Thanksgiving and Forgotten Genocide: Brainwashing of American Textbooks

Those who are indigenous to the land we now call the “United States of America” have been long misrepresented, demonized, and effectively marginalized in American history textbooks in favor of glorifying European colonialism. Why does “democracy” refuse to teach that 10 to 30 million Natives were unjustifiably slaughtered in the name of conquest and imperialism? Where is the “free market of ideas” when selective and biased history is being taught in our educational institutions?

Erasing the memory of an entire race of people is cultural genocide. Not only is biased history presented to us through a distorted lens, but we are also subjected to the realities of capitalism, in which commercialization of an ambiguous holiday pulls us away from facts and meaning. Turkeys are associated with “Thanksgiving” in the same way Santa Clause and the Easter bunny have become synonymous with Christmas and Easter, respectively. Through the guise of innocence and “good holiday spirit”, capitalism is constantly telling us to consume because consumption equals “happiness.” It is no coincidence that we all rush to our favorite malls and shopping centers on “Black Friday” for “big savings.”

And as children dress up as Pilgrims and Natives to reenact the romanticized version of history, they are not only perpetuating stereotypes, but more importantly, they’re embodying racist and ethnocentric lies. What do they really know about the Pilgrims and the Natives? Consider a high school history textbook called “The American Tradition” which describes the scene quite succinctly:

After some exploring, the Pilgrims chose the land around Plymouth Harbor for their settlement. Unfortunately, they had arrived in December and were not prepared for the New England winter. However, they were aided by friendly Indians, who gave them food and showed them how to grow corn. When warm weather came, the colonists planted, fished, hunted, and prepared themselves for the next winter. After harvesting their first crop, they and their Indian friends celebrated the first Thanksgiving.

This patronizing version of history excludes many brutal facts about European history. As stated by James W. Loewen, author of “Lies My Teacher Told Me,” many college students are unaware of the horrific plague that devastated and significantly reduced the population of Natives after Columbus’ arrival in the “new world.” Most diseases, for instance, came from animals that were domesticated by Europeans. Cowpox from cows led to smallpox, which was later “spread through gifts of blankets by infected Europeans.” Of the twelve high school textbooks Professor Loewen studied and analyzed, only three offer some explanation that the plague was a factor of European colonization. The nine remaining textbooks mention almost nothing, and two of them omit the subject altogether. He writes: “Each of the other seven furnishes only a fragment of a paragraph that does not even make it into the index, let alone into students’ minds.”

Why is it important to mention the plague? Quite simply, it reinforced European ethnocentrism and hardly produced a “friendly” relationship between the Natives and Europeans. To most of the Pilgrims and Europeans, the Natives were heathens, savages, and demonic. Upon seeing thousands of dead Natives, the Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop, called the plague “miraculous.” In 1634, 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 the small pox 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 fifty, have put themselves under our protect…

The ugly truth is that many Pilgrims were thankful and grateful that the Native population was decreasing. Even worse, there was the Pequot Massacre in 1637, which started after the colonists found a murdered white man in his boat. Ninety armed settlers burned a Native village, along with their crops, and then demanded the Natives to turn in the murderers. When the Natives refused, a massacre followed.

Captain John Mason and his colonial army surrounded a fortified Pequot village and reportedly shouted: “We must burn them! Such a dreadful terror let the Almighty fall upon their spirits that they would flee from us and run into the very flames. Thus did the Lord Judge the heathen, filling the place with dead bodies.” The surviving Pequot were hunted and slain.

The Governor of Plymouth, William Bradford, further elaborates:

Those that escaped the fire were slain with the sword; some hewed to pieces, others run through with their rapiers, so that they were quickly dispatched and very few escaped. It was conceived they thus destroyed about 400 at this time. It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fire…horrible was the stink and scent thereof, but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave the prayers thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them.

Perhaps most disturbing: it is strongly argued by many historians that the Pequot Massacre led to the “Thanksgiving” festivities. The day after the massacre, the aforementioned Governor Massachusetts Bay Colony declared: “A day of Thanksgiving, thanking God that they had eliminated over 700 men, women and children.” It was signed into law that, “This day forth shall be a day of celebration and thanksgiving for subduing the Pequots.”

Now, one may ask: What about Squanto, the Wampanoag man who learned to speak English and helped the hungry, ill, and poor Pilgrims? As cited by Professor Loewen, an American high school textbook called “Land of Promise” reads:

Squanto had learned their language, the author explained, from English fishermen who ventured into the New England waters each summer. Squanto taught the Pilgrims how to plant corn, squash, and pumpkins. Would the small band of settlers have survived without Squanto’s help? We cannot say. But by the fall of 1621, colonists and Indians could sit down to several days of feast and thanksgiving to God (later celebrated as the first Thanksgiving).

Note that this text states the first Thanksgiving was on 1621. Indeed, there was a feast on that year, but it was not called a “Thanksgiving feast” nor was it repeated until years later after the Pequot Massacre in 1637. In regards to Squanto, the correct question to ask is: How did Squanto learn English? History textbooks neglect to mention that the Europeans did not perceive Squanto as an equal, but rather as “an instrument of their God” to help the “chosen people.” It is also omitted that, as a boy, Squanto was stolen by a British captain in 1605 and taken to England. He worked for a Plymouth Merchant who eventually helped him arrange passage back to Massachusetts, but less than a year later, he was seized by a British slave raider. Along with two dozen fellow Natives, Squanto was sold into slavery in Spain. He would manage to escape slavery, journey back to England, and then talk a ship captain into taking him along on his next trip to Cape Cod in 1619.

As Squanto walked back into his home village, he was horrified to find that he was the only surviving member of his village. The rest were either killed in battle or died of illness and disease. Excluding Squanto’s enslavement is to paint an incredibly distorted version of history that suggests Natives, like Squanto, learned English for no other reason but to help the colonists. It is to glorify the Europeans and erase the struggles and experiences of the Native people.

When history is transformed into myths, tales, and bedtime stories, we ignore historical research that enables us to learn valuable and meaningful lessons about our present, as well as about our future. History is meant to be an accurate and honest account of civilizations, cultures, and events; not a one-sided narrative of ethnocentric and selective alterations.

As Professor Loewen states:

Thanksgiving is full of embarrassing facts. The Pilgrims did not introduce the Native Americans to the tradition; Eastern Indians had observed autumnal harvest celebrations for centuries. Our modern celebrations date back only to 1863; not until the 1890s did the Pilgrims get included in the tradition; no one even called them ‘Pilgrims’ until the 1870s.

I did not write this post to pass judgment on everyone who is celebrating “Thanksgiving.” None of us are responsible for the atrocities committed hundreds of years ago. None of us caused the plague or the massacres. But as human beings, I do feel that it’s important to educate ourselves about history, to acknowledge that the United States was founded on dispossession of Native people, to be aware of our complicities (when we, including people of color, seek to become social equals with those who use their power to oppress others).

The fact that history textbooks and schools try to glorify the Pilgrims while omitting significant facts about Native peoples represent the ongoing cultural genocide in the United States. Let us not become clouded by super-patriotism or the blowout sales of “Black Friday.” Let us be conscious of our brothers and sisters in humanity, learn about their contributions, and embolden ourselves to stand up against racism and genocide in all forms.

Peace.

UPDATE: This post was written a few years ago, so I apologize for not addressing the intersection between sexual violence and genocide (as I do in later posts).  Please follow the links below to read MUST-READ articles about the myths and lies of “Thanksgiving.”

1. A Day to Give Thanks?

2. The Original Occupation: Native Blood & the Myth of Thanksgiving

3.Cooking the History Books: The Thanksgiving Massacre

Vote for “Muslim Reverie”!

Salaam everyone,

Thanks to your votes, I am nominated in two categories for this year’s Brass Crescent Awards:  Best New Blog, and Best Writer.  I am honored to receive this nomination among so many wonderful blogs on the “Islamasphere.”  Polls close on Friday, November 27th (just in time for Eid-ul-Adha!), so head on over and vote!

Thanks again for all of your support!  To vote, just follow the link below:

http://brasscrescent.org/

No One “Hijacked” Islam

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Last Thursday, I attended an event hosted by the Muslim Student Association as part of their peace and coexistence week.  The event was about raising awareness and appreciation for the various cultures within the Muslim community.  Muslims read their poems, played music, sang, and gave presentations on Sufism/Islamic spirituality.  There were many non-Muslims in attendance and it was great to hear how previous events during the week had excellent turnouts as well.  As I drove home, I felt like all of us made a huge difference.

When I checked my e-mail that night, a news report about a man opening fire at a military base appeared on the Yahoo homepage.  I prayed, as many Muslim-Americans did, that the shooter wasn’t a Muslim.  The last thing we needed the media to get hyped up about was a Muslim-American murdering fellow Americans in the armed forces.  When the man’s Muslim affiliation was revealed, I was devastated.

My thoughts and prayers went out to the victims and their friends and families.  Simultaneously, as details slowly unfolded and as CAIR (the Council on American-Islamic Relations) released immediate condemnations of the incident, I felt like we took one step forward, but then two steps backward.  I am still worried about a backlash on the Muslim community.  Muslim-Americans have been suffering from hate crimes, discriminatory acts, prejudice, and media stereotyping/propaganda since the atrocity on 9/11, and although many Muslim-Americans have been speaking out, polls and surveys have found that negative attitudes and perceptions of Islam and Muslims have been on the increase.

I am not surprised by the Islamophobia that has resulted from this.  It has been going on since September of 2001; what else is new?  In typical Islamophobic fashion, Senator Joe Lieberman called the incident an “act of Islamist extremism.” Despite warnings not to jump to conclusions from Army officials and the President himself, Lieberman concluded:   “There are very, very strong warning signs here that Dr. Hasan had become an Islamist extremist and, therefore, that this was a terrorist act,” Lieberman.

In other words, “terrorism” is a term reserved only for Muslims.  Yeah, we’ve been through this lesson before (see my post, “‘Terrorist’ Means ‘Muslim'”).

Conservative author, David Gaubatz, who has labeled President Obama a “Muslim” among other things, explicitly called for “a professional and legal backlash against the Muslim community and their leaders.”  If that is not advocating hate and violence against an entire group of people, then I don’t know what is!  Oh, and televangelist Pat Robertson threw in some Lovely words, too:  “You’re dealing with not a religion, you’re dealing with a political system, and I think we should treat it as such, and treat its adherents [Muslims] as such as we would members of the communist party, members of some fascist group.”

Raising suspicion about Muslims, vilifying Islam, and then expecting Muslims to answer or “explain” what happened (as if we have some kind of special “insight” into these things) is reflective of our society’s Islamophobia and inability to use its common sense.  When a White “Christian” man blows up a building in Oklahoma, his religion or race is not put on trial.  As Brian Ross writes:

When a couple of white kids shoot up a school, it is a tragedy, and a search for mental defect. Bring on a shooting at a military base that involves an Arab-American though, and the media does everything that it can to shout “TERRORISM” without really saying it.

Jerry Campbell, the president of the Claremont School of Theology, adds:

As a “Methodist-American,” I do not fear for my safety after a fellow Methodist commits a heinous crime… And the churches of my tradition have no need to renounce the deeds of an outlier when one of our own goes astray.  As a Methodist-American, these are not my realities.  But for Muslim communities, this is their America.

It is a relief to see General George Casey Jr., the Army chief of staff, expressing concerns for Muslim-Americans, especially Muslims serving in the military.  I have a relative serving in the military and I know these concerns resonate with Muslim-American soldiers deeply.  One of his statements bothered me though (emphases added):

To those members of the United States military who are Muslims, thank you for protecting our nation, thank you for standing up against the people who are trying to hijack your religion.”

It’s clear to me that General Casey Jr.’s concerns are genuine, but I think it’s important to break away from this false notion that Islam has been “hijacked.”  Islam has not been hijacked — not by Nidal Malik Hasan, not by Saddam Hussein, not by Osama bin Laden, and not even by corrupt and wealthy Muslim “leaders” in Muslim majority countries.  Sure, much of the violence committed by those who self-identify as Muslim contain religious symbolism or slogans, but there are many other complex factors that contribute to their violence.  It is not simply religion.

Anyone who has studied Edward Said or postcolonial theory would argue that most of the violence in places like Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan are a result of post-colonialist liberation ideologies.  Palestine is occupied by the oppressive Israeli military, and Iraq and Afghanistan have been invaded, bombed, and occupied by US forces.  It is impossible to imagine such war and chaos without resistance.  The military superpowers cannot stomp the boot of oppression upon the oppressed and expect them to submit without retaliation.  As we have seen, resistance from those parts of the world express themselves in religious manners — shouting “Allahu akbar,” citing the Qur’an and Hadith, and even interpreting the conflict as some sort of “cosmic battle.”  Similarly, there are complex factors to be taken into account when one questions the motives of Nidal Malik Hasan.  They do not justify or excuse his actions, but they make us see a larger picture instead of making ridiculous accusations that the religion of Islam had something to do with it.  Hasan acted upon himself, not because a religion “told him” to do so.  His opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are clear, but murdering fellow Americans is not the Islamic way of dealing with this situation.  His decision to murder was his own as an individual and his case should be treated as such.

No one has changed the Qur’anic text.  No one has replaced the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, with another religious figure in our Islamic tradition.  Islam, like any religion, can be manipulated and used by extremists for their own radical ideologies, but the actual message of the religion is not closed off to interpretation.  It is open for interpretation, and it has been for centuries.  And perhaps the most important point of all, the overwhelming majority of Muslims — an estimated 1.5 billion people — are non-violent and interpret Islam as a peaceful religion.  How can Islam be “hijacked” when the majority of its followers do not resort to violence?

Muslims have never stopped defining themselves.  Islam is our way of life and no one “hijacks” that from us.  No one bars us from Islam or forces us to change the way we believe about our faith.  Furthermore, our identities are not limited to the stereotypes and Islamophobic nonsense spewed out by bigots and media personalities alike.  I am a Muslim, and I am also an American.  We have multiple identities just like everyone else.  Only now are we hearing about the 20,000+ Muslims serving in the military, but why did we need a horrible act of violence to occur in order for us to see this fact?  Why do we only need to ease fear and  “suspicion” about Muslim-Americans when murders are committed by members of all ethnic and religious groups?

Muslims around the world continue to speak out, as they always have been.  Acclaimed Muslim-American author, Kamran Pasha, has written a brilliant piece called, “The Big Lie About Muslim Silence on Terrorism.” His post includes an extensive list of Muslim leaders and organizations that have condemned violence all over the world.  If we were to accuse the non-Muslim White population of being inherently violent against other races or religious groups over the centuries, media and society would be demanding for their organizations to speak out and condemn the actions of those who share the same religious or racial background.  If we looked at the religious affiliations of those who committed murders, robberies, and other horrible crimes, we would be saying, “Christianity has been hijacked,” or “Judaism has been hijacked,” or “Hinduism has been hijacked,” and so on.

No one “hijacked” Islam.  If anything has been hijacked, it is our own common sense, otherwise we wouldn’t be so quick to generalize about a religion or an entire group of people before a sensible fellow comes along and helps us come to the realization that, “oh yeah, we don’t expect non-Muslim White people to answer for crimes and murders committed by other non-Muslim White people!”

Gee, why didn’t we think of that before?  How’s White privilege, for starters?