With all eyes on Qatar, we are all reminded of our values as humans and Catholics – free expression, equality, human rights, democracy. The World Cup has laid Qatar’s atrocious human rights record before the world, and has made it plain to all just how theocratic regimes threaten the expression of our values.
It is tragically unsurprising, that Qatar is one of 13 countries that maintain the death penalty for ‘blasphemy’ or ‘apostasy’. The others include Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Nigeria, and the United Arab Emirates. In Qatar, the expression of core human principles is brutally repressed, and it is illegal to advocate secularism or a separation of religion and state. In short, it is impossible to be openly human in Qatar, just as it is impossible to be openly gay or bisexual.
We were moved by the profound silence from the Iranian men’s football team during their national anthem. Since 16 September, the Iranian regime has killed over 230 women, men, and children protesting against the killing of Mahsa Amini, the mandatory hijab law, and the brutality committed by the religious dictatorship. Their silence was a historic moment for football, for sport, and for the #WomenLifeFreedom movement. During the England and Iran game, our Vice President, Shaparak Khorsandi, featured on the BBC World at One Show, outlining the bravery and significance of their protest. The former professional basketball player, John Amaechi, similarly made a statement at the outset of the World Cup.
We were equally saddened, as we’re sure you were, by the decision of football officials to disallow the One Love Rainbow armband from being worn by the England and Wales teams.
As so often, those known from the struggles for liberation in our own country’s past provide wise words for the world today. The Victorian humanist Lady Florence Dixie, first President of the British Ladies Football Club, who fought bravely against religious oppression, for human rights in all spheres of life, and for equality in football, said:
‘Religion says this is the law of God; I say it is that of man. Superstition declares it to be a divine ordinance; I maintain it is a barbaric one. Superstition and barbaric law go hand in hand. It is the former which creates the latter.’
Words as true now as they were then, and as true in Iran and Qatar as they are everywhere.