Shocking views of Qatari teacher who acted as Beckham's interpreter
‘Being gay is against human nature!’: Shocking views of Qatari teacher who acted as David Beckham’s interpreter in glossy promo film for World Cup host nation – as backlash grows over football legend’s £150m deal with the ultra-conservative state
- David Beckham will act as a global ambassador for world’s wealthiest state
- And wife Victoria will front a fancy fashion competition for young Arab designers
- Beckham described the tournament as a ‘force for good’, but reality contradicts
- Woman who starred in glossy video told the Daily Mail being gay is ‘not natural’
Gliding through Doha’s dazzlingly futuristic cityscape on Monday morning, in a limousine provided by the Qatari government, David Beckham might have allowed himself a self-satisfied smile.
Having secured an astonishing deal, reportedly worth £150 million over ten years, to act as a global ambassador for the wealthiest state on earth, he was there as the ‘face’ of the World Cup, which opens here — amid huge controversy — on November 20. Soon his wife, Victoria, will join him, lending her presence to a prestigious fashion competition for talented young Arab designers, chaired by her friend Sheikha Al- Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the sister of Qatar’s ruling emir.
Members of the Beckham family are also expected to arrive for the football tournament. They will see their father feted like a visiting statesman, his handsome face staring down from billboards across the city.
David Beckham sits with Madame Shams Al Qassabi (centre) and her daughter Eman (left)
On Monday, however, the former England captain had an appointment with a very different kind of ‘spice girl’: a 60-year-old woman whose homespun entrepreneurship has made her an icon for progressive women throughout the Middle East.
Some 20 years ago, when her husband prematurely retired as an oil executive, Madam Shams Al-Qassabi began mixing spices in her kitchen to bring in an income. Today she supplies the Qatari royal family, embassies and five-star hotels.
The walls of her café in Doha’s central marketplace (where she remains the only female trader) show photographs of her posing with Hollywood stars such as Tilda Swinton, model Jodie Kidd and other ex-footballers such as Chelsea’s John Terry.
A few weeks ago, when Beckham’s new paymasters released his first promotional film — a breezy, cheesy videoblog aimed at boosting Qatar as a stopover tourist destination — he just had to be seen eating a traditional breakfast cooked by the legendary Madam Shams.
Beckham is pictured on a glossy billboard in Doha, the capital of the world’s richest state
Unlikely as it seems, the avowedly metrosexual Becks — who has declared his pride in being called a ‘gay icon’ — struck up a rapport with the abaya-clad Qatari spice chef and this week he returned for another PR shoot.
A sweet little story, you might think. Just the sort of cross-cultural bonding that Beckham presumably envisaged when he said he hoped this World Cup would be ‘a force for good’.
But I shudder to imagine what the Beckhams’ liberal-minded friends — among them Sir Elton John, godfather to their sons Brooklyn and Romeo — would have made of the conversation I had this week with Madam Shams’ daughter, Eman.
Aged 35, she is a highly educated woman studying for a master’s degree at Ulster University (which runs courses in Qatar) while teaching in Doha’s children’s museum. She appears prominently in Beckham’s promo video, acting as his interpreter.
Telling me the story of her mother’s trailblazing emancipation with evident pride, she seemed to epitomise a new generation of enlightened Qataris: just the type of woman the emir and his clan purport to admire.
Meanwhile Victoria Beckham will front a prestigious fashion competition in the rich Gulf state
But when I asked if her liberal views extended to the LGBTQ community, whose state-sanctioned persecution is but one reason why Qatar is widely considered unfit to host the World Cup, Eman erupted.
‘No, that is not acceptable!’ she exclaimed. ‘It [homosexuality] goes against human nature, it goes against science and it goes against our culture! We are not animals here!
‘God has differentiated us from animals. God has created us as men and women. This only happens because people have been sexually abused (as children) and this has made them afraid of people of their own gender.’
I was lost for words. Yet there was more: she claimed Western countries such as Britain were out to tarnish Qatar. She then listed other nations that refuse to tolerate homosexuality — bizarrely naming Germany.
This, remember, was an otherwise sophisticated teacher who shapes the thinking of young Qataris; and the mother of five children. Her nauseating and deeply confused outburst reinforced the message from human rights groups: that gay football fans should steer clear of this World Cup, despite signals emanating from the emir’s palace that, for the tournament at least, there will be a degree of tolerance. Well, yes — up to a point.
People may not be arrested for showing the first signs of non-heterosexual behaviour, though who knows how the authorities might use the hi-tech surveillance system I was shown in the Nasa-like command centre that will monitor the eight World Cup stadiums?
People are pictured arriving at the Lusail Stadium on the outskirts of capital Doha, September
Nor are the white-robed, all-male Qatari police (the promised introduction of female officers has yet to happen) likely to risk causing an international scandal by raiding hotel rooms and fan-zones and dragging people away to be detained and beaten, as routinely happens when the eyes of the world are turned away.
And visiting gay supporters surely won’t be forced to attend Qatar’s sinister brainwashing courses, designed to ‘correct’ sexual orientation.
That, at least, is the view of Dr Nasser Mohamed, 35, a Qatari national who came out after ‘defecting’ to the United States, and this week published an open letter urging Beckham to speak out on this issue.
Already overstretched by the task of maintaining order among an expected 1.5 million fans, he says, the police won’t have the resources to target LGBTQ fans.
However, that doesn’t guarantee their safety, he says. Far from it.
For Qataris suspected of being gay or transgender are often attacked in the streets, with impunity. His advice to such supporters is to pretend they are straight.
What a tragedy that he feels the need to offer such advice at a major sporting event in 2022. As for Beckham, who has so far failed to respond publicly to the letter, his £150 million fee is effectively ‘blood money’, ‘Dr Nas’ believes.
Beckham meets Madame Shams Al Qassabi for breakfast in the Souk Wafiq, Qatar
‘A lot of people who get to his level of wealth [the Beckhams’ combined worth is estimated at approaching £380 million] want a sense of purpose — to leave the world a better place,’ he told me from his exiled home in San Francisco.
‘It’s disheartening to see that David Beckham, who is a global icon, isn’t doing that.’
Many, including his former Manchester United team-mate Eric Cantona, who has said he would never accept the Qatari riyal, would agree.
Yet one only needs to be in Qatar a short time to understand the symmetry between this wealth-obsessed outpost and the Beckhams (and make no mistake, Victoria is as in thrall to this homophobic emirate as her husband). . . and to see that, for all the former England captain’s lofty humanitarian pretensions, his union with Qatar is a marriage made in heaven.
Both are arrivistes. The story behind the inexorable rise of Brand Beckham, an empire now spanning fashion and beauty, sport and electric cars, not to mention the couple’s choreographed image rights, is well-known.
Less so that of Qatar. Barely 70 years ago, before the first spurts of oil began blackening the dunes, it was still an unloved British protectorate — a 100-mile strip of empty sand poking into the Persian Gulf.
Many of its 25,000 people led a nomadic existence; some risked their lives diving to the depths of the ocean to pluck pearls from oyster shells.
Today, Doha, around which all the World Cup’s stadiums have been built, is a megalopolis of breathtaking scale and ambition.
As dawn breaks and the merciless sun burns through the haze, its steel-and-glass towers shimmer like a desert mirage. Beside them London’s Docklands — now 50 per cent Qatari owned — would look like a Lego model. Almost all the 3 million population — some 90 per cent of whom are poor migrant workers — live in and around the capital, and the emirate is growing at an astonishing rate, eyed suspiciously by Saudi Arabia, the only country with which Qatar shares a border.
Meanwhile its insatiable sovereign wealth fund swallows up prime assets overseas: real estate, art collections, corporate entities, elite sports teams, cultural and educational institutions.
Now its multi-billionaire rulers have added David Beckham to their vast portfolio.
Every man has his price, as Sir Robert Walpole is reputed to have said, and richer men than Beckham, 47, would doubtless have been drawn in by the offer of £150 million. But why were the Qataris so eager to hire his services?
The immediate answer is that they see him as a clean-cut English gentleman and believe he will lend this besmirched tournament the one thing it lacks — an air of decency and fair play.
But they are looking far beyond the World Cup. Jealous of neighbouring Dubai, the go-to destination for European winter sunseekers, Qatar wants to emulate its success in tourism.
And who better than Beckham to enthuse about its cultural traditions (he is filmed marvelling at a display of desert falconry) and cuisine (‘everyone knows I’m a foodie’)?
The Qataris have clearly fallen for Beckham’s wholesome English image — several people have told me how impressed they were that he queued for hours to see the Queen lying in state — and think he can bring families flocking to the bazaars and beaches.
You only need to count the number of times he mentions Victoria and children in that carefully-scripted video to realise that he has been hired for his fatherly and husbandly appeal.
At the Al Wakra Souq Hotel, where the England team will stay during the tournament, one of Beckham’s many adorers — a Qatari businessman — told me he was even prepared to forgive him his 65 tattoos, though decorating one’s skin goes against Islamic teaching.
(The hotel, incidentally, is also making compromises for this World Cup. Converted in traditional Arab style from a huddle of fishermen’s houses, it will instal sound systems and gaming consoles in the players’ rooms, and this week, at the FA’s request, a swimming pool was hastily being dug.)
All of which might account for — but certainly not excuse — Beckham’s deafening omerta over the LGBTQ question.
But what, then, of Gary Neville, another of his former Manchester United cohorts, who was also revealed this week to have leapt into bed with the Qataris by signing a deal to be a World Cup pundit on its state-run sports channel?
In some ways, his sell-out seems still more contemptible, for this self-styled man-of-the-Mancunian-people wastes few opportunities to burnish his Leftward leanings.
Worse, Neville stands accused of hypocrisy on a matter about which he loudly protested just weeks ago while making a Sky documentary in Qatar: the conditions endured by those migrant workers.
They are recruited mainly from the Indian sub-continent, the Philippines and Africa, where the wages are even lower than the pittance they are paid in Qatar. Those I spoke to said they were receiving less than £20 a day. They are billeted in cell-like dorms, and made to work relentlessly in temperatures reaching 122F.
Risibly, official Qatari statistics show that just three workers have died while working on the stadiums and tournament-related infrastructure for this World Cup. However, a brilliant investigation by Mail on Sunday journalist Nick Harris has revealed that the deaths of 2,823 working-aged foreigners have been recorded as unexplained since the £6.5 billion building blitz began in 2011.
It is feared the true death toll for workers on tournament construction projects exceeds 6,000.
Yes, you read that correctly. Thousands of lives have been lost just so Qatar — where many prefer camel-racing to football — can, bask in global attention for one vainglorious month.
Before signing his lucrative deal, Neville seemed genuinely shocked by the accommodation allocated to these imported labourers.
Watching a team of Bangladeshi builders sweat and splutter in the dusty pit that will soon become the England team’s must-have swimming pool, I too felt angry and ashamed.
The feelings returned on Wednesday, when I toured the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, where England will play Wales. Its an undeniably impressive venue, though hearing boasts about its low carbon footprint as millions of barrels of Qatari oil befouled the planet seemed rather ironic.
I had been taken there by a Nepali Uber driver, who told me his friend, a construction worker, was electrocuted several years ago when a live cable fell into the sodden trench he was working in.
Outside the stadium, I met a 33-year-old Ghanaian tarmacking a jogging track encircling one of the training pitches — one of many last-minute tasks that must be completed before November 20, to show Qatar in the best light.
As sweat ran from beneath his blue hard-hat, he told me he’d been working on World Cup projects such as this for six years, saving a few pounds each week from his £400 monthly salary in the hope of one day being able to afford to marry his fiancée, whom he dearly missed.
He would like to watch one of Ghana’s matches in the tournament but is unsure if he’ll have the money or time to buy a ticket. He is given just one day off each week, Friday, and spends it sleeping.
His is a cruel, miserable existence, though he didn’t say as much. Rather, he was at pains to point out the generosity of many Qatari people, who fetch him food and water when he works near their houses.
Young men such as this are unlikely to feature in David Beckham’s future promotional videos.
Nor are the ‘unnatural’ members of Qatari society — no doubt tens of thousands of them — who live in fear of being spirited away to be beaten and brainwashed.
That this tiny Middle Eastern outpost, with its medieval outlook, could buy the right to stage the World Cup will go down as a travesty.
That two of England’s most esteemed and recognisable former players are lending a veneer of respectability to this audacious hijack compounds the iniquity.
But of course, when we switch on our TV sets later this autumn and the drama begins, all that may be forgotten.
A truism of which the cynical sheikhs, who are using this great sporting occasion to flaunt their vast wealth, and further their hunger for power and influence, will be all too aware.
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