An upcoming campus screening of American Sniper at the University of Missouri has drawn fire for potentially offending Muslim members of the community.
At the heart of the controversy is a Muslim student activist who declared showing the film on campus would make her feel “unsafe” and demanded an “apology and explanation” as to how and why the movie was even selected for Mizzou audiences.
The uproar was taken quite seriously, and prompted the student government to conduct a meeting to determine whether the flick should be shown.
“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,” student Farah El-Jayyousi, former president of the Muslim Student Organization, had stated.
She made the comments in a letter to the editor to The Maneater earlier this month, denouncing the decision to show the blockbuster – the highest grossing film of 2014. El-Jayyousi accused the movie of dehumanizing Muslims and glorifying the murder of Iraqis, and referred to Chris Kyle, the Navy SEAL featured in the film, as “a killer with no regard for human life.”
El-Jayyousi, described by the University of Missouri’s website as a psychology and women’s and gender studies double-major and social justice advocate, went on to declare in her letter:
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.
After its publication, the student government stated it received “numerous letters from students asking for the film to be cancelled.”
The Missourian reported that “many took offense to the article … [and] a common thread in the debate is the tension between free speech and a student’s right to feel safe on campus.”
The controversy prompted the student government to meet last week to discuss whether the screening should continue.
“At this moment we have not made a decision as to whether we are going to cancel the film or not,” Missouri Students Association President Payton Head had said at the time.
On Friday, after it met with “veterans and members of the Muslim community,” the students association finally weighed in, saying the movie will be shown as originally planned on April 17 and 18 – but promised to have some sort of event to help “cultivate an inclusive campus climate.”
“Throughout our discussion, many opinions were expressed both for and against showing this film on campus,” the student government stated. “MSA and other student organizations will utilize the screening to create new conversations about the issues presented in the film. We will use these conversations to help cultivate an inclusive campus climate.”
“Additional programming to educate the campus on these issues will be announced as plans come together.”
CORRECTION: The headline has been changed to reflect that only one Muslim student, the former president of the Muslim Student Organization, wrote a letter to the editor of The Maneater protesting the campus screening of American Sniper. The rest of the article has been updated to reflect that the student government reached out to members of the Muslim community in response to the student’s letter.