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

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

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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