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Western media criticism of World Cup host Qatar ‘old orientalism refashioned for modern audience’

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ABU DHABI, UAE: People gather to watch the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 from giant screens at Al Hudayriat beach in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates on November 30, 2022. (Mohammed Zarandah - Anadolu Agency)
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Dec 01, 2022 - 01:15 AM

ISTANBUL (AA) – As Qatar makes history as the first Muslim country to host the FIFA World Cup, the language of Western media outlets about the tournament is being criticized as racist, Islamophobic, and orientalist.

Western criticisms of Qatar are “not about human rights, and the inconsistency is very clear. It is the old orientalism which was refashioned for a modern audience,” political scientist Muhammad Jalal, a lecturer and host of the Thinking Muslim podcast, told Anadolu Agency.

“Some of the old orientalist tropes have been wheeled out time and time again in the media. Arabs and Muslims are depicted as only being useful for producing oil and spending lavish amounts of money in Western capitals,” he said.

Touching on the negative effect of Western media narratives on Muslims, Jalal said: “If you have the press constantly describing you as thieves, as terrorists, as murderers, as people who don’t have the basic qualities of civilization that Europeans have, then over time the European public would see you in this one-dimensional way.”

Stories for perception management

Jalal called most of media headlines about Qatar “manipulative,” highlighting the cover of French satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine showing Qatari footballers as terrorists holding guns in their hands.

He said that this is a kind of hate speech, one often seen in the French press, adding that such stories are run for the purpose of perception management.

Almost half of the newspaper headlines were about topics other than football, he added.

Citing a pre-tournament survey in the UK, Jalal said that around 62% of British public thought Qatar should be prevented from hosting the World Cup simply because of its stance on LGBT issues.

‘World Cup becomes event to impose European culture, values’

Jalal said the World Cup turned into an opportunity to try to impose European culture and values rather than a sporting event, mentioning a British fan who tried to enter the stadium in a crusader costume.

He said: “Talk TV, which is a right-leaning British channel here, said: ‘What a brave man! He’s gone out to Qatar and now he’s showing them English spirit.’ It’s unacceptable.”

He explained that the crusader knight outfit evokes the 11th century occupation of Jerusalem.

“You wouldn’t get any Arab or Muslim who come to Britain on a tourist visa or come to Britain or come to support a team and denigrate the culture and history of those people, but for the Brits and for the Europeans, it’s perfectly acceptable to behave in such a way,” he added.

Migrant workers

He said that there is some truth in the criticisms directed at Qatar over migrant workers, but added that the figures of workers who lost their lives during the construction of the stadium are misleading.

Some 6,500 migrant workers from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, India, and Bangladesh are said to have died. This is accepted as the figure by most outlets.

He stressed that those 6,500 non-Qataris were from a wide range of professions, including doctors, educators, and workers, citing work by Marc Owen Jones, who teaches Middle East studies at Qatar Hamad Bin Khalifa University.

Touching on the BBC broadcasting a program that criticized Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers, ban on the LGBT community, and corruption in FIFA instead of the World Cup opening ceremony, Jalal stressed the BBC previously broadcast similar events in Russia and China live.

He said: “Up to 2 million Uyghurs are currently based in so-called retraining camps (in China), which we will call genocide camps, yet during the (2022) Winter Olympics there was not much discussion (of that) at all.”

Around four years ago, during the 2018 World Cup, Jalal said there were many reasons to talk about the real human rights violations of host country Russia, but not a single criticism was heard.

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