American Sniper causes Islamophobia

Tweet of a US Marine calling on the killing of all Muslims in response to criticism of the movie American Sniper about the American soldier with the most kills in the Iraq War

By Stephany Harrington, Staff Writer

Since the release of American Sniper in January, there has been a rise in Islamophobic activity. The controversy surrounding this film is intense because of the way the film portrays the killing of Muslims and how Navy Seal Chris Kyle, the protagonist of the film, seems overzealous in his assignment to kill them. Numerous social media users, specifically on Twitter, wrote hateful messages after they had seen the film. One user wrote that they appreciate American soldiers a hundred times more and hate Muslims a million times more. Another said that “American Sniper makes me wanna go shoot some fucking Arabs.” This film not only demonizes an entire religious community, it also completely whitewashes and glorifies American military violence.

When I viewed the film in theaters, I felt very uncomfortable by the emotional atmosphere in the room. I found it particularly unpleasant when the fall of the Twin Towers on 9/11 was in a scene that ultimately influenced Kyle’s desire to fight abroad. I heard dramatic gasps and whimpers from people in the theater when the film showed a clip of the burning buildings in New York. The events of September 11 are in Americans’ recent traumatic memory, and seeing it again on screen can still be very emotional. While it may have been a critical factor in Kyle’s decision to be sent to the Middle East, it seemed to just add fuel to the fire.

In my personal experience speaking with people about the attack on 9/11, there still exist residual emotions and resentment attached with the event. When I visited the 9/11 museum last fall, I immediately noticed that people are still hurt and they are still angry. Showing the burning buildings in American Sniper certainly triggered those feelings for many viewers.

In addition to the killing of Iraqi people in the film, Kyle also refers to the Muslim people that he encounters as “savages.” While that could have been a way for him to cope with his job as a sniper, I felt extremely uncomfortable by the slur. Whether or not it was intentional to provoke anti-Muslim sentiment, that is exactly what the film did.

The filmmakers need to take responsibility for the message that they distributed. Although I believe in creative rights and the integrity of films, the impact that this film had cannot be ignored. It doesn’t matter if the movie was intended to represent one man’s very individual experience. It roused hatred in many people. They want to blame others for what happened on 9/11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and this film allowed them an outlet to do so.

Muslims in this film were reduced to nameless figures whose only purpose was to be eliminated. Because of the many Americans that died in the conflicts Iraq and Afghanistan, people found solace in blaming Muslims and encouraging anti-Muslim rhetoric. Although the recent shooting of three young Muslims at Chapel Hill has not been officially declared a hate crime, we cannot deny that prejudices against Muslims are a constant problem today in America.

If rousing anti-Muslim sentiment was not the intention, the filmmakers and actors need to discourage the viewers that are responding with hateful messages. The artists’ intentions for the film are no longer relevant; rather it is now all about how people respond. Hate and revenge have certainly been a result of the film, which makes it extremely dangerous. I do not discourage people from seeing American Sniper, but I do recommend caution when viewing it, or at least the acknowledgment of the implications and consequences that this film has for Muslims in America and around the world.

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Author: Isabel Gibson Penrose

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