American Sniper: Turning a psychopathic murderer into a hero

American Sniper: Turning a psychopathic murderer into a hero
Comment: The fictionalised memoir of a US marksman is the latest in a long history of Hollywood's demonisation of Arabs and Muslims.
6 min read
23 Feb, 2015
Chris Kyle has been celebrated as an American hero [Getty]

Last night, one of the highest grossing Hollywood movies of the year was up for six Academy Awards.

What it won or didn't win is not my issue; that's Hollywood's - which has always doled out its Oscars based on a political agenda.

No, my issue is how Hollywood turned a psychopathic mass murder of women, men and children - overwhelmingly civilian and under a brutal military occupation of their country - into a hero.

Hollywood should be shamed for this movie because of so many reasons, but primarily because it has been created with a premeditated intent to perpetuate a lie and switch right and wrong - and worst of all for exploiting an anti-Muslim, anti-Arab hate frenzy for commercial advantage.

IS is not an existential threat to US interests. Read Geoffrey Aronson's analysis here

The filmmaker, Clint Eastwood, is a right-wing conservative who has modelled himself after the iconic fellow rightwinger, John Wayne, famous for "slaughtering American Indians in the thousands" in his movies, and hating all non-conservative white people in real life.

Like most of his films, Eastwood in "American Sniper" goes for the simple black and white portrayal of good and evil, playing on their jingoism, the bigotry and fear of the less educated lower class white-Americans, who feel embittered by progress or the necessity of an even playing field for all - something only liberals espouse.

Eastwood discards the truth, because people just don't have the time to glean a nuanced narrative of history that is implanted, at least partially, in the truth.

Reinterpreting history

But Hollywood has a gigantic record of reshaping history, if not falsifying it altogether. Especially about war, giving the dictum," the first casualty of war is the truth", a special honour among its Oscar statuettes.

It equally has a long history of bigotry against African Americans, Native Americans, Arabs, Muslims, Mexicans, you name it.

From the Birth of a Nation (1915) to The Sheik (1921) to Ishtar (1987), to dozens of films about Iraq, and numerous more too many to mention, there are thousands of films that stereotype one group and demonise another - making it acceptable to dehumanise them.

This is especially true when it comes to Arabs and Muslims, whose only portrayal by Hollywood is that of villain.

In his documentary Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People, acclaimed author and film-maker Jack Shaheen states that he had reviewed more than 1,000 films - "and the Arabs are the most maligned characters ever portrayed in film".

'American Sniper' is simply a lie about a tragedy that has decimated Iraq and its people since the illegal US invasion and occupation.

While much of what has come before is fiction intended to beat-up on the Hollywood voiceless Arabs for entertainment and crude laughs, American Sniper is simply a lie about the tragedy that has, to this day, decimated Iraq and its people since the United States illegally invaded and occupied the country in 2003 on fabricated pretext.

Chris Kyle, a man with only a high-school education, and hardly the literary wherewithal needed to write a book, was persuaded to narrate his claims in a book about his killing-field experience in Iraq as a sniper from 2003 and 2009.

In his book, American Sniper published January 2012, Kyle claims that he accumulated 160 confirmed kills out of 255 probable kills.

As Kyle tells it, these numbers are based on individual shooter logs, filled out at the end of each mission, and reported to higher command. One should note that US Special Forces Command treats sniper kill counts as "unofficial".

Confirmed kills must have a witness, which is not the case in Kyle's account.

In other words, there is no way to substantiate Kyle's claim that his victims were "insurgents" - the term coined by the US military to describe the Iraqi resistance to American military occupation.

For the record, I was in Iraq as the United Nations' spokesman during four of Kyle's six years. I had thousands of conversations with Iraqi men and women, staff and the general population, and from the very north to the very south and the very east to the very west, including Ramadi, Fallujah, Basra, Najaf, Balad, Taji and places in between too numerous to name - where I was invariably told stories about civilians, men, women and children, assassinated by US soldiers as they tended to their business under suspicion of being "insurgents".

And of course there was the "gossipy" kind of chatter "Shaitan (the devil of) Al Ramadi", presumably Kyle, and the "Iraqi Ninja", presumably the character of the legendary Iraqi sniper Mustapha, depicted in the film in a manner different than even Kyle's book.

In the book, Kyle does not say that he had a final shoot-out with Mustapha, which ended in a bullet in the head of the Iraqi, and in fact does not say what happened to Mustapha, - but Eastwood wouldn't have it.

The legend of the sniper

Snipers have, of course, been part of all militaries throughout history, deployed to assassinate high-ranking enemy officers from behind the darkness for morale boosting, and never talked about - because snipers are always deemed cowards who kill from behind.

But the sniper was briefly brought respectability by Soviet soldiers during the legendary battle over the epic siege of Stalingrad in 1942 by the Nazi army. One Soviet soldier, Vasily Zaytsev, a shepherd from the Ural Mountains, gained fame and recognition for killing 225 Nazi officers between 10 November and 17 December 1942.

Most famous among his targets was Nazi Major Erwin Konig, who was brought to Stalingrad to kill Zaytsev.

Zaytsev's story was made known to the world by the film about his duel with Konig, Enemy at the Gates, which was released in April 2001.

Fabricating a legend

The Chris Kyle lie continues despite available evidence to the contrary, within and outside of the US military.

There seems to be another fabricated lie in Kyle's account of his own childhood, one that seems to have been shamelessly pilfered from the Zaytsev story, about sheep and wolves, and sheepdogs, an account repeatedly told in documentaries by Zaytsev himself (who died at age 76 in 1991).

The Chris Kyle lie continues despite available evidence to the contrary, within and without the US military, about his military record and civilian life.

Kyle's family, which suddenly finds itself wealthy beyond imagination, claimed that Kyle donated the proceeds of his book, which stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for 32 weeks straight, to a veterans' charity - a lie that was refuted by the press.

National Review rebutted the claim that all proceeds from his book went to veterans' charities, working out that around two percent - $52,000 - went to the charities while Kyle's family took $3 million.

Lying about charities and war records for profiteering is a fine capitalist tradition, and even a finer Hollywood one. So that's okay. What is not ok, is spinning this monster into the kind of hero - all the while whipping an anti Arab, anti-Muslim frenzy.

After the release of the film, anti-Arab and anti-Muslim incidents spiked alarmingly. In both, book and film, Iraqis are ceaselessly referred to as savages that are okay to kill and destroy - when the whole world knows that their country was savaged by the American invasion on false premise and to steal Iraq's oil.

Kyle was no Zaytsev, and Iraq is not Stalingrad.

More aptly, it was the other way around. Iraqis were defending their homeland and their children, while Kyle was psychopathically killing Iraqi civilians from behind night-vision and from behind the safety of far-away walls.

US film-maker Michael Moore puts best. In a tweet right after the release of American Sniper, he said: "But if you're on the roof of your home defending it from invaders who've come 7K miles, you are not a sniper, you are brave, you are a neighbor."

That is the truth.