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World Cup Qatar 2022: Transnational Solidarity, Palestine, and Anti-Muslim Bias 

Panel VIII-9, sponsored byArab American Studies Association, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Saturday, November 4 at 11:00 am

Panel Description
This panel discusses the Orientalist and anti-Muslim coverage of the 2022 Qatar World Cup in the Global north press set in the context of the multiple and intersecting solidarities that emerged during the games. It does so by surveying various media landscapes, and both localized and transnational experiences of sports coverage. Western media coverage, particularly Western European media coverage, of the tournament put its anti-Muslim and anti-Arab bias on full display. Media outlets, including the BBC, performed moral outrage at Qatar’s labor conditions for migrant workers, as well as its anti-LGBTQ policies and consternation about its alcohol ban at stadiums, while refusing to consider their own consistent practices of structural discrimination. This kind of coverage hypocritically locates exploitative migrant labor and anti-LGBTQ bias as conditions only found in Muslim majority societies abroad. At the same time, the 2022 World Cup elicited sentiments and displays of transnational Arab, African, and Muslim solidarities, including visual displays of solidarity with occupied Palestine and the revolutionary movement in Iran. Examining the cup through its postcolonial, geopolitical exigencies, this panel considers the implications of a World Cup held in the Persian Gulf, including debates around its petro-economies, labor conditions, and human rights records. It also investigates how the Qatar World Cup became a nucleus of transnational ethnic, religious, and geographic cohesion.       The first paper interrogates the ways Western media coverage of the World Cup deployed Orientalist and anti-Muslim discourses. The second presentation focuses on the Palestinian American community in Chicago and the political and affective implications of having a US-based Palestinian diasporic community witness such solidarity in the region for the first time on a huge, international platform. The third explores exhibits of Palestinian and Qatari artists hosted by Qatari cultural sites as part of the World Cup’s Qatar Creates promotion, including the Katara Qatar Museums Gallery and Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art. The final presentation investigates solidarity with the Moroccan team demonstrated by segments of the Global South and its diasporas, and how that was framed by various media sources. These presentations bring together perspectives of scholars in diasporic, Palestinian, and Islamophobia studies for an interdisciplinary discussion of media politics around the World Cup. 
Art/Art History
International Relations/Affairs
Media Arts
Religious Studies/Theology
  • Dr. Louise A. Cainkar -- Presenter
  • Dr. Hatem Bazian -- Presenter
  • Nina Shoman-Dajani -- Organizer, Presenter, Chair
  • Dr. Danielle Haque -- Organizer, Presenter, Discussant
  • In its gear-up for hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Qatar launched a massive public art program, including the installation of forty statues in public spaces. Qatar Creates, an organization initiated in 2019 by the state body Qatar Museums to celebrate the inauguration of the National Museum of Qatar, was transformed into year-long lineup of exhibitions and events leading up to and in conjunction with the World Cup. This paper analyzes the immense state-funded cultural programming designed in tandem with the international sporting event, looking specifically at representations of labor and nationalism and the occupation of Palestine. Sites of analysis include the Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art exhibitions of Qatari-American artist, Sophia al-Maria and Palestinian artist, Taysir Batniji. Sophia al-Maria’s exhibit, INVISIBLE LABORS daydream therapy, takes up questions of work, exploitation, and creativity as channeled through Qatar’s histories of labor and migration. The paper juxtaposes al-Maria’s work with the soccer-themed installation, Come Together, by Korean artist Choi Jeong Hwa, installed on the grounds of Doha’s Education City. Commissioned by the state-run Qatar Foundation, the statue was billed as a celebration of the workers who built the stadiums. Batniji’s exhibit, No Condition is Permanent, takes up matters of exile, displacement, and labor, in a series of installation, video, and photography. Finally, this paper explores the connections between the above artists and exhibits and the Katara Cultural Center exhibition, Labour of Love, which traces the history of Palestinian embroidery, tatreez, from its roots through its adoption as a political symbol of Palestinian liberation; a narration of occupation and revolution; an export signifying national heritage and solidarity throughout diaspora; and its commodification and global circulation. Through this series of juxtapositions and analysis, this paper seeks to address the relationship between Qatar’s state-funded cultural programming, its development as an arts tourist destination, and the World Cup. By looking at specific installations and exhibitions promoted in association with the World Cup this paper takes up two issues that became central to the media coverage surrounding it – migrant labor conditions and expressions of solidarity with Palestine. It speaks to the panel’s overarching questions about biased international media coverage of Qatar’s suitability as a World Cup host, and the transnational solidarities that emerged throughout the games. It does so by specifically looking at artists who explore labor and circulation, whether through embroidery, manufacturing, or construction, in conjunction with the games.
  • Dr. Louise A. Cainkar
    This paper presents the results of a media content analysis examining how major newspapers in Europe and North and South America covered the sentiments of their African and Middle Eastern diaspora populations towards the Moroccan team after it qualified for the FIFA World Cup semi-finals. We know anecdotally that pride and support for the Moroccan team, the first African country to make the semi-finals, was high among these groups globally. The Moroccan team faced France in the semi-final game, and with a win, would have faced Argentina, both locations of large Arab and smaller Black African diasporas. The France-Morocco game pitted the representative team of a (former) colonial master against the representative team of a (former) colonial subject and current domestic subordinate. The methodology for this study is content analysis of major Anglophone presses (US, Canada, UK), Spanish language presses (Spain, selected South American) and Francophone presses (4 or 5 in France) over a two-week timeframe. In all of these cases the study asks: was diaspora support for Morocco covered in the press at all? If so, how was it spoken about — for example as a legitimate sign of pride, as a threat, as a sign of disloyalty to their new home? The narrative content of press coverage or lack thereof may be considered an indicator of how a diasporic group is viewed in the eyes of the dominant group, as expressed in mainstream news media. Notions of race and discourses about racialized populations frame the context for this study, although we expect some variation between and across Europe, North and South America, given their different histories and varied ideas about race. In sum, this is an interesting transnational comparative study on the ways in which diasporic and racialized populations are spoken about by the dominant media in the realm of sports.
  • Dr. Hatem Bazian
    The 2022, FIFA World Cup in Qatar unleashed an avalanche of Islamophobic discourses in the Western Press, which witnessed the deployment of pernicious and enduring orientalist tropes. Edward Said's seminal work, Orientalism, as well as Jack Shaheen's Reel Bad Arabs, are relevant to discussing World Cup press coverage and the constant construction of the Arab and Muslim imagined geography and the framing of otherness. Indeed, an Islamophobic social imaginary was activated in the lead-up, throughout and even at the conclusion of the World Cup. The lines between East and West were so craftly constructed with negative imagery, insidious cartoons and racist talking-heads repeating an Orientalist script that could fit an 18th and 19th century discussions if minor rhetorical edits are introduced. The paper will seek to interrogate Western media coverage of the World Cup and how the deployment of discourses that framed Qatar as a sight of "savages", "barbarians", "terrorist", "rich irresponsible Shaykhs" and "exceptionally anti-LGBTQ" belonging outside the category of the human or global civil society. Media and elites in the west built upon these frames, magnified and essentialized each one of them to produce negative reactions and disdain for the country and in the process toward Arabs and Muslims as a group.
  • Nina Shoman-Dajani
    Despite the outcome of the athletic competition, one clear winner was identified early in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar: Palestine. Dubbed as the “33rd” team in the World Cup, fans demanded Palestine dominate the spotlight. Positioning Palestine at the forefront forced spectators, commentators, journalists, and international leaders to witness broad unity between the Palestinian people and their Arab counterparts. This study focuses on the support for Palestine that was expressed by Arab fans who reject normalization between their governments and Israel while also exploring how solidarity was witnessed and processed by Palestinians in the diaspora, with a special focus on Palestinians in Chicago. The relationship between the experience of exile and witnessing acts of solidarity are interrogated through the lived experiences of World Cup viewers, the documentation of Palestinian solidarity in the press, and the firsthand experiences of fans attending the World Cup. Generations of Palestinians who never witnessed extensive transnational solidarity for Palestine in an Arab country watched history in the making. The first World Cup in an Arab and Muslim majority country paved the way for tens of thousands of fans to use the platform as a stage for a public display of Palestinian support. This support most notably came from Morocco’s fans and their team, which stood as a symbol of triumph against the legacy of colonization in the region. This support was organic, not state sponsored, and extended from the stadium stands in Doha to the streets of Chicago. As their team advanced, fans of Morocco danced, waved Palestinian flags, and cheered in Doha’s Souq Waqif, while fans joined together in Chicago to rejoice. This paper explores the multiple dimensions of witnessing transnational solidarity while being Palestinian in the diaspora. How did spectators experience, internalize, and process the Palestinian solidarity taking place at a live football tournament? What does the massive public display of support for Palestine say about the disconnect between the governmental policies of Arab nations and their citizens? Through a collection of interviews, observations, and analysis of video footage from the 2022 World Cup, this paper documents the lived experiences of pro-Palestinian fans and members of the diaspora who witnessed the grandest public, universally televised display of transnational solidarity with Palestine to ever take place in their lifetimes.