If there is one photograph that explains the power of this year's soccer World Cup held in the emirate of Qatar, it is this photo on Instagram of the country's leader, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani shaking hands with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. Two years ago, this kind of meeting would not have been possible and within it lie endless possibilities.
What politics and diplomacy seldom can achieve, cinema, culture and sports often manage effortlessly.
Well respected MSNBC Opinion Columnist and Host Ayman Mohyeldin, who was born in Egypt, published a wonderful op-ed piece on Western double standards when it comes to Arab nations. He followed up his article with tweets about how the BBC didn't air the World Cup stunning opening ceremony from Doha, and yet just nine months ago had no qualms about airing the Winter Olympics opening ceremony from China -- one of the biggest human rights violators in the world when it comes to Muslim minorities. I shall refrain from mentioning how some journalists are languishing in jails around the so-called civilized world simply for telling an inconvenient truth. Can everyone say Julian Assange?
What really brought this media slight home for me was a certain film journalist who for years worked in the MENA region, getting a fat paycheck to write sloppily for the most part, and who recently posted the hashtag #NotMyWorldCup on his Facebook profile page -- and proceeded to badmouth Qatar for its alleged abuses and the way the country is run. It is always interesting how far money will travel to shut a person up and when that river of cash from the Arab world has run dry, suddenly they find their own very self righteous voice, proclaiming they know it all, and best. You can bet that the next time said journo is invited to Doha, all expenses paid to cover some event there, he'll sing the praises of the country and shut up his critics by once again reiterating "I know it best, I lived in the Middle East for many years."
The opening ceremony of the World Cup in Qatar featured brilliant performances and even Mr. God himself, Morgan Freeman. But if you wish to watch it in London, for example, the video is geo-blocked because, well it turns out the same countries that accuse Qatar of human rights violations and censorship are censoring what we can view of the Arab world. And goodness forbid if the images coming from Qatar are positive and not some poverty porn of the Region, which is what is celebrated in the news and even at film festivals around Europe. Oh, and if you try to read up about the ceremony, the articles headlines in UK publications range from calling the event "cliche bingo" to denouncing a "dour start" to Qatar's World Cup. How's that for biased?
Week after week we watch players who hail from Muslim backgrounds like Liverpool's Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané, Manchester United's Paul Pogba, Arsenal's Mesut Özil, Chelsea's N'Golo Kanté and Kurt Zouma, and not to forget Manchester City's Riyad Mahrez. And their fans don't discriminate on where they come from and what god they worship -- all they care about is how well they represent their beloved team and what goals they achieve.
And the only reason the "persecution of LGBTQ" angle has faded in the coverage from the last 24 hours is because in the US we experienced a horrific crime, directed at the gay community and now talking about it will only force some to come to terms that when it comes to human rights, there are no good guys and bad guys. Sometimes government get it right, and sometimes they don't. War in Iraq, anyone?
Performers at the beautiful ceremony included South Korean singer Jung Kook of BTS and Morgan Freeman, narrating the opening ceremony alongside FIFA World Cup Ambassador and Qatari YouTube star Ghanim Al Muftah. “We gather here as one big tribe,” the American actor said. By the looks of MENA fans celebrating in the streets of the Souk Waqif, the tournament is off to a great start. And holds the best promise for bringing together the world, through soccer (or football, however you wish to call it). Oh, and by the way, the only fans disappointed by the absence of alcohol around the stadiums are those who usually drink too much and end up causing mayhem at games both at home and abroad. And they come from the same countries as those protesting the human rights violations. You draw your own conclusion...
Slated to perform for the World Cup in the next few weeks are American music producers Diplo and Calvin Harris, Jamaican rapper Sean Paul, and British electronic band Clean Bandit, with artists reported to appear in Qatar during the run of the World Cup including American hip-hop group the Black Eyed Peas, Colombian reggaeton star J Balvin, and English singer Robbie Williams, among many others.
If you find a link to the opening ceremony that can be watched in the UK, please send it to me. I'll share it here. Because MIME doesn't censor coolness.