Education

Students Fight School’s Decision To Cancel ‘American Sniper’ Viewing

Conservative students started their own petition in response to a decision Tuesday by The University of Michigan at Ann Arbor to cancel a planned screening of “American Sniper” after a few hundred students said the film made them feel uncomfortable and unsafe.

Instead of showing “American Sniper,” The Center for Campus Involvement will instead show “Paddington Bear” at the event Friday, which is part of a program dedicated to providing students with alcohol-free Friday nights.

“Student reactions have clearly articulated that this is neither the time nor the venue to show this movie,” CCI said in a statement posted to its Facebook page. “We deeply regret causing harm to members of our community, and appreciate the thoughtful feedback provided to us by students and staff alike.”

The screening was cancelled hours after sophomore Lamees Mekkaoui organized a petition asking CCI to cancel the screening. “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 told campus newspaper The Michigan Daily.

Other students involved in the campus chapter of a conservative organization, Young Americans for Freedom, started a petition asking CCI to revert to the original planned screening of “American Sniper.” “The movie ‘American Sniper’ is not about a racist mass murderer or a criminal,” the petition states. “It is about a decorated American war hero who served his country valiantly.”

“If the University prevents a movie like this from being shown, it promotes intolerance and stifles dialogue and debate on the subject and goes directly against the atmosphere UMix purports to provide,” the petition adds. “As adults at a public university, we should have the option to view this movie if we so choose and have the opportunity to engage on the topics it presents to come to our own conclusions on the subjects.”

So far the petition has 111 signers. “[‘American Sniper’] is not anti-Muslim by any means,” UM YAF chapter Chairman and national board member Grant Strobl told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “It’s anti-radical Islam and that’s something that all religions — Muslims, Christians and everybody — can agree on, because our troops are fighting overseas for the freedom of all people.”

“I don’t think ‘Paddington Bear’ is going to be much fun for any student,” he added.

If the school does not agree to show “American Sniper,” the YAF chapter is working on showing a private screening.

Mekkaoui, a member of the campus Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, as well as the Middle Eastern and Arab Network, sent a personal letter of concern to the Center for Campus Involvement Tuesday morning after learning about the planned screening of “American Sniper.” She posted that letter to her Facebook page.

After receiving positive feedback, she sent a second letter with input from other students that garnered 200 signatures. “Although we respect the right to freedom of speech, we believe that with this right comes responsibility: responsibility of action, intention, and outcome,” the letter reads. “The movie ‘American Sniper’ not only tolerates but promotes anti-Muslim and anti-MENA rhetoric and sympathizes with a mass killer.”

Asked in a Facebook comment to expound on what’s wrong with showing “American Sniper,” CCI said a lot of students “expressed concern over the content of the film and not feeling safe or welcome at UMix if we were to show this film there.”

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Mekkaoui told The Michigan Daily she appreciates the quick response. “I just want to say thank you to the Center for Campus Involvement for listening to student feedback, and for taking quick action to make sure once they found that they had done something that made students on campus feel uncomfortable, they took immediate action to change that,” she said.

Below is the text of the second letter, provided to TheDCNF by Mekkaoui:

“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.”

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