The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee has asked “American Sniper” director Clint Eastwood and the blockbuster’s star, Bradley Cooper, to condemn anti-Arab and anti-Muslim threats in the wake of the film’s success.
The civil rights group, which describes itself as a secular organization representing Arab Americans of all creeds, sent letters to Eastwood and Cooper last week, asking them to address violent rhetoric expressed in the name of the popular film.
“We don’t think people should be threatening other Americans with putting a bullet through their heads,” ADC President Samer Khalaf told The Washington Post. “I think that’s something we can all agree on.”
Based on a memoir by the late Navy SEAL sharpshooter Chris Kyle, “American Sniper” has contributed to a spike in anti-Arab threats this month, especially on social media, Khalaf said. Although it’s impossible to attribute a cause for every anti-Arab threat the group has collected, Khalaf said that several recent threats include specific references to the film.
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According to the ADC, the group has tracked “hundreds” of threats on Twitter and via email that specifically mention the movie. The group provided screenshots of about a dozen of those tweets to The Post.
The tweets were loaded with racial epithets and direct expressions of a desire to kill Muslims and Arabs after watching the film. There were also statements expressing joy at watching the onscreen deaths of Iraqis, including women and children.
Other news outlets, such as the Wrap, have also documented anti-Muslim and anti-Arab tweets that mention the film.
“I think a lot of this has to do with the language that’s used in the film,” Khalaf said, referring specifically to the film’s references to Iraqis as “ragheads” and “savages.” Khalaf has not personally seen “American Sniper,” though he has viewed a few clips on YouTube. But speaking for his organization, he said that the ADC views the film as “pretty much across the board a dehumanization of the Iraqi people.”
The threats, Khalaf said, have come in two waves. First, the group started noticing tweets from those who recently viewed “American Sniper.” A second wave was prompted by the ADC’s own campaign to document anti-Arab threats that reference the film.
That effort has not gone over well with some of the film’s most vocal supporters.
Among them: several conservative news outlets and columnists who believe that those criticizing the film’s channeling of Kyle’s pleasure at killing Iraqis – whom he repeatedly refers to as “savages” – are out of touch with the American public. Over at Breitbart, John Nolte wrote that the ADC’s claims were a “hoax,” promoted by the media simply because they don’t like “American Sniper” or its fans.
Some fans of the film have praised it for, seemingly, the exact tone the ADC has found so troubling. Pamela Geller, whose blog is popular among activists who believe Islam poses an immediate threat to American society, called “American Sniper” the “best film in decades,” one that “tells the truth about the war we are in and the savages we are fighting.”
“I’m no theologian,” Fox News Channel’s Todd Starnes said this week in response to the film’s depiction of violence, “but I suspect Jesus would tell that God-fearing, red-blooded American sniper, ‘Well done thou good and faithful servant for dispatching another Godless jihadist to the lake of fire.’ “
Khalaf says that the threats his group has observed this month are nothing new for Arab Americans after 9/11, but that the intensity and details of those specifically referencing “American Sniper” are troubling.
“It’s been way more escalated,” even considering that “any time there’s a large terrorist act against the U.S. we tend to get” a spike in threats, Khalaf said.
So far, the ADC hasn’t heard back from Eastwood or Cooper (or their representatives), and neither Hollywood star has addressed the ADC’s letters in public statements. Warner Brothers, however, issued a statement Tuesday saying that the studio “denounces any violent, anti-Muslim rhetoric, including that which has been attributed to viewers of American Sniper. Hate and bigotry have no place in the important dialogue that this picture has generated about the veteran experience.”
Over the weekend, Eastwood said that he believes “American Sniper” is at its heart “anti-war,” because it shows “the fact of what (war) does to the family and the people who have to go back into civilian life like Chris Kyle did.”