Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Boris eulogizes poet-jailing Qatar

[Originally posted at NOW]

No day is a good day to pen a thousand words of uncritical praise for a violently repressive theocracy, but London mayor Boris Johnson’s decision to do just that in yesterday’s Telegraph was timed even worse than it might otherwise have been. Scarcely had the ink of his parodically rose-tinted tribute dried than a Qatari court sentenced another luckless soul to medieval punishment for crimes against the Almighty; in this case 40 lashes for imbibing the illicit Dionysian harvest. One wonders whether – as with Salam Fayyad’s resignation and the Obama visit – the authorities were putting off the announcement until his plane had safely left the tarmac.

Boris, of course, has his own history of moral policing on the alcohol question, but he’s convinced there’s far more common ground to be found than that. “There is so much we can offer [to Qatar], so many ways to build on this partnership,” he tells us. “We have more friends than we sometimes imagine.”

Which is certainly more than could be said by, e.g., Muhammad Ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami, the Qatari poet sentenced to life imprisonment last November (later reduced to 15 years) for a poem deemed an act of incitement against the regime (it expressed admiration for the Tunisian revolution), who might conceivably expect some support from a nation claiming to value democracy and free speech.

Johnson – tipped, don’t forget, as a possible future prime minister – might also consider his “partnership” (or lack thereof) with the Arab world’s liberals and secularists, who at every turn are seeing their courageous efforts at combating tyranny knocked back by the Doha-sponsored Muslim Brotherhood, if not (as in Bahrain) by the thugs of the al-Thani regime itself. Women, too, deserve better than to have the barbaric practice of (often forced) polygamy shrugged off as a mere “traditional” eccentricity, as harmless as falconing and camel racing.

Of course, Johnson’s dilemma is obvious: Britain is poor; Qatar is the richest country on earth. The man is simply in no position to lecture what is already one of his city’s largest investors. His article is ultimately, then, a testament not to the endearing qualities of the “natives” (a word he actually uses) but rather to Britain’s frightening subservience to them, and the profoundly troubling consequences of their transformation from colonial protectorate to imperial potentate.

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