Dean Obeidallah: "American Sniper," touted by right as pro-war movie, has inflamed some anti-Muslim rhetoric
He says it's really a powerful anti-war film. Director Eastwood shows the damage wrought by senseless war
Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM’s weekly program “The Dean Obeidallah Show.” He is a columnist for The Daily Beast and editor of the politics blog The Dean’s Report. He’s also the co-director of the documentary “The Muslims Are Coming!” Follow him on Twitter: @TheDeansreport. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
I had to see the movie “American Sniper.” Not because of the Oscar buzz but because of the vicious anti-Muslim and anti-Arab comments posted by some on social media after seeing the film.
As Samer Khalaf, the president of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, noted, there have been hundreds of violent messages on Facebook and Twitter directed against Arabs and Muslims made by people who had seen “American Sniper.”
For example, tweets such as, “Great f*@##@* movie and now I really want to kill some f*@##@* ragheads,” “Nice to see a movie where the Arabs are portrayed for who they really are-vermin scum intent on destroying us” and “American Sniper made me…hate Muslims 1000000X more.”
Being of Arab heritage and Muslim, I had to know: Did the film really portray Arabs and Muslims in way that would naturally draw these types of hateful comments? Was the film a jingoistic jubilee, like a “Top Gun” for a new generation, but where the Muslims/Arabs are now the “evil empire” instead of the Soviet Union?
What did I find? The film was not any of those things. “American Sniper” is the most powerful anti-war film I have ever seen.
True, the film is based on the autobiography of Chris Kyle, the decorated Navy Seal sniper who recorded the most “kills” in U.S. military history. That fact is likely the reason some on the right have championed the film as a pro-war anthem.
But “American Sniper” is becoming as misunderstood as Bruce Springsteen’s classic song, “Born in the U.S.A.” Republicans from Ronald Reagan on have played that song at their campaign events believing it to be a pro-America celebratory anthem. It’s anything but that.
The lyrics of “Born in the U.S.A” poignantly criticize the Vietnam War and the way our country treated its veterans after their return to the states. Many didn’t listen to the words and so missed Springsteen’s point. It’s like this with “American Sniper.”
The film does more than portray the horrors of war. That we have seen before. Instead, it focuses on the horrors that come after: the post-war suffering when those who have served come home.
Director Clint Eastwood gives us a parade of veterans who have been wounded in some fashion: Lost legs, lost arms, lost hands, lost souls. Even veterans who appear intact at first glance, turn out to be far from it. For example, one scene features a veteran in an auto repair garage back in the United States. He recognizes Kyle and after speaking to him for a minute, raises his pant leg to show he is missing a leg.
It’s not surprising Eastwood would make an anti-war movie. The usually tight-lipped Eastwood recently commented, “contrary to public opinion, I abhor violence.” And Eastwood has not only publicly opposed to the Iraq war, he even questioned waging the war in Afghanistan.
As to my original reason for seeing the film, to learn whether it incites hatred of Muslims and Arabs? Well, I don’t think you are going to like our communities more after seeing the film. But I’m fairly confident that those who made hateful comments about Arabs and Muslim hated us before they stepped into the movie theater. The film just gave them an excuse to voice their bigotry.
It’s important to note: Kyle was not killed by an Iraqi, but according to police, by a U.S. veteran who allegedly had PTSD. It happened long after he’d returned from the battlefield. He was back home. If people are angry with that or about the fate of the other Americans who suffered in the war, they should focus should not on American Muslims but on those who led our country into a war based on questionable reasons.
That doesn’t mean I don’t wish Eastwood made a more balanced film that would let audiences see the brutality and suffering of both sides in the conflict. There isn’t any reference, for example, to the horrors of Abu Ghraib prison where U.S. soldiers infamously tortured Iraqis. Nor was there any reference to the 2006 massacre in Haditha, Iraq, which happened during the period Kyle was in Iraq. That’s when U.S. Marines went on a killing spree and slaughtered 24 unarmed Iraqis including women, children and an elderly man in a wheel chair.
And Eastwood’s depiction of the Iraqis was almost comically without nuance. Forget character development; the Iraqi version of Kyle, for example – a sniper known as “Mustafa” – barely registered as one-dimensional. He didn’t even speak; he was simply depicted as a silent killing machine.
Was Eastwood’s use of an almost video game-like violence when it came to killing Iraqis calculated to dehumanize the Iraqi people? I don’t think so.
His focus was not on whom we were fighting, but the unbearably high price Americans pay for waging war regardless of its target. The film is a cautionary tale for Americans about why we must avoid war. It is not a celebration of waging it.
While “American Sniper” did garner an Oscar nomination for best picture, Eastwood was not nominated for best director. But Eastwood deserves a special award – for making a powerful anti-war film that the right would cheer.