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UMD screening of 'American Sniper' postponed after Muslim student group speaks out

In this image released by Warner Bros. Pictures, Bradley Cooper portrays Navy SEAL Chris Kyle in a scene from "American Sniper." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures)

COLLEGE PARK, Md. (WJLA) – On Friday, one of the University of Maryland’s most famous graduates tweeted he was “never donating another dime” to the school after a decision not to show screenings of the movie “American Sniper.”

Former NFL quarterback and current broadcaster Boomer Esiason tweeted: “…never donating another dime to U of MD. As a 9/11/01 victim I’m deeply saddened and insulted. #ChrisKyle is a hero!”

Esiason’s tweet was part of a growing chorus of online anger directed at the university.

The group Student Entertainment Events (SEE) announced its decision not to show the film as scheduled Wednesday. On its website, SEE wrote it had decided to "postpone" screenings scheduled for May 6 and 7 "after meeting with concerned student organizations."

The day before SEE's announcement, UMD's Muslim Students Association started an online petition against the film, writing that "it only serves to fuel hatred, promote Islamophobia, and discriminate against Muslim individuals."

That petition eventually received more than 330 online signatures.

But by Friday night, an online petition asking SEE to reverse its decision and show the movie had more than 1,430 signatures.

“American Sniper” was directed by Clint Eastwood, and it was the highest-grossing film in the United States in 2014, per IMDB.com. It was also nominated for best picture at the Academy Awards.

While many praised it as a patriotic look at soldier Chris Kyle’s sacrifice for his country, others criticized it as anti-Muslim.

The decision not to screen the film as planned came less than two weeks after SEE had posted online that it would screen the film. That post, dated April 9, was in response to "social media reactions" about the decision to show the film.

Then, SEE reversed its decision in Wednesday's post.

ABC7 tried to contact SEE for comment both Thursday and Friday, but as of late Friday night still hadn’t received any response.

On Friday evening, members of the Muslim Students Association did not show up for a scheduled press conference on Route 1 near the campus.

Instead, a representative of the D.C.-based Council on American-Islamic Relations came in their place, saying they had been “advised against speaking with the media,” but not saying who advised them.

The representative, Zainab Chaudry, did say the group had been concerned about safety issues if the film had been shown on campus without any sort of dialogue about the things it portrays.

"The concern is really to counteract the backlash that's inspired by the film,” she said. “There have been threats made against Muslims."

Some students with whom ABC7 spoke were not happy with the decision not to show the film as scheduled.

“I love this country, and the fact that they won't show it is honestly offensive,” said UMD sophomore Drew Weinberger. “This is one of the great American heroes of our time. It should be shown to everybody."

"That's kind of going against all the values of this school, and free speech," said UMD senior Grant Honecker. "That movie makes you hate war, and it shows the sacrifices Chris Kyle made for this country, and I really think it should be shown here—just to create that dialogue."

But others say they understood the decision.

"I enjoyed the movie, personally," said sophomore Justin Edelman. "But then I realized—I started to put myself in the shoes of these student groups and, considering it from their perspective, I kind of understand where they're coming from."

Although members did not speak publicly at the scheduled press conference Friday night, the day before on Facebook the Muslim Students Association wrote a post praising the decision by SEE. Part of it read: "We sincerely appreciate your commitment to exercising your freedom of speech to create an inclusive, just, and safe campus community."

The post received a lot of backlash, some of which is being called "anti-Muslim hate" by the Council on American Islamic Relations.

Many responses to the post included profanity or statements such as "no wonder Americans despise Muslims."

Others were more polite. One person wrote: "Please explain how banning a movie from campus is 'exercising your freedom of speech.'"

Another wrote: "If you actually watched the movie you would learn that your preconceptions about it being Islamophobic are not true...If you truly want to have an open dialog on these issues then let the movie be shown and discuss the issues raised in it."

A minority of the posts praised the decision. One person wrote: "Thank you SEE for being courageous against the bigotry and Islamophobia of American Sniper. We would never tolerate a movie celebrating anti-Semetic (sic) behavior, and this is no different."

The University of Maryland said in a statement it "was not involved in the decision to postpone or cancel the showing of American Sniper." The university said instead it was the decision of SEE, "a student-led organization comprised of undergraduate students who work alongside advisors."

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