One of Swansea University’s football teams has caused minor outrage this week by seemingly using an official end-of-year photograph as a platform for Islamophobia. Although ostensibly a ‘fun photograph’, in which the players ‘hail’ their captain, the addition of the tagline ‘Allahu Akbar’ (which translates roughly as “Allah is the greatest”) appears to make a much more sinister statement, one that explicitly mocks of Muslim prayer worship for no real reason other than amusement.
This is of course, sparks debate as to what Swansea University students find acceptable. On one hand, this photo could be dismissed as a product of ‘lad culture’, a deliberately tongue-in-cheek picture designed to provoke interest, banter, and just a bit of a laugh. However, when this picture is looked at objectively, it shows a group of predominantly white men adopting and parodying a position of Islamic prayer. Say what you like about how ‘funny’ you think this photo is, but I believe it’s overtly racist, and as such, has no place on our campus.
Coming from Gloucestershire, a more rural, and therefore less ethnically diverse county, I feel very proud to live in a multicultural city such as Swansea, and have made friends of different backgrounds and religions. I love that the university celebrates the diversity of its students, Omani week last year, for example was a fantastic success. The mosque on campus is a physical sign of what should be an accepting a celebrating place.
Frankly, it sickens me that a photo like this can be allowed to be made, and made as an official photo of Sport Swansea. It undermines what the university stands for, and undoes hard work by both the University and Students’ Union, particularly the links made between home and international students by current and former International Officers Eva Donoghue and Mahaboob Basha.
It was speculated earlier today in The Waterfront that the International Officer position will be up for the chop in the upcoming Full Time Officer elections. The International Officer is responsible for making sure international students have the best experience, free from prejudice and discrimination, as they possibly can here at Swansea. So when things like this photo happen, it worries me. If this can happen with and International Officer, what sort of discrimination could happen without one?
It may be suggested that discussion of this photo has been limited amongst Swansea students due to fears over backlash from those in favour of it. Muslim students in particular may be afraid to come forward publicly and say that this photo offends them, considering the various Islamaphobic attacks we saw on the university mosque over the last academic year. Moreover, following the pole fitness scandal, the union has had to monitor any comments it makes through its PR department to a much greater extent, making it difficult for officers to make official quotes, and in turn, slowing, or preventing, articles such as this from being written.
However, by currently not talking openly about this photo, the only ideas that Swansea University and its student media are making clear is that they consider instances of casual Islamophobia like this to acceptable. Or even worse, they believe that these tensions are best resolved by metaphorically sweeping them under the carpet.
By Laurence Atkinson