“Some students expressed concern that this movie was not appropriate for a night designed to be a fun event and one welcoming to all students,” university spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald told the Post in an email.
“American Sniper” focuses on the story of Chris Kyle, often described as the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history. As a Navy SEAL, Kyle reportedly recorded 160 kill shots during his four tours in Iraq.
According to a report in The Michigan Daily, a Google document circulated to the student body garnered signatures that included the Muslim Students’ Association and the president of Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, a Palestinian solidarity group at the university.
“Chris Kyle was a racist who took a disturbing stance on murdering Iraqi civilians,” the letter stated. “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 Collective Letter students who are too often reminded of how little the media and world values their lives. … The University of Michigan should not participate in further perpetuating these negative and misleading stereotypes.”
In response to the initial cancellation, Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh tweeted support for the film and said his players will watch it.
The film has been controversial over its depiction of the Iraq War, and Islam is included in bits and piece in the film and in the book.
Kyle opened his book by probing the ethics of combat as he wrote about his first sniper shot, when he had to kill an Iraqi woman holding a grenade.
“My shots saved several Americans, whose lives were clearly worth more than that woman’s twisted soul,” he wrote. “I can stand before God with a clear conscience about doing my job. But I truly, deeply hated the evil that woman possessed. I hate it to this day.”
Islam is mentioned a few times in his book, though the faith doesn’t have a starring role in the film except when Kyle is asked to defend a shot after a wife claimed the victim was carrying a Quran. In his book, Kyle writes that he told an Army colonel: “I don’t shoot people with Korans. I’d like to, but I don’t.”
The Muslim call to prayer appears twice in the film, but it doesn’t contain as many details or comments from Kyle about Islam as does the book.
“I hated the damn savages I’d been fighting,” Kyle wrote in his book. “I never once fought for the Iraqis. I could give a flying f**k about them.”
In fact, the movie skims over most faith details Kyle wrote in his book.
“I was raised with, and still believe in, the Christian faith. If I had to order my priorities, they would be God, Country, Family,” Kyle wrote. “There might be some debate on where those last two fall — these days I’ve come around to believe that Family may, under some circumstances, outrank Country. But it’s a close race.”
The God, country, family line is mentioned in passing in the film after another soldier asks Bradley Cooper (who plays Kyle) if he believes in God. “There’s evil,” Cooper says. “We’ve seen it.”
In the film, Kyle is shown putting his Bible in the pocket of his uniform.
The film has been a commercial success, drawing in $357 million in the U.S., the highest-grossing film in 2014 and the highest grossing war film of all time.
(This story has been updated.)
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