Image: FIFA/Design: Alex Brooks
This year on November 20th, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup commenced in Qatar. The event has brought people of all nations together to enjoy an internationally favored sport. However, the criticisms of Qatar, a small country in the Middle East, thus far have brought a wide range of orientalist perspectives to light. So, stay tuned; this article will explore what orientalism is and why it can be dangerous.
Qatar’s criticism swiftly began following its successful bid in 2010 to host the 2022 World Cup, and this intense backlash is mainly sourced from western media outlets. Some of the popular commentaries include that Qatar bribed its way into winning the bid, it has unsuitable weather conditions, its poor treatment of migrant laborers, and it has strict laws relating to homosexuality.
Considering these criticisms, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) did not air the opening ceremony. In addition, the London Times went as far as to comment that the people of Qatar “are unaccustomed to seeing women in Western dress in their country” despite the fact that 87% of its population is made up of expatriates, some of whom are western. Although some of these critiques may have merit, similar contentions never arose when countries like Russia, Brazil, and Argentina hosted the World Cup despite their similar domestic environments. So, why Qatar? Well, Orientalism is the main culprit.
Orientalism - what is it?
As a study subject, Orientalism began in the late 1970s. Orientalism was coined and first explored by Palestinian-American academic Edward Said. In his book titled Orientalism, Said investigates the western perception of Eastern society (more specifically, Middle Eastern societies) and the consequent assumptions that follow. Furthermore, in the book, we are introduced to important terminology; the observed, the Orient, the observer, and the Occident.
Essentially, the Occident holds onto the assumptions of the Orient and unconsciously fabricates rigid imagery of it. These images are so generalized that the diverse identities of the Orient become irrelevant. This creates a sense of mysticism relating to cultural practices, politics, and even geography. As a result, in this context, the Middle East (the Orient) is often thought to be exotic, socially infantile, and unyielding to progressive change.
In conclusion, it is critical for the international community to hold nations accountable for their grievances against human rights and other concerning behavior. At the same time, such criticism must be objective and fair. The directed isolation of Qatar’s culture and practices, alongside its vilification by western media outlets, highlights the enduring consequences of orientalist perspectives. Poorly executed critiques will result in meager diplomatic relations, political tensions, and lasting negative imagery of the Middle East and its people.
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