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Letter to the Editor: 'American Sniper' has no place at MU

The film dehumanizes Arabs and Muslims and encourages racism in society.

March 3, 2015

The Maneater reserves the right to edit letters and columns for style and length.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is a letter to the editor written by a member of the MU community who is not part of The Maneater’s staff. It is not the opinion of The Maneater or its editorial board. In accordance with our letters policy, we publish every letter submitted to us barring personal attacks or hate speech; we welcome responses to this and everything we publish via a letter or in our comments section.

It recently came to my attention that the MSA/GPC Films Committee (part of the Department of Student Activities) is planning a screening of “American Sniper” on Friday, April 17 and Saturday, April 18. Knowing that the committee that chooses these films is comprised of my peers (with the same access to education as me), I was extremely disturbed that the film was even considered a viable option, let alone that it is actually being shown on this campus.

The film glorifies the mass murder of Iraqis, including civilians who are men, women and children. It tells the story of military occupation and oppression from the viewpoint of the oppressor, which is nothing new in mainstream American media (including news, film and TV). It cannot be discounted as merely one side of a story or just a movie, as this is the story that is told over and over again. We also cannot divorce the media we consume from lived realities and experiences or ignore psychological consequences.

It is vital to situate this film in its rightful context: a culture that has systematically and systemically vilified, demonized, exoticized, brutalized, colonized and dehumanized Arabs, South Asians, Muslims and people of color for centuries by way of military force, the legal system, popular culture and media, and various social/political institutions.

I should not have to elaborate on the dangers of telling a single story (see Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie), and yet I find myself here. I am writing this not because I have the time (I do not), but because I have no other choice but to advocate on my behalf for my safety on a campus where I already feel unsafe as a Muslim woman of color who chooses to wear the hijab.

Since the release of “American Sniper,” many white Americans have taken to social media to discuss how viewing this film has affected them. The results are truly appalling. For too many people (and let us be clear, one is too many), the film has bolstered the idea that Arabs and Muslims are less than human and somehow deserving of the devastation that has been wrought on their bodies by the U.S. military — and more.

They have sympathized more easily with a killer with no regard for human life than they have with the staggering numbers of people whose lives were taken by the hero of this film.

Although the fact that such sentiments, which often include slurs, are even expressed online is harmful in and of itself, the unfortunate fact of the matter is that they are not confined to the virtual world. I walk through a very real world where street harassment directed towards me takes on a much more sinister, orientalist tone. A world where words such as "towel-head" and "terrorist" are hurled at me as I walk alone or in a group in downtown Columbia. I live in a present reality where anti-Muslim hate and violence have spiked dangerously high in the last few months. Where a fabricated "parking dispute" is plenty of justification for the murder of three Muslim college students no different from me. Where a 15-year-old boy was murdered in Kansas City just three months ago because of his faith and race. Where just the other day, a father was shot while driving to pick his kids up from school, again because of his faith and race. I move through a world where hate and violence directed at my body is discounted as being motivated by anything other than hatred, racism, sexism or xenophobia.

I do not feel safe on this campus and for good reason. The fact that this film is being shown, the fact that I have to explain why this film is not only problematic but harmful makes me feel even more unsafe. Showing this film will create an even more hostile environment for me and other Arab, Muslim, South Asian and people of color on this campus.

I am requesting that this film not be shown and that it either be replaced with a film that does not glorify violence or support existing systems of domination and oppression, or an event addressing “American Sniper” and similar films and media texts using a critical lens. This film is blatant racist, colonialist propaganda that should not be shown under any circumstances and especially not endorsed by a branch of student government that purports to represent me and have my best interests in mind.

Lastly, I would like to clarify that this is not an attempt at censorship but an affirmation of my right to feel safe in my body and identity wherever I may be, including this campus. Freedom of speech should not come at the expense of anyone's humanity and right to be viewed, talked about and treated with basic respect and dignity.

I am asking that this film not be shown and that an official, public apology and explanation be issued by all parties involved in approving the screening of American Sniper on Mizzou's campus.

— Farah El-Jayyousi

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Article comments

March 4, 2015 at 2:40 p.m.

Charlie: While Farah has the right to this opinion, the fact that it can go so unchallenged in a place of higher learning is beyond absurd. That the Maneater could publish it under its letterhead is a sad day for the paper and the school. Should MU Library stop carrying any copies of Mein Kampf? Should the Film Studies department remove any mention of Birth of a Nation? The notion that any material of any kind should ever be removed from any institution of higher learning for any reason is deplorable. It would represent a failure of everything a University represents. That one should encounter what challenges them, what offends them, what threatens them, in an academic setting, is imperative to education. Farah, You may say you do not wish to censor, but that notion is in direct contradiction with the action you want taken. What you are asking for is censorship, by any and every meaning of the word. By all means, speak out, and speak out loudly, against the hate and bigotry that is demonstrably on the rise. Rally your fellow students to stand against hatred and ignorance. Fight for what is good. But it is unconscionable that MSA (or any MSA affiliated organizations), as a representative of MU and a recipient of its funds, should for any reason suppress speech of any kind.

March 4, 2015 at 5:16 p.m.

Andy: I understand your frustration and displeasure with the campus showing this film, but free speech is what makes the United States so special. I will never be able to feel what it's like to walk in your shoes, but please do know that the majority of Americans and students of this campus welcome others with open arms. I am embarrassed and ashamed as a US citizen that you may have felt persecuted in our society. Unfortunately there's a lot of hateful people in this world, and not only in the US. This film should be shown for several reasons. For one it displays a portrayal of how rough and brutal war is. Regardless on whether or not you feel it glorifies war the fact of the matter is that absolutely no one wants to go to war to kill others and watch their closest friends die. Everyone has their own opinion on whether or not the conflicts in the middle east are the United States business, but we are there because we felt it was right to stop the persecution of others based upon their race, religion, etc. To not show the movie would be the equivalent of not showing WWII movies. People need to understand the harsh effects of persecution and how it tears this world apart. At the end of the day this movie was chosen to be shown because it was an excellent movie nominated for several Oscars. Not because it promotes discrimination and persecution.

March 4, 2015 at 6:22 p.m.

Julian Vizitei: The writer is taking this movie in the wrong perspective. American Sniper is about the story of Chris Kyle. This isn't a movie about the Iraq War or american foreign policy, this is purely about what he went through and how it affected him. The people who he shot were people fighting the American soldiers, and it was his job as a sniper to defend those soldiers. He struggled with the decisions of killing people, especially women and children, and only did it when his men were threatened. People who take the movie in the view the writer is concerned about are people that already held those views and used the movie to just bolster their ideas, just like the writer is using the movie to bolster theirs. It is the perspective you take the movie from, but in that case both sides are looking at the movie in a way it was not meant to be looked at. This is a story about Chris Kyle, taken from his book. This is not a movie about the Iraq War.

March 4, 2015 at 10:28 p.m.

Zackary: Thank you Farah. This is a wonderfully written piece. Not only do you make just about every good point that can be made about this film, you did so in a way that spoke directly to the supporters of this film. I'm just sad to say that the supporters of this film are uniformly against any notion of media responsibility as a corner stone of free speech (which is not, nor should it be, absolute) and American Exceptionalism (which literally doesn't exist in any category). I would like to continue this discussion by pointing out that American Sniper is not about a man, it's about a war. That is like saying that Full Metal Jacket is about that one guy from Law and Order Criminal Intent and not about the Vietnam War. No. This movie is Der Stoltz Der Nation but in English and all the Nazis are Americans.

March 4, 2015 at 11:09 p.m.

Evan: I’d like to suggest that the decision not to show a film that is readily available to anyone who would like to see it by an organization that is supposed to represent all students is not actually suppression of speech. And that comparing such a decision to banning Nazi materials being critically considered in an academic setting is intellectually dishonest. In fact, the alternatives Farah proposed *are* much better suited to an institution of higher learning, if that's truly a concern. Should the MSA/GPC Films Committee decide to put on an event like the one she suggested, it might be beneficial to cover the first amendment, the history of the Iraq War, and the ways film/art influence and reflect cultural norms, because the comments on this post have made it very clear that those issues aren’t universally understood.

March 5, 2015 at 10:45 a.m.

Benjamin Vega: Farah, I would like to address a few of the points you raised in your article. The first is your assertion that people with the same access to education as you predisposes them to your opinion. Clearly that is false and if it were then MU would be doing a deplorable job of educating a diversity of students. Second is your vilification of American culture. American culture, that you wrongly purport glorifies violence against Muslims, is also the culture that enables the free speech that you and I enjoy. The American Sniper and the men and women like him defend this very culture and your right to say the things that you are and practice your religion publicly without fear of governmental reprisal. Part of free speech is that it applies to everyone. To you. To me. And unfortunately to the vocal minority of bigots that abuse it. Next, if you would like to begin a meaningful discussion about the Iraq War and this film, all sides must be represented: yours, mine, the American Sniper's. Silencing part of this discussion is counterproductive to your very point. Only representing one opinion, yours, is itself propaganda. What you are calling for IS censorship. Further, it is unfortunate that you do not feel safe on this campus. The majority of students on this campus do not hate, and it is only a vocal minority that make life difficult for everyone. The same few people that make you feel unsafe are the same people that make blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and men and women of all colors and creeds feel unsafe. Not showing American Sniper will do nothing to change this. These people will still behave poorly without the movie being shown, and the unfortunate truth is that if you are recognized as the reason that the movie was not shown, you may draw more of this negative attention. Lastly, let's talk about MSA. MSA is working to change the MU's Religious Observance Statement so that all students will be able to get the most out of both their classes and religion without prioritizing one or the other (Senate Legislation 54-11). They also facilitate regular discussions of race, color, creed, religion, sexuality, and more. Their job is to facilitate student exploration of these difficult concepts. They have done that. Their job is also to provide entertainment to students, this is what they are doing with this film. You are not entitled to an apology from MSA or anyone else. Nor is anyone entitled to an apology from you. This is college, where we all face a diversity of opinions which are equally valid. Apologies limit the discussion and have no place in academia. MSA should not issue an apology for American Sniper, Dear White People, or for any Michael Moore film. Each of these have offended someone, and none deserve an apology or explanation. In fact, since MSA has already paid money, money obtained from student fees, for the rights to show this film, cancelling it is an affront to all students.

March 5, 2015 at 11:14 a.m.

Steven: Charlie - this is a letter to the editor. It's under the opinion section.

March 6, 2015 at 12:09 a.m.

Travis Webb: Don't get me wrong I thought It was a well written article but the simple truth is , that is really the way it was over there. I was in the Infantry in Mosul Iraq for 5 months during 06 through 07. If a 10 year old kid picked up an RPG and was intent on harming some of my fellow soldiers I would take him out but that does not mean that soldiers don't have feelings, we weren't robots just killing for the fun of it. In truth we protected more Iraqis then we ever killed and I am just tired of everyone seeing these Hollywood movies about Iraq and Afghanistan thinking that they all of the sudden are experts in warfare and act like they know everything about war and how they would actually act if they were in one.

March 16, 2015 at 9:05 a.m.

Dan: I really seriously doubt that Farah has even seen this movie.

March 16, 2015 at 8:38 p.m.

Katie Pohlman: This is just a reminder that The Maneater will only approve comments that are constructive and add to the conversation. Per our editorial policy, comments that include hate speech or personal attacks will not be published on our site. Anonymous comments will also not be published. The Maneater reserves the editorial right to decided which comments will be published.

March 16, 2015 at 11:25 p.m.

Gabriel Esparza: Katie Pohlman, this is one of the first times I have seen a comment clarifying that hate speech and personal attacks will not be published. Was this necessary because there were a significant amount of such comments occurring? If so, does the increased occurrence of such hate speech not reinforce the idea that Mizzou does in fact harbor an atmosphere of hostility toward minority groups such as Muslim Americans? Is it possible then, that this hostility is encouraged by the continuation of rhetoric that portrays minority groups in a negative way? I do not know the answer to these questions Katie, but I do know that the comments that are being published on other news outlets do have me concerned for my safety. When I get flipped off or yelled at by total strangers while walking with my wife, I do get concerned for her safety. I personally do not care whether or not they play this film, but the discussion following this article does have me concerned about greater issues facing minority groups and the accepted hatred that they must encounter on a regular basis.

March 19, 2015 at 3:41 p.m.

Katie Pohlman: Gabriel, Yes there have been multiple inappropriate comments submitted to our website, as you could probably guess from those seen on other sites in Columbia that don't monitor their comment sections. As the student newspaper, we want to facilitate a respectful, useful conversation instead of allowing students to throw punches at each other. We want to aid the conversation. I'm sorry that you have had these experiences throughout your life and I hope there will be a day that your wife, and you, eventually feel safe in your own town.

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