If American Sniper made you want to wrap yourself up in the star-spangled banner, then it seems that director Clint Eastwood has succeeded. The film takes a shortsighted and propagandistic approach towards emphasizing the feats of U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle in the American war on Iraq. This film has already earned millions from the box office and is even more relevant given the latest, ostensibly Islamic-inspired terror attacks in Ottawa, Sydney, and Paris.
The narrative that seems to be imposed upon us is a “clash of civilizations,” at a time when anti-Islam hysteria is rife throughout popular culture. This clash runs like a fault line between the West’s universal notion of values such as democracy, freedom of speech—read Charlie Hebdo—and a monolithic conception of Islam that is simply incompatible with the West.
Chris Kyle was attributed with over 160 confirmed kills while in Iraq; such prolific combat skills earned him the name “Legend” from his military colleagues. Before Kyle became a sniping legend, he was a cowboy from Texas, and as his fridge magnet informs us, you “Don’t Mess with Texas.” This mentality is maintained throughout the film by Kyle in relation to the Iraqis he is shooting, interrogating, dehumanizing, and occupying. The film offers a myopic and openly racist depiction of Iraqis with lines such as, “they are savages”, and “every military-aged male is here to kill you.” It is exactly this type of narrative that glosses over the suffering and plight of the Iraqi people that was foisted upon them by the United States government and its “Coalition of the Willing” outside the purview of international bodies such as the United Nations.
It should be noted that Kyle’s first tour was in Fallujah, where potential U.S. war crimes took place including deliberate targeting of civilians, the wholesale destruction of homes and infrastructure, and unquantifiable health-related issues due to the use of depleted uranium munitions. The Lancet, a British medical journal, noted that between 2003 and 2006 just fewer than 650 000 deaths occurred in Iraq, with the numbers ebbing and flowing depending on the metrics used.
American Sniper is a narrative devoid of any Iraqi agency, with racist interpretations used as a device to further alienate those who question the clash of civilizations. This type of mythology works in favor of perpetuating Islamophobia especially in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris. Similarly, with the emergence of the Islamic State and the subsequent upheaval in the Middle East, we must be aware that films such as American Sniper essentialize Islam, a religion with over 1.6 billion followers as blood thirsty terrorists wanting to kill American soldiers.
As Kyle says, “we are protecting more than just dirt,” but with the U.S. military’s withdrawal in 2011 there is very little to celebrate. In reality it seems that U.S. ‘boots on the ground’ in Iraq is once again almost inevitable, and in fact a self-fulfilling prophecy.