The moment FIFA tweeted “FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, will be a celebration of unity and diversity” to commemorate the start of Pride Month, the football governing body was all set to get deservedly schooled. Qatar is one of 13 countries where homosexuality can be punishable by death. All of these states are Muslim-majority and incorporate Islamic sharia in their penal code to implement barbaric punishments for ‘crimes’ that are fundamental rights in most parts of the world.
As a result, where businesses in the west are quick to showcase their progressive side by rallying behind Pride Month, similar expressions of the same companies are conspicuous by their absences in the Middle East and the broader Muslim world. Raising the pride flag or not, hence, is a marketing call depending on whether it would increase, or decrease sales. It is, therefore, barefaced commodification of the plight of the LGBT persons, one of the few communities that still face death by virtue of their identity well into the 21st century.
While homophobia largely prevails across canonical texts, especially the Abrahamic scriptures, other religious communities have looked to incrementally incorporate LGBT rights over the past 11 years since the United Nations issued its first report on gay rights. Pope Francis, for example, has supported same-sex unions despite the Catholic doctrine condemning homosexuality. The Muslim-majority countries outlawing homosexuality, for instance, do so using the Quran’s derision of “the people of Lut” and criminalization of “illicit sex,” and Muhammad’s sayings which establish death for those who ‘do what people of Lut did’. These Muslim-majority states aren’t getting any closer towards undoing their violent homophobia, and it is evident that they’re under no pressure to begin recognizing the LGBT as human beings, let alone championing their long-denied rights.
FIFA is only the latest organization to succumb to Islamic homophobia. There are countless examples in sports alone where there’s been surrender to gory homophobia in the Muslim world, or at best tokenism that doesn’t herald any actual change in these states.
As admirable as Formula One drivers Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel wearing rainbow helmets in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and UAE last year was, such gestures alone won’t do anything to protect the LGBT persons in these countries facing flogging and death for being themselves. Clearly, sporting bodies aren’t ready to stand up for LGBT rights the same way they do against discrimination on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, or sex, the condemnations for which are unmistakably scribed in all sporting codes.
Instead, when Paris Saint Germaine’s Senegalese star Idrissa Gueye refuses to wear the rainbow colours in the French football league, he is individually reprimanded by the sporting federation. Gueye is expected to challenge the violent homophobia in his country, loudly backed by Senegal President Macky Sall when the highest body in the sport that he plays cannot do the same with Qatar or indeed Russia. Because of course, it is infinitely easier to target individuals — granted for problematic homophobia that should be rooted out sooner rather than later—than take on the mighty states where this homophobia is violently codified.
The global entertainment industry has demonstrated similar cowardice when it comes to standing up to the progressive values that they so vocally espouse in the West for fear of losing out their homophobic audiences. Disney, for instance, has taken a stand against legislations deemed anti-LGBT in the US, while censoring LGBT content to cater to homophobia in countries like Russia, China, and of course the abovementioned Middle Eastern and Muslim-majority states. From Warner Bros. to Marvel Studio, the grandest film banners in the world, have capitulated in front of murderous homophobia. Amazon Prime has even censored Indian LGBT romance in the Middle East.
And while we have recently seen a stand being taken by Disney over scenes in Doctor Strange 2 that feature LGBT characters, refusal to bow down to homophobic regimes needs to be a consistent policy, if the pride exhibited by these brands in June, and their rallying for LGBT rights in places where it is much easier to do so, is to be taken sincerely.
Whether it’s sporting bodies or entertainment industry giants, if they cannot consistently support LGBT rights around the world, owing to the contrasting challenges different parts pose, they should at least not commodify LGBT plight by cashing in on progressive narratives where it’s lucrative to do so. And those claiming to stand for LGBT rights need to first and foremost challenge the most grotesque forms of homophobia around the world, with its Islamist rendition actually endangering lives in the Muslim world.