In Mumbai this morning people woke up in a state of shock. People are mourning. And it’s not over yet. In the U.S. Americans woke up to a day off, a day when most “celebrate” a holiday called Thanksgiving. In theory, if this were merely a holiday where people had a day off to give thanks and spend quality time with their families I would certainly be able to get behind such a day. But that is not where it originates from. And that’s not really what it’s about. It’s the equivalent of celebrating genocide. Here is the real story of “Thanksgiving” or as Native Americans call it, a National Day of Mourning:
According to this mythology, the pilgrims arrived, the Native people fed them and welcomed them, the Indians promptly faded into the background, and everyone lived happily ever after.
The pilgrims are glorified and mythologized because the circumstances of the first English-speaking colony in Jamestown were frankly too ugly (for example, they turned to cannibalism to survive) to hold up as an effective national myth.
The pilgrims did not find an empty land any more than Columbus “discovered” anything. Every inch of this land is Indian land. The pilgrims (who did not even call themselves pilgrims) did not come here seeking religious freedom; they already had that in Holland.
They came here as part of a commercial venture. They introduced sexism, racism, anti-lesbian and -gay bigotry, jails and the class system to these shores. One of the very first things they did when they arrived on Cape Cod—before they even made it to Plymouth—was to rob Wampanoag graves at Corn Hill and steal as much of the Indians’ winter provisions of corn and beans as they were able to carry.
They were no better than any other group of Europeans when it came to their treatment of the Indigenous peoples here. And, no, they did not even land at that sacred shrine called Plymouth Rock, a monument to racism and oppression which we are proud to say we buried in 1995.
The first official “Day of Thanksgiving” was proclaimed in 1637 by Governor [John] Winthrop. He did so to celebrate the safe return of men from the Massachusetts Bay Colony who had gone to Mystic, Conn., to participate in the massacre of over 700 Pequot women, children and men.
About the only true thing in the whole mythology is that these pitiful European strangers would not have survived their first several years in “New England” were it not for the aid of Wampanoag people. What Native people got in return for this help was genocide, theft of our lands and never-ending repression. We are either treated as quaint relics from the past or are, to most people, virtually invisible.
This is definitely not the story you will read about in most American history books. Certainly this is not how young American children learn about it. I was happy to read that there was an uproar in a Claremont, California school over children performing their usual ritual of dressing up like pilgrims and Native Americans to enshrine this devastating mythology into the minds of American youth.
Maybe we don’t realize that Thanksgiving is literally the celebration of a massacre of a whole people. This is shown as a 1623 Thanksgiving sermon in Plymouth Massachusetts “gave special thanks to God for the devastating plague of smallpox that destroyed the majority of the Wampanoag Indians. He praised God for eliminating “chiefly young men and children, the very seeds of increase, thus clearing the forests to make way for a better growth.'” (Dr. Felipe de Ortego y Gasca, Thanksgiving in America, November 1991) The smallpox was intentionally passed to the Wampanoag, one of the earliest perpetrations of biological warfare.
Maybe African descendants in the US aren’t primarily responsible for the theft of land or the genocide of indigenous people. But to insinuate that what happened and is still happening to indigenous Americans is a relic of the past makes one an accomplice.
This year the National Day of Mourning is continuing its call to pardon and release Lakota Sioux political prisoner Leonard Peltier. Social justice activists have been pushing for his release for years to no avail. There was hope that at the end of Bill Clinton’s presidency that he would grant Peltier a pardon, but obviously he did not. And, ironically, today George Bush released his list of pardons, but Peltier was not on the list. Not that I expected any different, but it’s disappointing nevertheless. As is tradition, “Thanksgiving” is the day that the American president “pardons” a turkey. Interestingly, some activists used this occasion to protest the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza in front of the White House (mwah to Tamara):
These activists would rather that turkey be sent to Gaza after it is pardoned. While Americans stuff their faces today and then spend tomorrow shopping and spending extravagantly on mostly needless and ridiculous Christmas gifts, the people in Gaza continue to starve (well, maybe this year Americans will be cutting back. Here’s hoping…). But for people in Gaza, what is their “Thanksgiving” gift from America’s 51st state? Another closure.
Equally worth remembering today is the trial of Keetoowah Band Cherokee scholar Ward Churchill. I received this email from his wife earlier this week:
We’re all excited about the prospect of change (or at least breathing a sigh of relief) with the Obama’s election. But many dangerous policies and precedents have been put in place over the last 8 years, and it will take real work on our part to ensure that these don’t prevail.
In that spirit, I wanted to alert you to the new website of the Ward Churchill Solidarity Network (www.wardchurchill.net), to let you know that Ward’s lawsuit against the University of Colorado is scheduled for trial March 9, 2007, and to ask for your help.
Why fight this particular injustice? We’re doing it because Ward has become of symbol of what academic freedom and the right to political dissent mean in this country, in these times.
If it were just about Ward’s job, we’d be happy to spend our time, energy, and money on other issues. But every week we hear of professors being fired, or intimidated into changing what they teach. And students who believe everything they hear on the TV “news.”
For real change to happen, the next generation will have to know how to think critically. That won’t happen – regardless of who’s in the White House – unless we defend the First Amendment in practice, not just in theory.
The chilling effect of CU’s [University of Colorado] actions are very real. If right wing forces don’t encounter resistance to this firing, they will consider it license to constrict freedom of expression even more.
A few facts: As you probably remember, in 2007 the Regents of the University of Colorado responded to political and financial pressure by overriding the recommendations of a faculty review panel and firing Ward Churchill.
This is a classic “pretext” case in which CU has come up with claims of “research misconduct” to fire Ward for speech protected by the First Amendment. Simply put:
(1) CU never would have investigated but for Ward’s “controversial” speech;
(2) CU didn’t have any actual complaints, so they solicited and invented them;
(3) the evidence didn’t support CU’s findings; and
(4) even if the allegations were true, they aren’t things tenured professors ever get fired for . . . except in politically motivated cases.
However, justice doesn’t always prevail. CU has apparently endless resources to throw at this case, while Ward & I are responsible for covering all the direct costs of bringing the lawsuit – deposition transcripts, plane tickets for witnesses, expert witness fees, trial transcripts. Our terrific lawyers aren’t charging for their time, but we’ve still got to raise about $50,000.
Please spread the word, and contribute what you can. Every $25 helps, but we hope you’ll consider donating a plane ticket for a witness, or sending $125 to transcribe a deposition. It’s easy – just click here: http://www.wardchurchill.net/donate.html
You can check out the new website while you’re there.
With appreciation, and in solidarity,
The case against Churchill began after he delivered a speech shortly after 9/11. “Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens,” the speech delivered by Churchill documented the various war crimes the U.S. was responsible for around the world and suggested that they got what was coming to them. As you can imagine, there was a great deal of outrage (and not so much academic freedom). His talk began with a reference to a famous comment by Malcolm X, which incidentally, created quite a maelstrom as well:
When queried by reporters concerning his views on the assassination of John F. Kennedy in November 1963, Malcolm X famously – and quite charitably, all things considered – replied that it was merely a case of “chickens coming home to roost.”
On the morning of September 11, 2001, a few more chickens – along with some half-million dead Iraqi children – came home to roost in a very big way at the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center. Well, actually, a few of them seem to have nestled in at the Pentagon as well.
The Iraqi youngsters, all of them under 12, died as a predictable – in fact, widely predicted – result of the 1991 US “surgical” bombing of their country’s water purification and sewage facilities, as well as other “infrastructural” targets upon which Iraq’s civilian population depends for its very survival.
If the nature of the bombing were not already bad enough – and it should be noted that this sort of “aerial warfare” constitutes a Class I Crime Against humanity, entailing myriad gross violations of international law, as well as every conceivable standard of “civilized” behavior – the death toll has been steadily ratcheted up by US-imposed sanctions for a full decade now. Enforced all the while by a massive military presence and periodic bombing raids, the embargo has greatly impaired the victims’ ability to import the nutrients, medicines and other materials necessary to saving the lives of even their toddlers.
All told, Iraq has a population of about 18 million. The 500,000 kids lost to date thus represent something on the order of 25 percent of their age group. Indisputably, the rest have suffered – are still suffering – a combination of physical debilitation and psychological trauma severe enough to prevent their ever fully recovering. In effect, an entire generation has been obliterated.
Churchill understands what war, occupation, genocide, colonialism mean in the U.S. and when the U.S. acts abroad either covertly or overtly. Perhaps it is fitting then that today on this day of so-called “Thanksgiving” that commemorates the genocide of Native Americans and continued occupation of their land is also the day when the Iraqi parliament chose to formalize the American occupation of Iraq. While Americans seem to be celebrating this as evidence of Iraqi “democracy,” the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) will have horrible consequences for Iraqis. To be sure only 144 members of the 275 member parliament voted for this agreement. From the way most of the media reports this story it appears as if it will end the occupation in 2012. It won’t. Here is what Al Jazeera’s website had to say about it:
The measure would govern some 150,000 US troops stationed in over 400 bases when their UN mandate expires at the end of the year, giving the Iraqi government veto power over virtually all of their operations.
The agreement is similar to so-called Status of Forces Agreements (SOFA) concluded with other US allies but marks a major turning point in the relations between the two countries, who have gone to war twice in the last 20 years.
….Should the Iraqi government decide to cancel the pact after the referendum it would have to give Washington one year’s notice, meaning that troops would be allowed to remain in the country only until the middle of 2010.
….Iraq won a number of concessions in the deal, including a hard timeline for withdrawal, the right to search US military cargo and the right to try US soldiers for crimes committed while they are off their bases and off-duty.
The agreement also requires that US troops obtain Iraqi permission for all military operations, and that they hand over the files of all detainees in US custody to the Iraqi authorities, who will decide their fate.
The pact also forbids US troops from using Iraq as a launch-pad or transit point for attacking another country, which may reassure Syria and Iran, according to the official Arabic version of the pact, translated by AFP.
But the English version has not been made public, and US officials in Washington said there may be a dispute between the two sides over the interpretation of certain parts of the agreement.
The accord has drawn fire from certain quarters, including followers of the hardline Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who reject any agreement with the United States and who protested at the accord in Baghdad on Friday.
As the voting on the pact began several Sadrist MPs pounded tables in a bid to hinder the vote, chanting “Yes, yes to Iraq… No, no, to the occupation,” but the 30-member bloc failed to defeat the agreement.
The story Al Jazeera presented on television was quite different than this. It presented it as it should be: as a sort of Oslo-ization of Iraq. That is my language not theirs. What I mean is this: in the same way Palestinians signed away their land and their rights in Oslo, thus normalizing the occupation and extending it, I believe Iraq will suffer the same consequences. The main difference, which is crucial, is that Iraq will be able to continue its armed resistance against Americans whereas doing so against Israelis remains challenging at best (witness the barrage of Qassam rockets from Gaza over the past few weeks: not one Israeli died and maybe one was injured). But what was discussed on Al Jazeera by Marwan Bishara, who is a brilliant commentator, is the following: 1/3 of the parliament boycotted the vote in protest. He also mentioned something very revealing: the official English version of the agreement has not even been released yet. So no one knows what it says or will say. Bishara said that this agreement allows Americans to continue to conduct military operations in Iraq and outside of Iraq from Iraq as a base (read: Iran) if it deems such operations necessary. In theory, the Americans have to get Iraqi permission to do so and they are only allowed to do so in “self defense.” But the problem is Americans define “self-defense” just like the Israelis do. Thus, what is really an offensive operation is always defined for the public as a defensive measure. Bishara also stated that in Article 12 of this agreement that Americans would be tried in Iraqi courts for crimes they commit, but only for “grave pre-meditated felonies.” And pre-meditation is the most difficult thing to prove in any court of law. Thus, we can expect Americans to continue to, quite literally, get away with murder. Instead, Bishara believes that Americans will translate this, in practice, into trying Americans in American courts (and just how many Americans have been tried for war crimes thus far?). As is clear Sadr opposes this agreement as do many Sunni groups who see this as only strengthening the American occupation (i.e., Osloization of Iraq). So supposedly Americans will leave in 2012. But what I want to know is this: does that only refer to the 150,000 American soldiers? What of the American military bases (recall Americans continue to occupy other places with its military bases like Germany, Japan and Korea after military conflict has concluded. What of the Green Zone? Mercenaries like Blackwater?
Importantly, Kurds in Iraq are not too happy with this agreement either, though for very different reasons:
Kurdish leaders’ support for the deal emanates from an assumption that the presence of U.S. forces in the country for a longer time will be in their interests. But ironically, there are provisions in the deal that can ensnare Kurds and jeopardise their political future. One such provision about preserving Iraq’s “territorial integrity” through U.S. assistance is believed by many Kurds to be clearly aimed at their independence-seeking tendencies.
Preserving “territorial integrity” has been the classic code-phrase various governments in the region have used to crush Kurdish secessionist movements, such as in Iraq, Turkey, Iran and Syria, where sizeable restive Kurdish populations live. No other force has ever been deemed as strong a threat to Iraq’s territorial integrity as Kurds since the establishment of the country in early 1920s.
Some Kurdish parliamentarians demanded that an “honour pact” be signed among all Iraqi factions that would prevent the central government or any faction from using force to determine the outcome of political disagreements.
So it seems that Iraqi Kurds will not be getting their state any time soon.
And things are not changing in Gaza either. This Carlos Latuff cartoon illustrates the situation in Gaza by ironically offering a parallel to the Warsaw Ghetto that imprisoned Jews during World War II. As Americans stuff themselves like no other population knows how (it is the capital of over consumption), Palestinians in Gaza have found themselves under closure yet again. The power grids are collapsing and need to be repaired, but don’t have the proper parts. There continues to be a shortage of food and yet the Israeli Terrorist Forces (ITF) refuse to return boats that they confiscated from fisherman.
And there is still the problem of the bread. I wonder how much bread Americans will consume today. How much flour they will use. How much cooking gas. Meanwhile in Gaza such simple acts like cooking bread remain elusive:
Mustafa al-Banna, 70 years old of Deir al-Balah, owns al-Banna Bakery, the largest bakery in central Gaza Strip. He explained that “We have been staying idle for the past three days as we are unable to bring cooking gas from nearby stations. Before this closure, we used to make 12,000 pieces of bread per hour, but in the past two weeks, our production capacity has become much less than half.”
The closure of bakeries impacts all sectors of society, as they also provide bread to hospitals, local community organizations, and schools. Mahdi Temraz, 32 years old, provides bread for 4,000 schoolchildren at two schools along Salah al-Din road, Gaza’s main thoroughfare. He complained of his inability to provide breads for the children stating that “For the third day consecutively now I come to this bakery and ask about bread, but there is none. Really I can not handle this situation as the children should have their morning meal, as designated by UNRWA [the UN agency for Palestine refugees].”
Or consider these people in Gaza searching for bread to buy for their families:
“I sought every single bakery around, and in each time the answer is the same: ‘sorry no bread’,” he told IslamOnline.net. “It was like searching for a hidden treasure.”
Bread has become something of a rarity in the impoverished Gaza Strip, home to 1.6 million, under Israel’s stifling blockade of fuel, power and food supplies.
The majority of Gaza bakeries have shut down, and even those still powered are hit by severe shortages of wheat.
“About 30 of a total 47 bakeries in Gaza have closed,” said Abdul-Nasser Al Ajrami, head of the Association of Bakeries in the Gaza Strip.
“They started grinding secondary wheat, originally used for birds and animals, to meet the demands of the hungry population,” he added.
“Ever since I have heard about this, I stopped even trying to search for bread,” said Salma, a civil servant.
“Words like tragedy and catastrophe cannot even come close to explaining our situation.”
Meanwhile Palestinian refugees from Iraq who are now in Syria (exiled first from Palestine, of course, now from Iraq), are looking for some sort of resolution. If they have the same point of view as those Palestinians who fled Iraq to Jordan they wanted to be allowed to return to Palestine. Of course, this was not allowed because the Zionists get to control even those Palestinians who want to live in the West Bank or Gaza. And, of course, the Americans–who are legally responsible for all Iraqi refugees under the Geneva Convention–will likely not be allowed into the U.S.
Having fled killings, kidnappings, torture, and death threats, about 3,000 Palestinian refugees from Iraq are currently stranded in three camps along the border between Syria and Iraq. Denied asylum and refugee rights, they are extremely vulnerable in poorly situated camps. The Syrian government and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) are both open to third country resettlement on humanitarian grounds and on the basis of individual choice. Therefore, the challenge now lies with both traditional and emerging resettlement countries, in collaboration with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, to accept these Palestinian refugees from Iraq for resettlement, allowing the inhospitable camps to be closed.
And let’s not forget the Congolese refugees fleeing in tremendous numbers:
Thousands of civilians have fled to Uganda over the past 48 hours to escape fresh fighting and brutal attacks on their villages in the Congolese province of North Kivu by armed assailants. More are on the way.
UNHCR staff at the south-west Ugandan border town of Ishasha said that since Tuesday afternoon an estimated 13,000 Congolese refugees had crossed the border from the eastern province’s Rutshuru district, including some 10,000 on Thursday.
The new arrivals bring to some 27,000 the number of Congolese civilians who have fled into Uganda since August to escape violence in the Rutshuru area of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Fighting between government troops and rebel fighters has displaced 250,000 people throughout the province since August.