IN the eighth century, Arab armies crossed from what is now Morocco into Spain, conquering the Visigoths and establishing the Ummayad Caliphate of Córdoba. Flushed with victory, they then ventured into France, only to be defeated by Charles Martel’s Franks at the Battle of Tours in 732 AD. Basically, it’s pretty much the same story we saw in the 2022 football World Cup, where Morocco defeated Spain but went on to lose to France, which proves, once again, that history does indeed rhyme.
But, win or lose, this was certainly Morocco’s coming-out party and an incredibly cute one at that: players brought their mothers onto the field to celebrate with them, and in one particularly heartwarming clip, the infant son of Moroccan footballer ‘Bono’ could be seen trying to take a bite from the mic used to interview his sportsman father, thinking it was some kind of ice cream cone.
The fact that the World Cup was held in Qatar, and that an Arab team made it this far, has certainly been a source of pride for the Muslim world in general and the Arab world in particular. That’s especially significant, given the campaign waged against Qatar’s hosting the event in some sections of the international media, and concerns over how ‘inclusive’ this event would be, given Qatar’s laws and regulations.
Many of these concerns, such as the state of migrant labour in the Gulf state, were indeed legitimate; but much of it — and the context in which it was presented — smacked of pearl-clutching and hypocritical virtue-signalling. The emptiness of these gestures, such as BBC’s refusal to air the opening ceremony of the Cup and instead running with a long-winded condemnation of Qatar, is evident in the fact that the same BBC refuses to even discuss the extent of Qatari investments in the UK, or the fact that British governments bends over backwards to seek the said investment while eagerly selling weapons to Qatar and other Gulf states.
Win or lose, this was certainly Morocco’s coming-out party.
But the BBC still comes out looking better than a Danish TV channel, where the host held up a picture of monkeys hugging and compared that to the way Moroccan players were hugging their families.
Apart from projecting Morocco and Qatar even further on the global stage, the Cup also succeeded in inadvertently highlighting the Palestinian cause, even if this was perhaps not a desired outcome by the host country. The voices raised did not come from the Arab states, who have notably been normalising relations with Israel, but from the Arab fans who flocked to Doha.
In video after video, we saw interview requests from Israeli journalists being mockingly denied by Arab fans, who also made sure to raise pro-Palestinian slogans and wave Palestinian flags whenever they saw an Israeli TV crew.
On the field, Moroccan players also prominently displayed the Palestinian flag, something that was condemned by sections of the German media as ‘anti-Semitic’. Granted, the German media and state tend to be more Israeli than the Israelis, having sublimated their guilt over the Holocaust into all-out support for Israel and (as a corollary) opposition to the Palestinian cause; but even then, some of the commentary was beyond ridiculous. Take the gesture of the Moroccan team of raising the index finger of their right hand in the shahada, meant to symbolise the oneness of God. It was wilfully misinterpreted by a German TV channel as expressing support for IS terrorists.
Much to the chagrin of Israel and its apologists, support for Palestine wasn’t limited to Arab fans, as Brazilian fans also raised the Palestinian flag from the bleachers, and English fans also caught onto the trend of shouting “free Palestine” while being interviewed by Israeli journalists. Typically, there was a lot of hand-wringing about this ‘disgraceful’ behaviour in Israel and, as if to prove their relative moral superiority, Israeli police beat up Palestinians who were celebrating Morocco’s win. As for journalists’ treatment, who in the West knows or cares about the murder of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh at the hands of Israel? Who cares about Basil Faraj, Yaser Murtaja, Khaled Hamad, James Miller, Issam al Talawi, Nazih Darwazeh, Ahmed Abu Hussein and all the other journalists killed by Israel with utter impunity, not to mention the Palestinians, young and old, who regularly face Israeli bullets and bombs?
It’s a cliché to say that sport brings people together, but clichés are often true. In this case, we can see that truth on display in the reaction of fans from around the world, who were bowled over by the show put on by the host country. And in one particularly compelling instance of cross-cultural learning, it seems that many Westerners have now been acquainted with the wonders of the shattaf, or Muslim shower as we call it in this part of the world. Indeed, if that’s the only thing these people take home with them, it would certainly be a giant leap for hygiene, if nothing else.
The writer is a journalist.
Published in Dawn, December 19th, 2022