American Sniper misses the target, furthers Islamophobia in America

Kyle Simpson

A common sentiment I’ve heard in the past week is “Chris Kyle was a hero.” It’s true; Kyle, the subject of the Oscar-nominated biopic “American Sniper,” was a hero, along with all of the men and women who selflessly put themselves in harm’s way to fight for our country and defend our rights from those who would threaten them.

The movie also highlights his and the other soldiers’ bravery and conviction to their cause. It describes a very real struggle veterans face when they return from war, — post-traumatic stress disorder. Still, the movie glorifies our negative reactions to terrorism and seems to condemn an entire group of people for the actions of a fanatical minority. Especially in the wake of recent terror in Europe, this portrayal is harmful and misleading. While bringing in a record-breaking $90 million on its opening weekend, “American Sniper” missed an opportunity to illustrate the complexities of war and instead reinforced the negative responses to acts of terrorism.

The movie is filled with the juxtaposition of American, Christian culture with the Muslim culture of Iraq. In the opening scenes, a war-torn town square with dirty mosques, a mother and child acting as suicide bombers and foreboding sounds of minarets – which are simply peaceful calls to prayer – are in sequence with pristine, whitewashed churches and wholesome American family dinners. Kyle’s Bible is used as a symbol in nearly every scene he kills someone. The imagery it conjures goes beyond simply drawing courage from his religion when things like, “I want you to put the fear of God in these 
savages,” are needlessly said. The enemy in this film appears to be Islam as a whole rather than 
militant Islamists.

The movie paints the faceless Iraqis as “savages,” a word that comes from the mouth of Kyle – both the real-life man and the one portrayed by Bradley Cooper. He isn’t referring to only the militants as savages, but the Iraqi people as a whole. Brutal mistreatment of innocent families occurs in multiple scenes in the movie. Never in the film are we made aware of the very real struggles the Iraqis are having while their country is being invaded. “American Sniper” consistently dehumanizes the people who were most affected by the Iraq War – the innocent Iraqis.

Islam as a whole is not to blame for militant terrorism. The vast majority of the approximately 1.6 billion people who practice Islam had 
nothing to do with the attacks in Paris or New York, and they condemn the tragedies as much as we do. Holding them responsible is akin to holding all Catholics responsible for the Spanish Inquisition or all Germans responsible for the Holocaust. This foolish reaction to the actions of a few is detrimental to our society, and it was irresponsible for the people involved in “American Sniper” to paint the conflict the way they did.

A film that could have been about the bravery and excellence of our armed forces seems instead emblematic of the struggle our society is having with Islamophobia. Our country, once proud of the ethnic and cultural diversity that made it exceptional, will only be weakened by the xenophobic attitudes present in this film. “American Sniper” seems more interested in over-the-top masculinity and shortsighted patriotism than a true conversation about war, religion and the brave men and women who are navigating these issues on the battlefield.

Kyle Simpson is a sophomore majoring in biology. His column runs biweekly.