Qatar at the U.N.: Quran Burning Not ‘an Example of Freedom of Expression’

Hezbollah supporters chant slogans as they burn representations of the Swedish flag during a rally denouncing the desecration of the Quran after Friday prayers in the southern Beirut suburb of Dahiyeh, Lebanon, Friday, July 21, 2023. Muslim-majority nations expressed outrage Friday at the desecration of the Islamic holy book in …
AP Photo/Bilal Hussein

Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, the emir of Qatar, used most of his address to the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Tuesday for boilerplate about sustainable development, rising levels of income inequality, and calls for other nations to resolve their differences through negotiation rather than war. 

The extraordinary moments came when al-Thani declared his passionate support for the Palestinians against the Israeli “occupiers,” whom he accused of implementing an “apartheid” system, and his tirade against “idiots” who burn the Quran.

The emir began with condolences to the people of Morocco and Libya who are suffering from devastating earthquakes and floods, respectively, before musing that for much of the developed world, “unprecedented” and “accelerating” modern progress is like something from a science-fiction novel.

“The average life expectancy and the standard of living for the majority of humanity have risen. However, this was coupled with an increase in the rates of poverty and unemployment, not to mention there is growing awareness of the lack of justice in wealth distribution, and the dire consequences on the environment,” he said.

Al-Thani is indisputably qualified to discuss income inequality. The Qatari royal family has a net worth of about $335 billion, which it has spent on luxuries such as a mega-palace covered in gold and festooned with multimillion-dollar works of art. The emir himself owns one of the world’s largest super-yachts. When members of the royal family decide to travel by air, they have not just their own private airplane, but their own private airline.

Al-Thani criticized developed countries for “guarding their borders against the influx of refugees — as if the people on this Earth live in two different eras.”

Qatar is notoriously abusive of migrant workers, including those conscripted into the construction of facilities for the 2022 World Cup soccer tournament, which the emir touted as a shining example of international cooperation and sportsmanship.

The emir called for “unity” among world governments to “prevent the misuse of cyberspace,” touting the Doha Web Summit scheduled for February 2024 as a “very important opportunity to review developments in the field of technology, and to renew cooperation opportunities in the field of technology for the benefit of humanity as a whole.”

Later in his speech, al-Thani likewise promoted the Qatar Horticultural Expo to be held next month as an opportunity for international cooperation on the environment. He also boasted of Qatar as a lynchpin of regional democracy, highlighting his country’s involvement in rapprochements between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and between Egypt and Turkey.

Al-Thani held up the Palestinians as the premier example of a suffering people in the world today, although later he also mentioned the humanitarian tragedy unleashed by factional warfare in Sudan, the hardships of Lebanese forced to live under a virtually non-functional government, poverty and hunger in Afghanistan, and the ongoing misery “sustained by the fraternal people of Syria.”

“It is unacceptable for the Palestinian people to continue to languish under the yoke and the intransigence of the Israeli occupation,” he declared, castigating “consecutive Israeli governments” for rejecting a “just political solution.”

Al-Thani said the “inaction” of the international community has “given the Israelis an opportunity to undermine the pillars of the ‘two-state solution,’ to the extent that the occupation has become tantamount to a brazen and conspicuous apartheid system in the 21st Century.”

“Israel responds to Arab peace and normalization initiatives with more nationalist and ultra-orthodox intransigence and extremism that is reflected in government coalitions and further settlement expansion, in addition to the Judaization of Jerusalem, attacks on the holy sites, and using heavy-handed and draconian measures against the people in Gaza,” he charged.

Al-Thani lamented that the “war in Europe drags on” and said the Russia-Ukraine conflict is “consuming Europe in its entirety.” He did not particularly criticize the Russian invaders for this, instead accusing “major international blocs engaging directly or indirectly in the war” for keeping the conflict “raging indefinitely.”

“Based on the harm that has befallen the peoples of the two countries and the peoples of the world, and because this status quo cannot be accepted, we reiterate our call on all parties to comply with the United Nations Charter and international law, respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states, and resort to radical peaceful solution that is based on these principles,” he said.

Al-Thani reserved his most heated remarks, after his tirade against Israel, for Westerners burning the Quran under free speech protections. He portrayed Quran burning as one of the most contemptible expressions of “racism” and “incitement against entire peoples, religions, and civilizations.”

The emir advised his Muslim brethren not to “get distracted by an idiot or a bigot whenever it occurs to him to provoke us by burning the Quran, or by other forms of triviality.”

“The Quran is too holy to be desecrated by a witless person,” he said.

However, al-Thani also rejected the notion that Western free speech principles should protect such provocative actions.

“Compromising the sanctity of others deliberately should not be seen as an example of the freedom of expression,” he declared.


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