How Lionel Messi’s ‘Bisht’ exposes the racism of the Western media again | Qatar World Cup 2022

On Sunday, billions of people gathered their eyes on Lusail Stadium in Qatar, as Argentina were crowned World Cup winners after a dazzling final against France.

However, instead of focusing on the splendor of football that the world has just witnessed, the Western media has chosen to focus on how the emir of Qatar wears Lionel Messi, the captain of Argentina, in costume. traditional. Arab robe called “bisht”.

Reactions from a number of pundits and journalists reflected the same racist and anti-Muslim sentiments prevalent throughout the tournament and in the years before that. But they also highlight the lack of diversity that characterizes most Western newsrooms – which limits their ability to make sense of much of the world beyond rigid stereotypes.

“A strange act ruined the greatest moment in World Cup history” is the headline of a British newspaper, The Telegraph, now redacted. “absolutely grim” claimed headlines on Fox Sports and was “disgraceful” reading Yahoo Sports.

Others have opted for clearly racist statements, with Mark Ogden, a senior ESPN journalist writing: “All the pictures were ruined by someone making him wear a cape that looked like like he’s about to cut his hair.” Similarly, Dan Walker, a football TV presenter, wrote, in a now-deleted tweet, “I bet Mbappe is happy he managed to turn the odd mesh cape that has gold border,” hinting that losing a World Cup final would be better.

A bisht, also known as aba or abaya in other Arab countries, is a garment that symbolizes prestige, honor and stature. It is worn on special occasions and only by high-ranking religious figures, political or tribal leaders, representing great success.

The honor of wearing a bisht, especially if it is worn by someone of prestige – let alone the leader of Qatar – is a rare privilege, a knighthood or coronation in many ways. On Sunday, it added to the grandeur of the event and to recognize what Messi has achieved.

For this World Cup not only represents the victory of Argentina. It also marks Messi’s status in the eyes of many as football’s “GOAT” (greatest of all time) – ahead not only of his colleague Cristiano Ronaldo, but perhaps also The game’s former biggest icons like Pele and Diego Maradona. Now, he has won every famous trophy the sport has to offer, including seven Ballon D’Or titles – awarded to the best player every year.

Now, I understand that since childhood, Messi’s dream was to play for Argentina. Part of that dream could include hoping to one day lift the world championship trophy in pure gold in an Argentina shirt like Maradona before him. It is reasonable to wonder if Messi’s wishes will be overridden by the events on the stage. But the outrage of the Western media is not about Messi’s dream. It’s about the unwillingness, to indulge in racism and Orientalism, to accept that football and celebration may look different in different parts of the world.

At no time did Messi look down on bisht. Nor was his number 10 shirt in Argentina – so iconic that it sold out globally before the final – so covered up that it was unrecognizable.

It is not uncommon for winning athletes to be given gifts or clothing that reflects the local culture. The best example is Pele’s 1970 World Cup victory in Mexico, where he wore a wide-brimmed hat on his head. Did the moment Pele was “robbed” as Australia’s 7 News confirmed happened with Messi’s case?

Indeed, from the day Qatar was awarded the right to host the World Cup, Western media outlets have flaunted “shock“. Europe and oppose hypocrisy has persevered in building the epochal league and continues to surpass it. Messi’s indignation towards bisht is one last show of ignorance.

The success of the Moroccan national team at the World Cup is the pride of many Arabs and Africans around the world. For me, as an Arab in Iraq, it is truly inspiring to witness another Arab nation’s victory and to witness their culturally similar celebrations. . But, like the bisht, the Western media once again showed a lack of anti-Arab understanding after Morocco’s shocking winning streak.

After they finally bowed to France in the semifinals, ESPN posted a photo of the Moroccan players prostrating themselves, a symbol of humility before God for billions of Muslims around the world. But the caption read: “Moroccan players and staff bow their heads in thanks to their supporters for coming out on the field.”

A German news agency, Welt, compared Moroccan players celebrating by pointing a finger in the air to ISIL (ISIS) fighters. No Western outlet draws such parallels with Messi as he celebrates by pointing to the sky after scoring. Affectionate images of Moroccan players celebrating with their mothers, reflecting the importance of family in African and Arab cultures, have been mocked by a Danish TV channel: The Ma -rock is compared to a monkey family.

However, such racism, ignorance, and utter incompetence in journalism are not entirely surprising given the underrepresentation of most Western newsrooms. In the United States, 40 percent of the population is not white. But a 2020 study by the Reuters Institute found that nearly 90% of top editors are white. Improving diversity at the top of newsrooms will help Western media outlets build protections against ignorance – although it will cause them to accept defeat. for their work in removing barriers to the growth of non-white journalists.

In the Arab world, some excitedly refer to the bisht-wearing Argentinian captain as “Sheikh Messi”. It’s also a reflection of the affection he likes. Let us not contaminate his glorious victory – and that of Argentina – with racist outrage at a gesture of admiration and respect.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of Al Jazeera.


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