Open Letter to University of Maryland Muslim Students Assn.
"This war propaganda guised as art reveals a not-so-discreet Islamaphobic, violent and racist nationalist ideology. A simple Google search will give you hundreds of articles that delve into how this film has fueled anti-Arab and anti-Islamic sentiments; its visceral "us versus them" narrative helps to proliferate the marginalization of multiple groups and communities - many of which exist here at UMD.
American Sniper only perpetuates the spread of Islamaphobia and is offensive to many Muslims around the world for good reason. This movie dehumanizes Muslim individuals, promotes the idea of senseless mass murder and portrays negative and inaccurate stereotypes."
That's a portion of the text from a petition circulated at the University of Maryland College Park by the Muslim Students Association in response to word that the film "American Sniper" would be shown on campus by another student group. In reaction to the circulating of the petition, plans for the showing of the film were scrapped. It may or may not be shown at a later date in the fall.
Here is my response to this petition and its characterization of the film in question. Consider it if you will an open letter to the Muslims Student Association at the University of Maryland.
I spent a great number of years abroad working against Muslim terrorist organizations. I know as well as anyone I think that radical Islamic jihadists do not speak for Islam as a whole nor are they in anyway representative of the great majority of Muslims in the world today. Some of the bravest men and women I have ever met have been Muslims who had the courage and the dedication to work with the United States of America against the madmen who were attempting to hijack a great religion for their own purposes. Many of them are still out there today fighting against tyranny and extremism. Far too many have paid the ultimate price and died in the course of this struggle.
None of this changes the fact that the violence and cruelty practiced by Muslim extremists in Iraq, which is portrayed in "American Sniper' , is historically accurate. That is not supposition. That is fact. Turn on the news for a few minutes, and you will see that these tactics remain in use everyday by groups fighting against the new Iraqi government.
The fact that this makes you uncomfortable and that you wish it were otherwise does not change that. You may yearn for a world free of monsters. We all do. The sad truth is, however, that there really are monsters out there, and that someone has to defend us from them. Thank God that it does not have to be you.
American Sniper is a 2014 American biographical war drama film directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle the deadliest marksman in U.S. military history with 255 kills, 160 of which were officially confirmed by the Department of Defense. The film is based on the book "American Sniper" by Chris Kyle. | Photo: Archives |
The characterization of "American Sniper" as some form of war propaganda suggests to me that no one who drafted the petition or signed it had ever bothered to see the film. No one who actually sat through a showing would consider it a film that glorifies or promotes war. It shows in clear, unambiguous fashion the toll, physical and mental, that repeated deployments take, not only on Kyle himself, but on his family and those around him.
I know men who have deployed well over a dozen times since 9/11. Very few of them have survived that without losing their marriages and dealing with significant emotional issues. Yet, they continue to go back down range time and time again. They don't do it, because war is glorious. They do it, because it is necessary and they feel the call to defend their fellow citizens.
The use of the term "nationalist" in this petition strikes me as peculiarly significant. It suggests that the drafters believe there is something inherently wrong with having pride in your country or believing in its special place in the world. Perhaps, as you sit in your dorm rooms thinking about the myriad of "groups and communities" represented on campus to which you in your petition, you ought to take just a moment to reflect on the magic of a place that allows for such diversity.
America is a work in progress. It always will be. The truth is, however, that every year hundreds of thousands of people flock to its shores to start new lives and lend a hand in its perfection. There is a reason.
They come, because, with all its imperfections, America is a unique place, founded by people seeking a better life and reinvented everyday by those who come here. People come here with nothing but the contents of a suitcase and a drive to build a new life. They take jobs in supermarkets and sleep ten people to a room in a cheap apartment building. Twenty years later they watch their children graduate from the best schools in the country and they own the stores
It's ok to be proud of that.
In closing, let me touch briefly on the First Amendment and what it means. Free speech is enshrined in our democracy, because of our fundamental belief that in a free marketplace of ideas the truth will win out. We do not shrink from debate. We welcome it. No matter how much I disagree with you or you with me, we can both embrace the idea that we should be allowed to speak our minds and that in the end the best ideas will carry the day.
There is, therefore, something particularly noxious about the idea of circulating a petition, which seeks to prevent the viewing of a film simply, because it is believed to promote ideas with which you disagree. If your reasoning is solid, and you have confidence in your positions, then why are you so threatened by the thought that fellow students will be able to view a depiction of events with which you disagree?
I will leave you with one last thought. When you are done reading this, debating this topic with your fellow students and devoting some thought to this whole controversy, go find a veteran. Shake his or her hand. Because the only reason you have the luxury of any of this intellectual discourse is because of them.