have them lifted. They are pawns in the hand of Qatar either way. In reality, allowing football fans to wear rainbow hats is a way of shutting up wider Western critics of Islam, who include Christians. As we shall see, there are lots of things to be concerned about when it comes to Islamic norms in Qatar.
Cruel punishments for sexual sin
Qatar permits cruel punishments for adultery and homosexual behaviour, under Islamic law. Unmarried women can be jailed for giving birth to a baby outside marriage. It is significant however that Western media focuses exclusively on the LGBT angle, and that's because self-expression is more important for it.
The reluctance in the West to discuss precisely the problem with the harsh punishment for adultery is indicative of a post-Christian society, for it is Jesus who mitigated this aspect of Old Testament law. Islam brought it back. Perhaps the tacit problem is that in the post-Christian West, adultery is too often considered an acceptable form of self-expression, thus making it harder to make a credible stand against the sheer meanness involved here.
Qatar is notorious for religious intolerance. Open Doors explains that Qatar 'does not officially recognise conversion from Islam'. In line with this, Christians from a Muslim background are not allowed to marry non-Muslims. Christians cannot worship freely; churches have not been allowed to open again since the end of the pandemic. It is instructive that the press has not given Christians a microphone to shout about the appalling lack of religious freedom and free speech in Qatar.
Israeli fans are not allowed to have cooked kosher food or say Jewish prayers at the World Cup, despite previous promises to the contrary. This is typical of how Qatar has played bait-and-switch with the non-Muslim world. Some have started to complain that Qatar is running the World Cup instead of FIFA, rather than merely hosting it.
'No alcohol' but lots of hypocrisy
Two days before the start of the World Cup, Qatar banned beer from the stadiums. Whilst this appears to have been welcomed by some Wales fans, it is important to realise that the ultimate reason is not health and safety, but enforcement of Islamic norms.
However, the New York Times reported that beer was allowed in 'luxury suites' reserved for FIFA officials. Meanwhile it is worth noting how quickly the BBC changed its coverage of the issue, seemingly adapting it so as not to offend Islamic norms. Initially on 18 November it reported on Wales fans being angry about the ban. By 27 November it had a headline saying 'Wales fans drunk on atmosphere', interviewing fans who welcomed the ban, 'embraced the traditions and culture' and wanted to go back as tourists.
FIFA boss: Europeans should 'apologise for 3,000 years'
The Italian head of FIFA had a very strange outburst three weeks ago, where he said that Europeans 'should apologise for the next 3,000 years', having supposedly been engaged in colonialism for the last 3,000 years. In fact, European colonialism only started in the 1600s, so what could he possibly have meant? The World Cup is really under the control of Qatar, which backs the Muslim Brotherhood, and that Qatar shelters the Hamas leadership. The Muslim Brotherhood has as its aim the Islamisation of Western countries by stealth. The Hamas leadership wants to destroy Israel. Islam cannot tolerate non-Muslim (Jewish or Christian) sovereignty in the Holy Land, and this is why it denies the right of the modern state of Israel to exist.
England supporters dressed as Crusaders
Equally significant but only slightly less cryptic has been the treatment of a small number of England fans dressed up as St George-style Crusaders. This is a tradition for some England fans. Qatar prevented them from entering the stadium – for a match against the USA. The reason given by FIFA was that 'Crusader costumes in the Arab context can be offensive against Muslims'. The anti-Islamophobia charity Tell MAMA equivocated about this, seeming to admit that it was harmless buffoonery. Kick It Out, an anti-discrimination charity, attacked these fans more strongly. It is telling that it gets funding from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, UEFA, Premier League, Church Urban and Twitter!
In reality it is disingenuous for Qatar to take offence at these costumes. Qatar was never attacked by Crusaders. In addition, the Crusaders eventually lost the Holy Land to the Islamic empire of the Mamluk Turks, retreating permanently in 1291. Qatar could simply have laughed off these supporters as ridiculously ignorant, their costumes misplaced – even more so in a match against the USA.
Deceit in the press about the Crusades
Following on from this, many news sites in the UK have printed highly misleading comments in their reporting of this story. For example LBC wrote this:
"Crusader costumes will be controversial in Qatar with the best-known Crusaders taking place between 1095 and 1291 when Christian armies fought to seize Jerusalem from Islamic State."
It is true that Jerusalem was ruled by an Islamic empire in the 11th century. Islamic armies had captured Jerusalem from legitimate Christian Byzantine rule in the late 7th century. However the regime that ruled Jerusalem in 1095 was not called 'Islamic State'. That term is a modern term used by the modern terrorist movement of that name operating in Syria and the Levant. Why is its name being echoed here?
The Crusades were at root defensive wars led by the Papacy and many European political leaders to free the Holy Land from Islamic control, and to free its Christian inhabitants. All the events from the Islamic capture of Jerusalem onwards would have motivated Christians to be vigilant. The Islamic imperialists quickly went from conquering Jerusalem in the 7th century to invading Christian Europe. They invaded parts of southern France and conquered most of Spain and Portugal in the early 8th century, as well as Sicily and Malta.
Weaponising sports for psychological warfare
Here is the problem with the Islamic world casting the Crusades as wars of aggression and colonialism rather than the defensive wars they really were. It is a way of saying that Christian nations have no moral right to defend themselves from being forcibly Islamised. In the context of the world's biggest sporting event, this is a major problem, for international sports exist in a spirit of temporarily setting aside differences for the purpose of peaceful competition.
Instead sport has been weaponised for psychological warfare. Deception and bait-and-switch tactics have been the weapons of choice. In the face of this, for Westerners to wail about rainbow hats and 'One Love' armbands is narrow, naive and self-righteous. Strong Muslims are not going to listen to beliefs merely based on self-expression, as they have no authority higher than the self.
Western weakness on show
The temporary Islamisation of the World Cup by Qatar is unmistakable. The responses of Western influencers have been contradictory, confusing and alternately defiant or compliant. This merely shows up the massive insecurity of Western societies that have rejected Christian ethical norms as too restrictive, only to be played like violins by the host country.
The world's Christians have a major apologetic opportunity with this World Cup to illustrate the differences between Christianity and Islam on the social level. Let's make sure that we take it.
Dr Carys Moseley is a policy researcher for Christian Concern.