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World Cup 2022: 'Orientalist' depictions of Qatar condemned online

Critics outraged by 'racist', 'Islamophobic' and 'orientalist' commentary from Western media covering the first tournament in the Arab world
A Mexico fan posing with Saudi Arabia supporters
This picture, taken on 22 November 2022, shows a Mexico fan posing with Saudi Arabia supporters in Souq Waqif in Doha during the Qatar 2022 World Cup football tournament (AFP)

Western media coverage of the Qatar World Cup has come under intense scrutiny from tournament watchers, with a myriad of social media reactions pointing towards questionable “racist”, “Islamophobic” and “orientalist” commentaries. 

From the BBC’s refusal to air the World Cup opening ceremony on its flagship channel to others using stereotypical language and imagery when referring to the host country, many people have turned online to highlight what they call “reductive” and "isolated" portrayal of host country Qatar.

In one post, a Twitter user posted a snapshot of an article from The Times, which included a photograph with the caption: “The Qataris are unaccustomed to seeing women in Western dress in their country.”

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Some users called the caption "ignorant" and others said that it didn't match their experiences in the Gulf country. 

The Times has since changed the photo caption. 

New York Times Gulf bureau chief Vivian Nereim asked Twitter users to share World Cup commentary they found to be orientalist, Islamophobic or racist in nature.

One user replied with an Instagram post from the Telegraph about “what life really was like in the World Cup host country”. The post read: “I couldn’t hold my husband’s hand without being hissed at."

Another user shared an interview with Conservative Party Chairman Nadhim Zahawi in which he was asked: “How much respect should we show to cultures which we consider to be, frankly, an abomination?

“[It] is the most racist thing I’ve heard in yeeears,” the user posted. 

Another responder shared a link to a video by Middle East Eye which showed a French reporter being asked about his initial reaction to Qatar. He replies: “there are lots of mosques”. 

Users also raised concern regarding the amount of reporting on Qatar as compared with other countries that have hosted the World Cup. 

Another popular trope in media coverage of Qatar has been branding Arabs as “savages” or “uncivilised” when it comes to law, politics and human rights. One tweet included a cartoon from the French newspaper Le Canard enchaîné, where many were outraged at the usage of stereotypical depictions of Arabs.

Criticism of Qatar's human rights record

Though Qatar has received praise for being the first Middle Eastern nation to host the World Cup, many saw its record of alleged migrant abuses and lack of LGBTQ+ rights as a threat. 

Since 2017, Qatari authorities have introduced a number of labour reforms covering working conditions and a minimum wage, and have abolished the exploitative kafala system. While some issues remain with regards to labour rights, many have pointed out that the West has a hypocritical view of Qatar, as it engages in its own exploitation across the globe.

The most prominent example was Fifa president Gianni Infantino's recent condemnation of the Western critics: "I am European. For what we have been doing for 3,000 years around the world, we should be apologising for the next 3,000 years before giving moral lessons."

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