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“American Sniper” spawns death threats against Arabs and Muslims

Originally published at The Electronic Intifada

Following the release of the film American Sniper in theaters across the US, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) has warned of a “significant rise in violent hate rhetoric targeting the Arab and Muslim-American communities.”

While the ADC believes the threats “are directly linked to the negative media coverage and hateful propaganda launched against the Arab and Muslim communities following the attacks on the Charlie Hedbo offices in France” earlier this month, the civil rights organization notes that racist threats have intensified in the wake of American Sniper, with moviegoers taking to social media to express their desire to murder Arabs and Muslims after leaving the theater.

Having both watched the movie and read the book on which it is based, I am not the least bit surprised by the incitement it has spawned. American Sniper is brilliant propaganda that valorizes American military aggression while delivering Hollywood’s most racist depiction of Arabs in recent memory, effectively legitimizing America’s ongoing bombing campaigns across the Middle East.

Unrepentant mass killer

American Sniper, directed by Clint Eastwood, is based on the autobiography of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, reputedly the deadliest sniper in American history.

Replete with hatred, bigotry and unrepentant bloodlust, Kyle’s book boasts of killing 160 Iraqi “savages” during his four deployments in Iraq following the illegal US invasion and occupation in 2003.

“Savage, despicable evil. That’s what we were fighting in Iraq,” Kyle writes in his book.

“I only wish I had killed more,” he writes, adding, “I loved what I did…It was fun. I had the time of my life.”

“They hated us because we weren’t Muslim. They wanted to kill us, even though we just booted out their dictator, because we practiced a different religion than they did,” adds Kyle, who goes on to confess, “I don’t shoot people with Korans – I’d like to, but I don’t.” In Kyle’s mind, all Iraqis who resisted the invading US soldiers were irrationally violent religious fanatics.

In stark contrast, Hollywood sanitizes Kyle, humanizing him as a complex, likable and anguished hero.

Hateful

Following the movie’s debut in select theaters on Christmas Day, author and journalist Max Blumenthal and I were deluged with death and rape threats for tweeting our disgust with Hollywood’s glorification of a mass killer and exposing the racism and lies espoused by Kyle. Although Kyle’s most ardent supporters claim to hate ISIS and al-Qaeda, they often call on these terrorist groups to behead critics of US military aggression.

The movie has since broken box office records, grossing $105 million during its nationwide opening and garnered accolades from across the political spectrum (Vice-President Joe Biden said he wept at the Washington, DC premier). In addition, the movie scored six Academy Award nominations.

Frustrated by the glorification and whitewash of a racist mass killer, I posted passages from Kyle’s book on Twitter, highlighting his hateful and homicidal statements and drew attention to the anti-Arab and anti-Muslim threats the movie was inspiring, all of which I compiled into a Storify that went viral.

Image by Rania Khalek

The reaction to the movie has since snowballed into a partisan bickering match, with celebrities chiming in.

Actor Seth Rogen compared American Sniper to Stolz der Nation (Nation’s Pride), a fictitious Nazi propaganda film about a glorified Nazi sniper that appears at the end of the Quentin Tarantino movie Inglorious Basterds (the Nazi sniper is shown mowing down American and British soldiers with great efficiency and apparent moral superiority). Documentary maker Michael Moore also stirred controversy when he tweeted that snipers “aren’t heroes,” though he later clarified he was not referring to American Sniper, which he liked. Nevertheless, a who’s who of rightwing celebrities, pundits, politicians and worshippers of US military aggression have whipped up a blindly patriotic frenzy, firing back against the movie’s critics.

Meanwhile, growing criticism of American Sniper appears to be damaging its chances of winning at the Oscars, with Academy members expressing concern that the film glorifies a “sociopath.”

Racist atrocity porn

While the canonization of Kyle on the big screen is appalling, the movie’s whitewash of the US destruction of Iraq and its racist portrayal of Arabs has proven to be far more dangerous.

The US destruction of Iraq left an estimated one million Iraqis dead, 4.5 million displaced, five million orphaned, some two million widowed and birth defects and cancer rates significantly worse than those seen in the aftermath of the atomic bombing of Japan at the end of the Second World War. The US war on Iraq also fueled the rise of ISIS. This immeasurable suffering is completely erased from the narrative presented in American Sniper.

In the opening scene of the film a conflicted Chris Kyle (played by Bradley Cooper) is perched on a rooftop with an Iraqi mother and child in the crosshairs of his sniper scope. He watches the mother give the child a grenade to throw at a US marine convoy. He reluctantly seeks permission to shoot.

Suddenly the screen cuts to Kyle as a child hunting with his father in Texas. Another scene shows him at church. Next he’s at the dinner table.

“There are three types of people in this world: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs,” saysKyle’s father. “Now, some people prefer to believe that evil doesn’t exist in the world…those are the sheep. And then you got predators who use violence to prey on the weak. They’re the wolves. And then there are those who have been blessed with the gift of aggression, and the overpowering need to protect the flock. These men are the rare breed that live to confront the wolf. They are the sheepdog.”

For the rest of the movie Kyle is the sheepdog, the protector, the hero. And Iraqis are the evil wolves he must put down to protect the lives of his fellow “sheepdogs.”

Next we see Kyle as an adult. We watch him fall in love, get married and join the SEALs. Then the Twin Towers fall and he is deployed to Iraq, a narrative that leaves the poorly informed with the impression that Iraq was involved in the 11 September 2001 attacks, the very lie that the Iraq war was predicated on. This false narrative is reaffirmed when al-Qaeda appears in Iraq on Kyle’s first tour in 2003, a revisionist history that conflates indigenous armed resistance to a foreign occupier with a terrorist group that attacked the United States. In a country where 43 percent of Americans still believe that Iraq was connected to the 11 September 2001 attacks, perpetuating this falsehood, even if unintentional, is reckless.

Eventually, we return to the scene in the movie’s opening. Kyle shoots the child to save the Marine convoy. The mother runs towards the felled child, collects the grenade and prepares to launch it in the direction of the soldiers. Kyle shoots the woman dead at mid-launch. The grenade explodes before it reaches the soldiers.

“There was a kid who barely had any hair on his balls, his mother gives him a grenade and sends him out there to kill Marines,” says an agonized Kyle. “That was evil like I’d never seen before.”

This black and white, good versus evil theme continues throughout the movie’s entirety. US soldiers are humanized. They have names and families, fiancés and children. And they return home with deep physical and psychological wounds, whereas the local Arab population, including the women and children, are depicted as terrorists. The only time Arab women and children are innocent victims is when they are being brutalized by scary Arab men, but even they are nameless figures.

Marlow Stern at The Daily Beast provides a cogent summary of the movie’s depiction of Arab characters:

The “savages” consist of [Abu Musab] al-Zarqawi, who’s introduced via the infamous clip of him decapitating [American radio-tower repairman] Nick Berg; his No. 2, “The Butcher,” who brutally executes an informant’s young son by drilling his head with a power tool, and stores people’s heads on shelves; and Mustafa, a Syrian Olympic sharpshooter who videotapes his kills and hawks bootlegs of them on the street. Mustafa is, like all classic villains, dressed in black, doesn’t utter in a word, and is single-minded in his pursuit of Kyle – he has a poster of Kyle’s bounty, $180,000, on his wall, and spends his spare time spinning an armor-piercing bullet on a table.

In the end, it wasn’t Iraqi “savages” that killed Kyle. A fellow soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder shot Kyle dead at a Texas gun range in 2013, a fact the film glosses over before cutting to footage from Kyle’s real-life funeral. Some may have even left the theater with the impression that Kyle was killed in Iraq.

Where are the moderates?

As the threats against Arab and Muslim-Americans and critics of American Sniperescalate in their ferocity, one is left wondering: Where are the American moderates? Why haven’t the movie’s director, producers and actors condemned the violent extremism their film is inciting?

(Jim DeFelice, one of the co-authors of the book American Sniper, condemned the threats of violence unleashed after I implored him to in a debate on Uprising Radio.)

Under the threatening circumstances, the ADC is encouraging Arab, Muslim, South Asian and Sikh-American communities to be on alert and report any hate crimes to the authorities.

“If you are placed in physical danger because of your ethnicity, religion or national origin: Call the police (dial 911 in most communities), and/or click here to contact your local FBI office. It is the FBI’s job to investigate hate-motivated crimes and specific threats of violence. You can also report a hate crime to the FBI online using this form,” says the ADC advisory.

“If you feel you have been a victim of a hate crime, of if any individual or place of worship needs any assistance with any of the above, including dealing with law enforcement, please contact the ADC Pro-Bono Legal Department at 202-244-2990 or legal AT adc DOT org.”

White supremacy and Zionism converge in deleted Times of Israel post on Ferguson

Following an uproar on social media, a viciously racist blog post was removed from The Times of Israel. Titled “Nine Parallels between Palestine and Ferguson,” the post attacked African American protestors in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson and Palestinians as violent, “savage,” irrationally “angry” and deserving of the institutionalized state violence wielded against them.

(A web cache of the article can be found here. A copy is also included at the bottom of this post.)

In the now-deleted post, the writer, Robert Wilkes, a member of the advisory board and media response team at StandWithUs, embraces the increasingly popular comparison between Ferguson and Palestine. But Wilkes does so by proudly likening anti-Palestinian Jewish Israelis to American police, the real victims according to him.

The post was removed despite its author being defended as an “amazing guy” by a staffer at StandWithUs, a right-wing group that works closely with the Israeli government.

This is at least the second time in recent months that an offensive article has been deleted from The Times of Israel after coming under fire on social media. A similar scenario played out during Israel’s summertime assault on the besieged Gaza Strip, after The Times of Israel published an item titled ”When Genocide is Permissible.”

“Anger defines them”

Wilkes’ piece is as remarkable as it is vile in its appeal to anti-Palestinian and white American racism.

On African Americans and Palestinians, Wilkes writes, “Anger defines them, and anger keeps both mired in failure. Rather than make better choices they prefer to ride the ‘victim’ train to nowhere.”

He continues, “Both wish to undermine the state’s moral authority by provoking violent reactions, then portraying themselves as victims of oppression.”

Mocking Black American leaders as “con artists” and “race-hustlers in a ‘business’ fueled by anger,” Wilkes decries supposedly irrational Black and Palestinian anger as a product of inferior cultures that teach hate.

“Black problems in America,” he argues, “derive from the breakdown of family and unhealthy aspects of black culture.”

These are some of the most pernicious and cliché tropes long employed by liberal and right-wing racists to blame and pathologize people of color as being responsible for their own oppression and disadvantage.

“In both places, the innocent pay the price” for the supposed Black and Palestinian lust for violence, Wilkes claims. “The businesses destroyed in Ferguson belong to hard-working citizens who had nothing to do with the incident in which a policeman shot a robbery suspect in self-defense,” he says, justifying Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson’s August killing of Black youth Michael Brown.

But, Wilkes allows, “The Palestinians are, tragically, far more bloodthirsty.”

Wilkes ends his screed by praising the Israeli army and Missouri police for exercising restraint: “Authorities in both places have their hands tied by their high standards of human rights and reverence for the rule of law.” Of course this last point makes sense given that St. Louis-area police departments have received training from the Israeli security apparatus in recent years.

Defending racism

StandWithUs director of Israeli education Hen Mazzig initially praised Robert Wilkes and his article in a tweet that was favorited by the official StandWithUs Twitter account.

Read the rest at The Electronic Intifada

Podcast: Going to the UN Committee Against Torture to Call Attention to Rampant Police Violence

On last week’s episode of Unauthorized Disclosure (sorry for posting late) Kevin Gosztola and I interviewed Page May, an organizer with We Charge Genocide, about the “shadow report” her organization submitted to the United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) about deadly police violence. (Download the episode here or subscribe for free on iTunes here).

More from Kevin:

Chicago police officers have shot over three hundred people in the past five years. They have killed at least 89 people, predominantly people of color, in that same period. They have used force and received an astounding number of complaints about brutality from citizens in Chicago. Yet, Chicago police seem to enjoy a stunning level of immunity from accountability and justice.

In response to systematic police brutality and misconduct, a group of young organizers have formed a group called We Charge Genocide, which has submitted a “shadow report” to the United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) to call attention to police violence and further expose the issue as a violation of the anti-torture treaty. Organizers will, in fact, be traveling to Geneva in November to present their report to the UN Committee.

Page May, organizer with We Charge Genocide, joined “Unauthorized Disclosure” this week to talk about the group’s “shadow report” to the UN Committee Against Torture and the process of putting it together. She discusses police militarization, sexual assault by police, mass detention and harassment in the context of a system with a history that goes all the way back to the days of slavery in the United States. She also addresses where the name comes from, its historical basis and how it helps frame the group’s organizing efforts.

In the discussion portion, we discuss Israel closing the Al Aqsa mosque, US military plans to deploy“advisers” to the Anbar province in Iraq and the FBI impersonating repairmen and media organization, accused cop killer Eric Frein’s capture, and Josh Rogin and Eli Lake’s new job with Bloomberg.

Merciless Israeli mobs are hunting Palestinians

All eyes are on Gaza, where the death toll from Israel’s merciless bombing campaign has topped 1,000.

But back in Jerusalem, where sixteen-year-old Muhammad Abu Khudair was burned alive by Jewish vigilantes in a “revenge killing” incited by Israeli politicians early this month, right-wing lynch mobs continue to roam the streets in search of Arabs to attack.

Their most recent victims are twenty-year-old Palestinians Amir Shwiki and Samer Mahfouz from the Beit Hannina neighborhood in occupied East Jerusalem. The pair were severely beaten into unconsciousness on Friday night by Israeli youths armed with iron bars and baseball bats.

Mahfouz told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that he and Shwiki were on their way to the light rail when they were stopped by “a man [coming] from the direction of Neve Yaakov,”  an illegal Jewish-only Israeli settlement in occupied East Jerusalem.

“He said give me a cigarette. I told him I don’t have any, and he heard [from my accent] I’m Arab and went away, coming back with his friends, maybe twelve people. They had sticks and iron bars and they hit us over the head,” Mahfouz recounted.

Haaretz added, “According to the victims, police officers that arrived at the scene did not call an ambulance, and they were instead evacuated by passersby to receive medical treatment at a Beit Khanina [sic] clinic. They were later rushed to Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem in serious condition.”

Though investigators believe the beating to be racially motivated, no one has been arrested.

Police complicity

Israeli police have a pattern of ignoring hate crimes against Palestinians, as was the case immediately following the reported kidnapping of Muhammad Abu Khudair. Police did not immediately respond when his family called to report that he had been kidnapped and they actively thwarted efforts to locate those who murdered him byspreading false rumors that Abu Khudair was murdered by his family in an “honor killing” over his sexuality.

Police also neglected to respond when Abu Khudair’s murderers tried to kidnap ten-year-old Mousa Zalum from the same East Jerusalem neighborhood two days earlier.

When police aren’t busy ignoring Jewish vigilante violence against Palestinians, they are actively participating in it.

On Thursday night last week, police teamed up with a Jewish mob assaulting two Palestinian men while they were delivering bread to grocery markets on Jaffa Street in West Jerusalem from their van.

The men — identified by Ma’an News Agency as twenty-year-old Amir Mazin Abu Eisha and Laith Ubeidat (age not specified) — were encircled and beaten with empty bottles by a mob of some twenty to thirty Israelis, according to their attorney, Khaldun Nijim.

Rather than assist the men as they were being attacked, Nijim told Ma’an, “The Israeli police stopped them in their van and pointed guns at them.”

Nijim added: “After they drove away a few meters, the police shot at them. They then stopped and were assaulted again.”

After barring an ambulance from transferring Abu Eisha, who sustained head and ear injuries, to the hospital for medical treatment, police detained the two Palestinian men at the Russian Compound police station close to the scene and charged them with “having a knife and obstructing the work of police,” according to Nijim.

Read the rest at The Electronic Intifada

Jury: Police Killing Of Unarmed Anaheim Man Justified Because Victim Dressed Like Gang Member

Manuel Diaz with his daughter in undated family photo.

Manuel Diaz with his daughter in undated family photo. (OC Weekly)

On July 27, 2012, 24-year-old Manuel Diaz was shot in the back of the head by Anaheim police officer Nick Bennallack. Officers then stood over Diaz, who was unarmed, for three minutes, watching him twitch and bleed out before doing anything. It was an execution.

Almost two years later, a federal jury has rejected a lawsuit against the officer and the city filed by Diaz’s mother claiming police used excessive force. Why? Because it happened in a neighborhood where there are gangs and Diaz was, according to police, dressed like a “gang member”.

Read more

Podcast: Jordan Davis, Colorblind Prosecutions And ‘Presumed Guiltiness of Black Bodies’

UD3On this week’s episode of Unauthorized Disclosure, Kevin Gosztola and I speak with independent journalist and filmmaker Raven Rakia about the Michael Dunn verdict, Jordan Davis’ defiance of respectability politics, the lack of outrage over police killings, and how structural and implicit racism work together to perpetuate what Raven calls the “presumed guiltiness of black bodies.”

The prosecution’s omission of race from the Dunn trial, explained Raven, “plays to the need for a colorblind society…so people don’t have to take responsibility.”

I encourage you to read Raven’s moving response to the Dunn verdict here. Also, follow her incredible work on twitter at @aintacrow.

In the discussion portion of the show, Kevin and I talk about the nuances missing from US media coverage of the protests in Venezuela and Ukraine, the LAPD’s Israel-inspired love affair with drones, the US Border Patrol killing a Mexican man for allegedly throwing rocks at the officers chasing him, a terrible court decision that absolves the NYPD of wrongdoing for spying on Muslims, and the the disastrous implications for press freedom in the aftermath of the David Miranda case.

Unauthorized Disclosure is finally available on iTunes! You can also download it directly here or you can listen to it here.

Below is a transcript of our interview with Raven.  Read more

LAPD Travels To Israel, Falls In Love With Drones And Mass Surveillance

The HoverMast-100, an Israeli surveillance drone. If the LAPD had their way, they'd would be watching you with this.

The HoverMast-100, an Israeli surveillance drone that the LAPD hopes to add to its arsenal. (Image source: Sky Sapience website)

The Jewish Journal has an incredible write-up on the Los Angeles Police Department’s recent visit to Israel.

For nine days early this month, eight of the LAPD’s highest ranking officers toured Israel on a trip organized by LAPD Deputy Chief and commander of the Counter-Terrorism and Special Operations Bureau Michael Downing, and headed by LAPD Information Technology Bureau commander Horace Frank.

While it’s unclear how much the trip cost taxpayers, Frank told the Journal that the trip was financed with “grant funding that was available for us to look at emergency technologies and best practices.”

Since 2001, the US government has doled out tens of billions of dollars in federal grants to local and state police departments in the name of fighting terrorism, so it’s likely that the grant that paid for the LAPD’s Israel trip came from DHS.

Though LAPD officers have visited Israel in the past, this appears to have been the most high-level trip to date. But it wasn’t your typical propaganda tour.

Instead of stopping at the Western Wall or Yad Vesham, officers visited Israel’s private security firms and drone manufacturers, most of them formed by former members of Israel’s top-secret 8200 Unit, which, like the NSA, engages in mass spying and cyber warfareRead more

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