Friday, November 23, 2007

The Myth of Thanksgiving

I do realize that for many American families, Thanksgiving is a time to get together and thank God for his many blessings. That's a wonderful thing and I in no way wish to belittle it.

Ideally, for Muslims, every day should be Thanksgiving day. I try to remember that, but of course sometimes I fall short of even spending 2 minutes a day reflecting on God's blessings and expressing my appreciation in simple straightforward words. As such, Thanksgiving is a good reminder.

Despite all of the above, I think it is important people realize the true history behind Thanksgiving. Below are excerpts of an excellent article by Mike Ely which summarizes the often-'forgotten' facts about the early settlers and the origins of some of the American 'values' prevalent today (everything from racism to capitalism). I would say the whole article is a MUST read.

In mid-winter 1620 the English ship Mayflower landed on the North American coast, delivering 102 Puritan exiles. The original Native people of this stretch of shoreline had already been killed off. In 1614 a British expedition had landed there. When they left they took 24 Indians as slaves and left smallpox behind. Three years of plague wiped out between 90 and 96 percent of the inhabitants of the coast, destroying most villages completely.

The Puritans landed and built their colony called "the Plymouth Plantation" near the deserted ruins of the Indian village of Pawtuxet. They ate from abandoned cornfields grown wild. Only one Pawtuxet named Squanto had survived--he had spent the last years as a slave to the English and Spanish in Europe. Squanto spoke the colonists' language and taught them how to plant corn and how to catch fish until the first harvest. Squanto also helped the colonists negotiate a peace treaty with the nearby Wampanoag tribe, led by the chief Massasoit.

These were very lucky breaks for the colonists. The first Virginia settlement had been wiped out before they could establish themselves. Thanks to the good will of the Wampanoag, the Puritans not only survived their first year but had an alliance with the Wampanoags that would give them almost two decades of peace.

John Winthrop, a founder of the Massahusetts Bay colony considered this wave of illness and death to be a divine miracle. He wrote to a friend in England, "But for the natives in these parts, God hath so pursued them, as for 300 miles space the greatest part of them are swept away by smallpox which still continues among them. So as God hath thereby cleared our title to this place, those who remain in these parts, being in all not 50, have put themselves under our protection."

The deadly impact of European diseases and the good will of the Wampanoag allowed the Puritans to survive their first year.

In celebration of their good fortune, the colony's governor, William Bradford, declared a three-day feast of thanksgiving after that first harvest of 1621.
Read on at CounterPunch

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