Friday, December 23, 2022

The Arabian World Cup and Football's Imperial Implications

By Grace Mubashir, New Age Islam 23 December 2022 Qatar Tactically Used the FIFA World Cup as an Opportunity to Showcase Its Islamic-Arab Culture, Its Economic Development Excellence And Its Technological Growth, Thereby Dispelling Colonial Myths ------- Qatar, the first Arab country that successfully hosted the FIFA World Cup amid Western criticism and European scepticism kicked off football and neo-cultural debates of decolonization on the field. Although critics are welcome, in the case of Qatar it was imperialist and Islamophobic. Qatar, as a growing nation has its chunk of problems, especially with migrant labour laws. But, to discredit the entire efforts of a Muslim nation to grow is purely obsolete and vile. Ever since it was announced as the host country of the World Cup, Qatar has been a victim of the imperialist hunt of the Western media. Violation of human rights and labour harassment. The butt of berserk was veiled agony at new model of Islamic modernization. All such baseless criticisms were a blatant expression of the colonial mentality of the classical orientalist approach of Europe. Major media outlets tried to measure the Western standards by adding coloured news and lies about the qualifications of a small Arab country called Qatar, which does not have any football tradition and has no legal sanction to alcohol and homosexuality. On the other hand, Qatar tactically used the FIFA World Cup as an opportunity to showcase its Islamic-Arab culture, its economic development excellence and its technological growth, thereby dispelling colonial myths. If we look for the political history of football introduced by the colonialists as part of the European imperialist cultural project by focusing on their colonies, the imperialist colonial attitude in the Western criticism directed against Qatar will be felt quite naturally. Opening Ceremony: La’eeb, meaning ‘super-skilled player’, is an ‘adventurous, fun, curious’ sprite based on a Ghutra headdress. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian ------- Football Missionaries in Colonial Africa The West has willingly imported various social instruments and laws into the colonies which were necessary to develop the countries that were their colonies into a progressive society based on Western values. Football was introduced in Middle East and African countries as part of this project. The promotion of football in the colonies was also part of a wider missionary effort designed to convert the people of the colonies to Western Christian values as part of a wider European plan of conquest. The ultimate goal of football's introduction was to inculcate in the colonial subjects the discipline and order needed to adapt the Third World countries to the Western social system. The fact is that the influence of football missionaries, which was used as part of the ‘culturalization of the blind and ignorant eastern countries’, later became part of the agenda of the international football organization FIFA. Football is introduced as part of Catholic missionary activities in North African countries that were colonies of the French government as part of providing Christian message and education. The plan was to transform the colonists from colonial subjects into full-fledged French citizens by developing the moral and character traits necessary to maintain the colonial order. But football grew faster among the locals than the French government had expected. With constant matches and tournaments, a football fan base was formed in the crowd. Fears that such gatherings and the growing influence of football at the local level might trigger wider anti-occupation national movements against them and thus calls for independence forced the French government to impose tighter controls on football matches. At the same time, there was constant pressure to find the best players in the colonies and tie the boots for France. This was also one of the motives behind the French government's promotion of football. The colonial authorities aims behind the spread of football in African countries that were colonies of Belgium and Britain, including Congo, Zimbabwe and Tanzania, was mainly the promotion of European culture. Missionary schools and military centres were constantly used for this purpose. There was a situation where the military itself was directly involved in the promotion of European sports by making football compulsory in the school curriculum and military recruitment. The colonial regimes dreamed of imposing the colonial Western cultural projects on the African societies and thus creating a special social order that would make it easier for them to exercise their power, including economic exploitation. Apart from this, the authorities took special care to silence the people by distracting them from the dire socio-economic conditions and appease them by popularizing football among the local elites. The history of football in French, Belgian and British colonies in Africa reveals the ways in which football functioned as an instrument of cultural imperialism in addition to African European social relations during the colonial period. The legacy of colonial totalitarianism in these places was the complete destruction of local cultures and unique races. Since the 1920s, football has been deeply rooted in African society. Later in the second half of the 19th century, football and the fields became the main medium and platform for expressing anti-occupation sentiments and voicing against oppression in African society. Early on, the colonial authorities failed to understand the immense power of football to create unity in society and organize the people. Football teams and clubs in many African countries, which were formed by occupying regimes for social control, became arenas for political struggles and resistance. Football clubs like Al Widad and FNL XI in African countries like Algeria and Morocco have taken the helm to promote nationalism and local traditions. The fact that the political party Tanganyika African National Union, which was in the forefront for the independence of Tanzania, formulated its struggle strategies and political policies in sports meetings at the Yung African Sports Club based in Dar es Salaam proves the change of football as a weapon of anti-occupation introduced to fertilize the growth of European occupation in colonial Africa. FIFA WC Closing Ceremony: Nora Fatehi, Shakira & Jennifer Lopez set to share stage for FIFA World Cup Qatar Closing Ceremony on Sunday, Check all performers, timing, all you need to know ----- Football Heritage of the Middle East One of the Western criticisms levelled against Qatar's World Cup hosting was the Middle East's lack of football tradition. But football in the Middle East, like in Africa, has a broader historical tradition that includes socio-political fields. As anywhere in the world, breaking through political boundaries and erasing economic limitations, football, which is rooted in all societies without spatial differences, has been able to appear at the same time as a power-political machine and the hope of the oppressed. The Middle East is no different. In the book ‘Football in the Middle- East: State, Society, And the Beautiful Game’, Abdullah Al-Arian explains how football took a place in the political, social and cultural map of the Middle East long ago. A hundred years ago, when conquerors introduced the game of football to the Middle East to instil obedience and order in their colonized territories, no one imagined that it would become an acquired symbol of a culture and civilization. Football later became a daily routine on the streets and an art of defence in national struggles. New identities, spheres of power and social classes emerged around it. The accounts of victories and defeats on the field went beyond the field to affect diplomatic relations. Egypt, Iran, Morocco, Syria and Palestine all have a rich tradition of football. Football took root in Egypt with the arrival of the Egyptian Football League. A new culture of excitement and politics was created centred on clubs with a long tradition, including Al Ahli and Zamalek. Many authorities have willingly used the influence of football in the anti-dictatorship protests as a tool to secure the support of the people. Jamal Abdel Nasser's role in the growth of Egyptian football is also worth mentioning. As president of Al Ahly, he played a major role in the dissolution of the Egyptian Football Association and the establishment of the Confederation of African Football. Egypt hosted and won the first Africa Cup of Nations under Jamal at a time when Egypt was isolated internationally due to strained relations with the West, including Britain and France. Like Egypt, Iran is known as the football powerhouse in the Middle East. World politics and diplomacy are on the map of Iran's football. The 1998 FIFA World Cup was locked in a simmering political climate between Iran and the United States, which had become enemies with the Iranian Revolution of 1979. The match was won by Iran with a score margin of 2-1, and the fans of both teams were very emotional. But on the other hand, the leaders of both countries used this opportunity to improve diplomatic relations. In any case, the result of the match is not limited to the field. The influence of football in Middle East politics cannot be limited to just challenging and opposing governments, but it should also be seen as a defensive art that has been the driving force behind many popular uprisings. During the 2011 Jasmine Revolution, Al Ahli Ultras, the club's fan club, were at the forefront of mobilizing people to fight against the dictatorial government of Hosni Mubarak. The recent popular uprising in Algeria to dissuade long-ruling dictator Abdelaziz Bouteflika from running for a fifth term was accompanied by football clubs' flag-waving and Shabi folk songs, as is usually seen on match days. In short, the legacy of football in the Middle East is embedded in a wider development that encompasses cultural, political and social spheres. That tradition and culture is sprouting new wings with the fact that it has been able to be the venue for a world spectacle like the World Cup. Western Criticism and Qatar's Response Qatar faced criticism unlike any other country that has ever hosted the World Cup in its history. Qatar was attacked with various accusations built on the false notions of the Western colonial empire that football is the monopoly of Europe and that only they are qualified to claim football's legacy. The British media including the BBC, the Guardian and the Daily Star have been criticizing Qatar's unfitness to host the World Cup by citing human rights violations. But when the 2018 FIFA World Cup was hosted by Vladimir Putin's Russia, which has ruthlessly hunted down government critics and human rights activists, and trampled on freedom of expression, there was no criticism from the Western media. The attitude adopted by the media and European countries was that the game was different from politics. But when it comes to Qatar, the change in attitude is a direct sign of the Arab Muslim anti-racism based on the imperialist attitude held in Europe. Workplace harassment was another criticism levelled against Qatar by the Western media. It is true that Qatar has had a labour system that includes strict laws and regulations, but Qatar has implemented extensive changes in labour laws since 2010, when it received the World Cup hosting duties. As part of Qatar's labour reforms, including the highly criticized ‘Kafala’ system, which centred on employers, workers' full rights to work were ensured. Another matter that was widely publicized by the British media, including the Guardian, was the estimate that 6,500 workers were killed during the construction of the World Cup venues. But according to the official figures of the International Labour Organization and Qatar, only 39 people have died in this way. The media here is exaggerating the total number of workers who have died in Qatar since 2010, when it was awarded the World Cup. The fact is that the western media has adopted an approach that turns its face to the realities. Redundancies and criticisms embedded in the Orientalist approach based on completely false presuppositions are constantly being produced in the Western media. Criticisms on the LGBTQ issue are based on a purely Eurocentric stance that only their values are correct. Europe's impudence to not accept even the most basic demand of Qatar to respect its culture and values is a clear proof of the imperialist spirit that still exists today. In a way, the criticisms against Qatar are rehashing classical Orientalist narratives. As FIFA head Gianni Infantino said, Europeans have the right to teach others morality only after they apologize for the next three thousand years for what they have done in the last three thousand years. But on the other hand, the approaches adopted by Qatar in hosting the FIFA World Cup, which was watched all over the world despite the constant criticism of the western centres, were completely revolutionary and capable of breaking colonial perceptions and myths. Qatar's decision not to allow alcohol products in stadiums will give spectators a new football experience without the fear of drunken parties and racist abuse in European football stadiums. The conversation between Ghanim Al Miftah, a Qatari boy who suffers from a rare spinal stunting disease, and Hollywood actor Morgan Freeman at the opening of the World Cup evoked a message of humanity, unity and mutual respect for diverse cultures. The Qur'anic verse quoted in the conversation is 'O mankind, We have created you from male and female. You were made into different sects and tribes to identify each other. The most honourable among you before Allah is the more fearful; Of course...! Allah is All-Knowing and All-Knowing.' The message of the Qur'anic verse to the world in this period of alienation is not small. But, at the same time, Qatar’s efforts to invite tele-preacher Zakir Naik is to be criticised. In an attempt to oppose Saudi hegemony in the region, Qatar is appropriating the legacy of Islamism, which is not to be appreciated at all. Qatar is developing a new concept of modernity through the decolonization of Western colonial modernity in multiculturalism. Qatar's new modernist conception of a tolerant embrace of diverse values and cultures breaks down the total intolerance of an Arab Muslim state wrapped in a broad democracy of white supremacy. ----- A regular columnist for, Mubashir V.P is a PhD scholar in Islamic Studies at Jamia Millia Islamia and freelance journalist. URL: New Age Islam, Islam Online, Islamic Website, African Muslim News, Arab World News, South Asia News, Indian Muslim News, World Muslim News, Women in Islam, Islamic Feminism, Arab Women, Women In Arab, Islamophobia in America, Muslim Women in West, Islam Women and Feminism

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