‘France gonna France’: Outrage over racist depiction of Qatar national team in French publication

European media outlets have long used xenophobic and orientalist tropes to depict Arabs and Muslims in a negative light, with many of these narratives shared by state officials, inevitably setting in motion a wave of violence towards these communities.

Arabs have been targeted by yet another incident of French-born racism and xenophobia, in a new dossier by a controversial France-based newspaper that has taken aim at the 2022 FIFA World Cup host, Qatar.

Social media users have called out the French newspaper Le Canard Enchaîné for its brazen racism and Islamophobia after it published a caricature depicting Arabs in football kits as terrorists.

The image employs the exhausted use of ‘savages’ – ‘long bearded’ angry men with dark hair, angry expressions in possession of guns and knives.

The graphics attempt to paint Qatar’s national football team at a time of a heightened wave of anti-Qatar campaigns ushered in ahead of the Middle East’s first FIFA World Cup.

One character is drawn to be wearing a ski mask while carrying a rocket launcher and a an AK-47.

Another has dynamite stick bombs wrapped around his waist and is carrying a machete knife, feeding into the xenophobic and orientalist tropes that Arabs are ‘backwards’ hence using primitive tools.

The October 2022 issue focuses on Qatar and its role as host of the FIFA World Cup.

“The anecdote is revealing of the complicated relations between France and this small authoritarian Gulf state. To have clear ideas before the start of the World Cup, ‘Le Canard’ investigated Qatar, from the slums of Doha to its futuristic skyscrapers, from its Family Code, which keeps women in domination and homosexuals in hiding, to its high-tech universities which aim to train the elites of tomorrow,” the synopsis of the publication read.

‘France gonna France’

The publication, shared by a social media user on Twitter, sent shockwaves across the popular platform. Users quickly mobilised to denounce the caricature, though a not-so-surprising attitude towards a racist and Islamophobic France-based cartoon was apparent.

In a clear and concise tweet responding to the racism, popular social media user Hend Amry said “France is gonna France”.

Some took the opportunity to shed light on France’s ongoing imperialism, with one such tweet noting:

“A racist nation, it has not yet apologised for its criminal acts in Algeria and the rest of Africa, and is still stealing the wealth of its people so that the French can live in luxury at the expense of the looted peoples. Do not be surprised by them and their likes if they want to steal your achievement or your joy.”

Another frustrated user described France as a “low, decadent country” and said it’s a shame that billions have been invested into sports and the economy.

Close political, economic, and diplomatic ties exist between Qatar and France, and the latter is one of the biggest recipients of Qatari inward investment worldwide. The Gulf state owns the French capital city’s football club, Paris Saint-Germain.

Questioning the lack of expected positive developments between the two countries as a result of their close ties in several key areas, a Twitter user wrote: “The question is why the investment in the most important club in the French capital did not succeed in creating strong relations? Investing in sports in foreign countries, despite its high costs, is considered part of soft diplomacy. Why did investment in Saint-Germain and other investments fail to create a supportive environment for Qatar?”

Top to bottom hatred generates violence

“France has not yet gotten rid of its arrogance and contempt for Islamic countries, especially Arab ones, and its nostalgia for colonialism continues,” one user said, adding Paris has never apologised for the atrocities it committed in colonised countries.

European media outlets have long used xenophobic and orientalist tropes to depict Arabs and Muslims in a negative light. Many of these narratives are shared by state officials, inevitably setting in motion a wave of violence and hatred towards members of these communities.

“It is not new to them, as they have already mocked and insulted the Prophet of the nation, peace and blessings be upon him, in almost the same manner, and we did not see action taken against them.. relations continued, that’s if they did not increase in a positive way,” a user wrote.

Charlie Hebdo controversy

The latest image by Le Canard Enchaîné is reminiscent of the offensive Charlie Hebdo cartoons which depicted the Prophet Muhammad in an almost similar light. Those caricatures sparked controversy worldwide, prompting mass calls to boycott France and French products.

This led to an incident in which a teacher in France was killed for showing his class the cartoons. France responded by clamping down on “extremism” with a large-scale crackdown on Islamic entities in the country, raiding more than 50 mosques and associations.

French President Emmanuel Macron added fuel to the fire when he said Islam was a religion “in crisis” worldwide and affirmed France would “not give up cartoons”.

This triggered global controversy and initiated mass action and virtual campaigns condemning France’s islamophobia.

In 2020, global Muslim unity demonstrated itself, and here in Qatar, the public quickly mobilised to call for French goods to be replaced with Turkish products.

According to a report by the International Trade Centre, French exports to Qatar at the time took a massive hit with a 59% decrease. The value of sales to Qatar dropped from $4.2 million in 2019 to $1.7 million in 2020.

France’s crackdown on Islam

France has since been accused of systematically targeting its Muslim population due to a surge of marginalising policies driven by Macron to address the alleged “separatism and Islamism”, a recent report by the British advocacy group, Cage, stated.

The report underlines Macron’s implementation of executive powers to create a “systematic obstruction” policy to target Muslim groups and entities in France over the last four years.

Some of these policies include anti-separatism law and the Imam charter, which was created in November 2021 and drafted by the state-backed French Council of the Muslim Faith.

The charter forces religious leaders to “subordinate” themselves to ‘French Islam’, a concept manufactured by the government in hopes to assimilate Islam with republicanism.

The policies were initially geared towards addressing the reasons behind the departure of a number of French Muslims to fight in Syria and Iraq from specific areas in France. However, they then took on a more general approach aimed at tackling “Islamism” and “community withdrawal” across the country.

Since, Paris has injected a series of infamous laws into its system in order to “isolate Muslim institutions and bestow the state with vast powers to monitor and close institutions, unilaterally dissolve organisations and seize money under the pretence of preserving Republican values and combatting Islamism and/or separatism,” the report said.

The policies were put in force to justify the shutting down of at least a dozen mosques, hundreds of Muslim-owned businesses and charities, and the seizure of millions of euros worth of assets due to their alleged promotion of “Islamism”.

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