On October 18, 2021, CIRS hosted a webinar titled “Reducing Islamophobic Attitudes? The Effect of Mohamed Salah and the World Cup 2022” by Salma Mousa, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Yale University and a Georgetown University in Qatar alumna (Class of 2012). The talk was part of the CIRS lecture series under the “Building a Legacy: The Qatar FIFA World Cup 2022” research initiative. Mousa’s talk was based on previous research she conducted with her colleagues Ala’ Alrababa’h, Will Marble, and Alexander Siegel, titled “Can Exposure to Celebrities Reduce Prejudice? Estimating the Effect of Mohamed Salah on Islamophobic Attitudes and Behaviors,” which was published in the American Political Science Review in 2021.
Mousa’s lecture revolved around answering a central research question: “Can exposure to celebrities from stigmatized groups reduce prejudice?” In order to address this, Mousa and her research partners took the elite Egyptian soccer player Mohamed Salah as a case study in an attempt to quantify his effects on reducing Islamophobia. Salah was used as a case study, not only because he is one of the world’s most successful contemporary football players, but because he declares his Islamic faith in a public manner, both on and off the pitch.
In order to test their central hypothesis, Mousa and her colleagues approached the topic through a “contact theory” lens, which was first presented by Gordon Allport in relation to racial segregation in the United States. The theory states that contact across group lines can reduce prejudice under certain conditions, such as when this contact places people on equal footing, when it is endorsed by communal authorities and social norms, and, most importantly, when the contact involves people cooperating for a common goal. These kinds of contacts across group lines is well suited to building understanding and friendships, and, ultimately, to reducing prejudice.
Using data on hate crime reports throughout England and 15 million tweets from British football fans, Mousa and her colleagues found that after Salah joined Liverpool F.C., hate crimes in the Liverpool area dropped by 16% compared with a synthetic control. In addition, Liverpool F.C. fans halved their rates of posting anti-Muslim tweets relative to fans of other top-flight clubs. An original survey experiment suggests that the salience of Salah’s Muslim identity enabled positive feelings toward Salah to generalize to Muslims more broadly. Their findings provide support for the parasocial contact hypothesis—indicating that positive exposure to out-group celebrities can spark real-world behavioral changes in prejudice.
About the speaker
Salma Mousa is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Yale University. An Egyptian scholar of migration, conflict, and social cohesion, Salma typically partners with governments and NGOs in the Middle East and beyond to explore these questions. Her research has been published in Science and the American Political Science Review, and profiled by The Economist and PBS NOVA. She received her Ph.D. in political science from Stanford University in 2020, and her BSFS in International Politics from Georgetown University in Qatar.