If U.S. sniping legend Chris Kyle had been a Muslim fighter, we would have called him an “extremist,” or so says Isaac Chotiner, senior editor at the ultra-liberal The New Republic.
Chotiner in an article titled, “If Chris Kyle Had Been a Muslim, We’d Call him an Extremist,” argues that if one were to swap out the particulars of Kyle’s life (being Christian, being from the U.S., etc.) with that of militant Muslim, one would cease to see Kyle, who was killed in February by a former U.S. Marine reportedly suffering from various mental health issues, as a hero and would instead think of him as an extremist.
Here’s how Chotiner lays out his argument:
Imagine the following scenario: a young Muslim from the Islamic world joins his country’s armed forces to fight an aggressive war against an overwhelmingly Christian nation. He gains accolades for his work as a sniper, executing his job with ruthless efficiency and little remorse. He admits to viewing the war he is fighting through the prism of religion. He gets a tattoo on his arm declaring that he embraces the concept of holy war. When parliamentarians in his own country question the conduct or course of the war, he states, “How would they know? They’ve never even been in a combat situation.” After shooting someone whose widow claims he was holding a Bible rather than a gun, he answers, “I don’t shoot people with Bibles. I’d like to, but I don’t.”
How would this person be described when his story was recounted in the western press? That’s easy: He’d be described as an Islamic fundamentalist—aggressive, dangerous, and intent on evil.
This is where Chotiner, writing in reference to a much longer piece on Kyle written by the New Yorker’s Nicholas Schmidle, switches over to the particulars of the U.S. sniper’s life:
Now let’s also imagine that this man was widely embraced back home: That he became the author of a bestselling book, and served as a symbol of strength used by politicians to pursue their own ends. How would the culture that lauded this man be described? Well, that too is easy. It would be said that this man’s Muslim country was full of fanatics, and, moreover, that fanaticism more broadly was celebrated—or at least not condemned—by large segments of the population.
The story I’ve laid out is precisely the … life of Chris Kyle …
With one difference: Kyle was a Christian from the U.S., not a Muslim from a Muslim country. He was a U.S. Navy Seal, rather than a Muslim soldier from abroad. He spoke of wanting to kill people with Korans, not Bibles. He questioned Congressmen who had not served their country, implying that civilians should have no serious role in the conduct of war. He tattooed a “crusader’s cross” on his arm. The most he can manage to say about war crimes is that, “I am not saying war crimes should be committed,” before adding that a “warrior” like himself can’t do his fighting with “hands tied behind his back.”
Amazingly, Chotiner argues that the point of his article is “not to draw moral equivalence between Chris Kyle and someone from, say, the Taliban, because I don’t think they are morally identical, or even roughly equivalent.”
Oh, well then. What is the point of the article?
As it turns out, Chotiner believes Schmidle’s report, though giving voice to veterans who have been ignored/mistreated by their country, goes “too easy on the society in which Kyle was formed.”
But the real importance of the [Schmidle] piece is the way it subtly reveals Chris Kyle’s thinking, and the way he was treated after his death. Steven Spielberg and Bradley Cooper aim to bring his story to the big screen. He is embraced by Sarah Palin and like-minded politicians. His book, where many of his views appear, gets good reviews. This is a man who expressed a desire to shoot people with Korans, and yet the critical focus of the piece is almost entirely on the way in which society has failed returning veterans.
Here was a man who, as Schmidle puts it, “was deeply religious and saw the Iraq War through that prism.” Think about what that could be possibly mean, and how we would view someone from another culture who had similar sentiments.
Chotiner goes on to repeat that the point of his article is not to draw comparisons between Kyle and the Taliban. Rather, he argues, “it is that Kyle comes from an American subculture where his views—the ones on how to treat members of other religions, not just how to treat troubled veterans—are permissible.”
“None of this is to say that his death is less than a crime, or that he would not have continued helping veterans had he lived longer,” he adds. “But Kyle is a product of his society to the same degree that Islamic fundamentalists are, even if those societies are not equivalent. The value of Kyle’s story is that it allows us to look in the mirror.”
So the article’s message is, uh, clear: There’s no comparing Kyle to an Islamic extremist — but, you know, if Kyle had been a Muslim, we would totally call him an extremist. And look in mirrors (or something).
Good luck figuring that one out.
FINAL THOUGHT: One has to wonder the wisdom of penning such a controversial article during the week of Memorial Day. The whole “We Would Have Called Kyle a Muslim Extremist” angle is even more surprising given the honor that should be paid fallen veterans around this time.
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Featured image AP photos. This post has been updated.
This story has been updated.