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Double Standards of Dialogue: Hate Speech Against Arabs with the Onset of the 2022 World Cup

Updated: Nov 20, 2022

Arabs are no strangers to being the point of discrimination, ostracization, and hate speech. Whether we turn to how they have collectively been viewed as inferior or exotic by colonizers earlier in history or the current stereotypes that continue to associate them with terrorism, Arabs have long been on the receiving end of such prejudice. This manifests in a number of ways such as misleading headlines, selective news coverage, and inflammatory commentary. With the upcoming FIFA 2022 World Cup that is to be hosted by Qatar, this reality has become more emphasized than ever.

Qatar has become a point of controversy, particularly in Western media, with many citing its human rights record as a point of concern. However, it would be false to claim that such coverage has not been riddled with political agendas and ulterior motives to disparage Qatar as a state and nation beyond its human rights record. That is not to say that the dialogue on progressing human rights and the treatment of migrant workers is not a valid or necessary one, on the contrary, it is one that cannot afford to be weaponized by certain groups so they may capitalize on the hate. Qatar has been working on improving its record for years and recognizes that its effort must continue beyond the World Cup.

Major news outlets have led with the vague and misleading claim that 6,500 workers died building the World Cup Stadiums which originates from a 2021 article by Pete Pattisson for The Guardian. The article has since undergone several title and content edits changing many of its initial claims that sparked controversy. Disinformation that manifests through articles such as these has been at the forefront of the campaign against Qatar, much of which has been outlined by Marc Owen Jones, an Associate Professor at Hamad Bin Khalifa University. The latest example of an attempt to condemn Qatar through disinformation comes from a false claim that Qatar has bribed Ecuador to lose the opening game sourced back to a single tweet by an uncredited Twitter user by major sports news outlets such as A24 and BeFootball. It is not unsurprising to see how quickly false information travels when the subject at hand fits into the global trend of defaming Qatar as it prepares to host the World Cup. We are reminded just how easily the importance of authenticity and legitimacy is disregarded in journalism when doing so fits a certain group's agenda.

It is important to recognize, as well, that the campaign against Qatar hosting the World Cup is one fuelled by arguments targeting a wider subject, the Arab world. Several stereotypes have formed over the years concerning Arabs and the Middle East, particularly their culture and one of the many religions the region pertains to, Islam. These false conclusions have come to include arguments that Muslim Arabs promote a religion of violence and an inherent culture of oppression. The World Cup has been held across countries on five different continents and where cultural differences were once a source of exchange and excitement, they have become weaponized as a justification for criticism and harsh judgment. Many of the arguments against Qatar hosting the World Cup depart from the concern over human rights entirely and instead target features of Arab culture and life that are largely misunderstood and painfully generalized. As Palestinian scholar, Edward Said wrote in his work, Orientalism, “In newsreels or news photos, the Arab is always shown in large numbers. No individuality, no personal characteristics or experiences. Most of the pictures represent mass rage and misery, or irrational (hence hopelessly eccentric) gestures. Lurking behind all of these images is the menace of jihad. Consequence: a fear that the Muslims (or Arabs) will take over the world.”.

In October 2022, French newspaper Le Canard Enchaîné published the following cartoon which depicts the Qatari football team in an offensive matter.

This has not been the first time, nor will it be the last, that Western media has drawn on discriminatory ideals to portray Arabs or their faith in such a light. This has been the case with the Charlie Hebdo cartoons in 2012, the Israeli Regime's Foreign Ministry Cartoon in 2017, a New York Post cartoon published that same year and many more. What lessons on progressive values and morality is the Arab world thus expected to draw from the voices eagerly waiting to discipline it in such vile ways?

Qatar hosting the 2022 World Cup reminds us of a truth the world must confront; dialogue for development cannot and should not be polarized. Dialogue is not a form of communication moving bidirectionally between two sides nor is it an argument to be won. For Arabs, every headline counts. They are a people who remain perceived, unfairly by many, as being unable to represent themselves and whose words carry half the value of those around them. Football may be a unifying force helping to clear the false stereotypes and beliefs the world maintains about Arabs. However, Arabs should not have to be associated with an intermediary so they may be respected and met with understanding. They should not have to rely on being perceived strictly through the lens and on the terms of others to be told they are progressive or moral. The world needs to reconsider its approach to representation, cultural differences, and dialogue and the 2022 World Cup being hosted by Qatar has served, and will continue to, as a great testament to this necessity.

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