According to a recently published study co-authored by Yale University professor and graduate of QF partner Georgetown University in Qatar (GU-Q) Dr. Salma Mousa, footballer Mo Salah has driven a 16% reduction in anti-Muslim hate crimes in Liverpool and a 50% reduction in Islamophobic social media comments since joining the Liverpool F.C. football club. And that reduction, the study found, was in reaction to the Egyptian football superstar’s visible Muslim identity displayed both on and off the pitch.
Dr. Mousa shared her research findings on the role of celebrities in reducing prejudice at a virtual public lecture hosted by GU-Q’s Center for International and Regional Studies (CIRS) as part of the center’s “Building a Legacy: The Qatar FIFA World Cup 2022” research initiative.
Event moderator and CIRS project lead, Visiting Associate Professor Danyel Reiche, said: “It was wonderful to have our own GU-Q graduate, now a respected and published scholar in her own right, back to share her outstanding work with our community,” adding “I believe that a successfully organized FIFA World Cup 2022 might have a ‘Qatar effect’ similar to the ‘Salah effect’ identified by Dr. Mousa, meaning a drop in anti-Muslim prejudice and a more positive view of Qatar and the Middle East, as a result.”
Inspired by the pro-Muslim chants of Liverpool fans, Dr. Mousa and her co-authors spent a year collecting and analyzing data to see if there was a link between Salah’s Muslim identity and this newly observed fan behavior.
Studying hate crimes, millions of tweets, and surveys of more than 8,000 fans, “We found evidence for a pretty significant reduction in hate crimes and hate speech after Salah joined Liverpool, relative to what we would have expected,” she said. “Our findings provide support for the parasocial contact hypothesis which says that positive exposure to representative celebrities can spark real-world behavioral changes in prejudice.”
This research project isn’t the first to consider Salah’s impact on Islamophobia, she explained, noting a recent article on the subject in The New Yorker written by another GU-Q graduate, Yasmine Al-Sayyad, among other publications. “He’s not the first Muslim player, but others have not been very visible in the practice of their religion so people don’t associate those players with Islam as much as they do with Salah.”
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.