The University of Michigan at Ann Arbor canceled a planned screening of American Sniper Tuesday afternoon, after a few hundred students said the film made them feel uncomfortable and unsafe.
“As a student who identifies as an Arab and Middle Eastern student, I feel that ‘American Sniper’ condones a lot of anti-Middle Eastern and North African propaganda,” sophomore Lamees Mekkaoui, who organized a letter of petition, told campus newspaper The Michigan Daily.
Instead of showing American Sniper, The Center for Campus Involvement will instead show Paddington Bear at the event Friday, which is part of a program dedicated to providing students with alcohol-free Friday nights.
“Student reactions have clearly articulated that this is neither the time nor the venue to show this movie,” CCI said in a statement posted to its Facebook page, and added: “We deeply regret causing harm to members of our community, and appreciate the thoughtful feedback provided to us by students and staff alike.”
Mekkaoui, a member of Students Allied for Freedom and Equality and the Middle Eastern and Arab Network on campus, sent a personal letter of concern to the Center for Campus Involvement Tuesday morning, after learning about the planned screening of American Sniper, and posted it on her Facebook page.
After receiving positive feedback, she sent a second letter with input from other students, which garnered 200 signatures. “Although we respect the right to freedom of speech, we believe that with this right comes responsibility: responsibility of action, intention, and outcome,” the letter read. “The movie ‘American Sniper’ not only tolerates but promotes anti-Muslim and anti-MENA rhetoric and sympathizes with a mass killer.”
Other students involved in the campus chapter of a conservative organization, Young Americans for Freedom, started a petition asking CCI to revert to the original planned screening of American Sniper. “The movie American Sniper is not about a racist mass murderer or a criminal,” the petition states. “It is about a decorated American war hero who served his country valiantly.
“If the University prevents a movie like this from being shown, it promotes intolerance and stifles dialogue and debate on the subject and goes directly against the atmosphere UMix purports to provide,” the petition adds. “As adults at a public university, we should have the option to view this movie if we so choose and have the opportunity to engage on the topics it presents to come to our own conclusions on the subjects.”
So far the petition has 65 signers. “[American Sniper] is not anti-muslim by any means,” UM YAF chapter chairman and national board member Grant Strobl told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “It’s anti-radical Islam and that’s something that all religions — Muslims, Christians and everybody — can agree on, because our troops are fighting overseas for the freedom of all people.”
“I don’t think Paddington Bear is going to be much fun for any student,” he added.
If the school does not agree to show American Sniper, the YAF chapter is working on showing a private screening.
Asked in a Facebook comment to expound on what’s wrong with showing American Sniper, CCI said a lot of students “expressed concern over the content of the film and not feeling safe or welcome at UMix if we were to show this film there.”
Mekkaoui told The Michigan Daily she appreciates the quick response. “I just want to say thank you to the Center for Campus Involvement for listening to student feedback, and for taking quick action to make sure (that) once they found that they had done something that made students on campus feel uncomfortable, they took immediate action to change that,” she said.