In the era of trigger warnings, micro-aggressions, and the development of safe spaces in higher education, we shouldn’t be shocked that more than a few delicate snowflakes at the University of Michigan sent a letter to the Center for Campus Involvement, asking that they nix their screening of American Sniper. The film details the story of U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, who was portrayed by Bradley Cooper. It’s an excellent film.
Yet, as the Michigan Daily, the student newspaper, reported yesterday, one student, Lamees Mekkaoui, felt the film condones anti-Muslim and anti-African propaganda. She started the petition to have the screening removed from campus:
Mekkaoui, who is a a member of Students Allied for Freedom and Equality and the Middle Eastern and Arab Network on campus, said she found the choice of film disconcerting because of its depictions of the Iraq War and residents of the Middle Eastern and North African region.
The film, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Bradley Cooper, is based on the autobiography of Chris Kyle, a U.S. Navy Seal who served in Iraq and has the most confirmed kills as a sniper in U.S. military history.
“As a student who identifies as an Arab and Middle Eastern student, I feel that ‘American Sniper’ condones a lot of anti-Middle Eastern and North African propaganda,” Mekkaoui said.
She added that she felt the film was released at a time when negative attitudes toward Middle Eastern and Northern African groups were at a peak.
“It was released at a time when these anti-Arab, anti-Muslim and anti-Middle Eastern (and) North African hate crimes were already skyrocketing and this movie only contributed to that,” he [sic] said.
Here’s the letter from the Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) and Muslim Students on Campus, where they call Chris Kyle a “racist.”
To Whom it May Concern;
As self-identified Middle Eastern & North African (MENA) and/or Muslim students on campus, we are particularly disturbed to hear that the University of Michigan’s Center for Campus Involvement will be showing the movie American Sniper at UMix on Friday April 10th. By showing this movie, we feel that our university is tolerating dangerous anti-Muslim and anti-MENA propaganda.
Anti-Muslim and anti-MENA hate crimes are growing increasingly common. These incidents create an unsafe space that does not allow for positive dialogue and triggers U of M students. Examples like the recent Chapel Hill shooting, which took the lives of three Arab American Muslim students, Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, and Razan Abu-Salha, contribute to this lack of safety and space for Muslim and/or MENA students. Deah’s sister, Dr. Suzanne Barakat, has publicly stated how American Sniper has contributed to a culture of Islamophobia in America. Although we respect the right to freedom of speech, we believe that with this right comes responsibility: responsibility of action, intention, and outcome.
The movie American Sniper not only tolerates but promotes anti-Muslim and anti-MENA rhetoric and sympathizes with a mass killer. Chris Kyle was a racist who took a disturbing stance on murdering Iraqi civilians. Middle Eastern characters in the film are not lent an ounce of
humanity and watching this movie is provocative and unsafe to MENA and Muslim students who are too often reminded of how little the media and world values their lives. What we instead should offer is compassion and respect towards others.
As U of M students, we ask you to please reconsider showing this movie in order to be a welcoming place to students of all backgrounds, ethnicities and religions. The University of Michigan should not participate in further perpetuating these negative and misleading stereotypes.
The signatories–and the ones who signed “in solidarity” with them–are also on the Google doc.
@Mashon45 Paddington will be shown instead.
— Campus Involvement (@UMInvolvement) April 7, 2015
Here’s the email Campus Involvement sent to the petitioners
Hello Lamees, Thank you for your email regarding the UMix Program this Friday, April 10, and the showing of American Sniper at the program. Student reactions have clearly articulated that this is neither the venue nor the time to show this movie. Therefore, we have elected to pull the film from this week’s program and screen another movie in its place that we believe better creates the fun, engaging atmosphere we seek, without excluding valued members of our community. We deeply regret causing harm to members of our community, and appreciate the thoughtful feedback provided to us by students and staff alike. We in the Center for Campus Involvement and the UMix Late Night program did not intend to exclude any students or communities on campus through showing this film. Nevertheless, as we know, intent and impact can be very different things. While our intent was to show a film, the impact of the content was harmful, and made students feel unsafe and unwelcome at our program. UMix should always be a safe space for students to engage, unwind, and create community with others, and we commit to listening to and learning from our community in the interest of fostering that environment. The Center for Campus Involvement and its UMix Late Night program are dedicated to providing a positive, fun, and engaging student experience for all students on campus. We will take time to deeper understand and screen for content that can negatively stereotype a group. … We hope to see you at a future UMix program. The Center for Campus Involvement
This is just madness. First of all, Chris Kyle’s Muslim interpreter in Iraq refutes the claim that he was racist. IJ Review spoke with the interpreter, “Johnny Walker,” in February who said:
“When we had a sniper mission, he would watch the targets. Then, sometimes I would go take care of something and he was never afraid that I was returning with my M4 and grenades. And not just Kyle, all the SEALs I worked with. Kyle said I trust Johnny Walker with my life. When I came to America, I got invited to Chris’s book signing in La Jolla. When Chris saw me at the event he left everyone and just came up to me and hugged me. Because he hadn’t seen me since 2007 and thought I could have died and had no idea where I was. After he signed the book, he was going to speak. Ten seconds into his speech, he said I am not an American hero. Johnny Walker is the American hero and then he made me stand up. Then, he said that I saved more SEALs’ lives than him. Pointing at me, and I am an Iraqi Muslim. So how is this racist? Sometimes I would forget to bring an MRE to a sniper mission. Chris would share his MRE and he would talk about family. If he was racist towards Muslims why would he share intimate details of his life with a Muslim? I don’t see that in any way as racist. I think the ones calling Chris Kyle racist are racists. If you’re going to call Chris Kyle racist, then call me a racist too. At times we were on the base, Kyle would laugh with the other Iraqi soldiers and joke with them. Again, why would a racist engage in that behavior?
Walker added, “He treated me, an Iraqi Muslim, like a brother. So everyone needs to give him the respect that he fully deserves, and finally let the man rest in peace.”
Frankly, college is a time where dangerous ideas should be debated, discussed, and presented to the student body; my political philosophy professor was a self-avowed anarchist. This should be a time when your beliefs are challenged. Yet, that can never happen if people feel like everything is problematic and perpetually offensive. Saying a speaker, a panel, or a film screening would create an “unsafe” space is nothing less than a method to kill debate. If American Sniper propagates Islamophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment, as the petitioners feel it does, let’s have that discussion. But, we need to see the movie first. Without pieces of critical information, like the film itself, it’s impossible to have this debate. This country was founded, amongst other things, on the right to disagree. It’s a shame that some are driving an agenda that seeks to end that dialogue because things might get too intense, or a few people might feel “unsafe.” Last December, George Will was declared a person who would create an unsafe environment at Michigan State University because of his op-ed he wrote for the Washington Post in June of 2014 that discussed the alleged campus rape epidemic, and how colleges have become overtaken by progressivism. Will was invited to be a commencement speaker. How a senior citizen creates an unsafe environment is beyond me. Nevertheless, Will attended the ceremony, gave his speech, and yes; some students turned their backs on him. These limits on free speech have rendered us incapable of having conversations. I understand the hesitations of the students opposed to this film, but if they saw it; I’m sure they would find it apolitical, unbiased, and dare I say, anti-war.
At least some students defended the film’s screening when it was initially billed.
UPDATE: So, I guess you’ll be able to watch Paddington AND American Sniper now.
We’re planning to show American Sniper in a separate forum that provides an appropriate space for dialogue & reflection. More info to come.
— Campus Involvement (@UMInvolvement) April 8, 2015