The University of Maryland has done an about-face on the showing of the film “American Sniper.” After announcing last week that the planned screening would be postponed indefinitely because of complaints from a Muslim student group that film is Islamaphobic and anti-Arab, the university said yesterday the movie will be shown after all … as a “teachable moment.”
According to NBC Washington, the cancellation of the film drew even louder complaints than those of students who objected to its showing. In a letter to the student body posted on the university’s website, President Wallace D. Loh explained:
We were deluged by phone calls and messages from across the country, almost unanimously outraged by the cancellation or postponement. Members of our faculty, staff, students and alumni, as well as members of our state’s legislature, voiced their dismay with UMD’s abridgment of this constitutional right [of free speech].
Loh went on to lament that the Facebook page of the Muslim Student Association (MSA), the group that had originally protested the showing of the film, “was filled with some of the most venomous, racist, and hateful messages imaginable.”
Now, two student groups — College Republicans and College Democrats — are working together to screen the film Monday at 6 p.m…. They will also convene a panel discussion of the film afterward.
So what lessons does the university hope students will take away from the protest and counter-protest? Wrote Loh:
A fundamental commitment of any university is to the principle that ideas and opinions that any of us might oppose or find unwelcome or even offensive should be openly and vigorously discussed, not suppressed. It is also the responsibility of a university to nurture — via education and outreach — an ethos of civility, inclusion, and mutual respect.
Here’s hoping the MSA can bring itself to participate. Here’s also hoping that Loh and UMD learn a lesson about the risks of giving grease to only the squeaky wheel.
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