Whe success of the campaigns against human rights violations in Qatar will only be seen later, when everyone is no longer watching the emirate as intently as before and during the World Cup. But one can already see a discrepancy in the perceptions caused by the mere term “human rights violation” in European countries on the one hand and Arab countries on the other. In Europe, the use of the word is seen as a moral and political duty owed to one’s own self-respect, as an ongoing affirmation of one’s self-image as an advocate of universally applicable values - especially when one is, as in the governing bodies of FIFA and in the European Parliament must admit their own corruptibility.
In Arab countries, on the other hand, the term was now widely understood as an ideological expression of the West’s continued will to dominate, as a resentful rejection of even those cultures that have prospered after colonialism and are now also demanding global recognition. “It’s a method of keeping the upper hand in the game,” the Guardian quoted a Qatari businessman as saying. In the pan-Arab jubilation about the football successes of Morocco and Saudi Arabia, often accompanied by political symbols such as Palestinian flags and sneering hand-to-mouth gestures directed at Germany, satisfaction seemed to resonate that this kind of soft power of the West had reached its limit.
When human rights mean nothing
The West usually gives little thought to the divergent perceptions that can also be observed in other campaigns against human rights violations in non-Western countries. It is usually attributed merely to the transparent strategies of autocratic regimes and ruthless profiteers who cite cultural or geopolitical reasons for their unwillingness to change their unjust and oppressive practices. But the question is why the cultural argument resonates with large sections of the population of non-Western countries, often even with sections that would have every reason to resort to a universal law against the arbitrariness to which they are subjected. And why are even some of those who are actively fighting oppression in their countries so little used to the concept of human rights?
As much as these questions are underestimated, so much depends on them for the realization of what is meant by human rights. In a speech at the London School of Economics, the former Secretary General of Amnesty International, the Indian activist Salil Shetty, spoke of the great task of “decolonizing” human rights. After all the decades that have passed since the United Nations’ “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” in 1948, he drew a mixed balance. It was possible to set up a sophisticated international system of norms that includes the protection of refugees as well as respect for the rights of indigenous peoples. Slowly but surely, long-running battles like the one against the death penalty are being won globally. But for a fair number of people in the non-Western world, human rights meant nothing. In India, for example, educated people who eulogize India’s progressive constitution would, in the same breath, speak out against “human rights.”