Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving 2015: join us in gratitude ...

Atlantic contributing editor Peter Beinart points out two very different narratives favored by two different Presidents about this country:

For George W. Bush, the story was about America being roused from its complacency by external danger. In 1999, then candidate Bush quoted Winston Churchill as declaring, in the late 1930s, that “the era of procrastination, of half measures-of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to a close.” Then, in his second inaugural, Bush described his own era as “years of relative quiet, years of repose, years of sabbatical” followed by “a day of fire.” The implication was that to fulfill his role in history, Bush needed to rally Americans against the evil that lurked beyond their shores.

Obama tells the story of American history differently: as America overcoming the evil within itself. In his 2008 Democratic convention speech, he talked about “a promise that has led immigrants to cross oceans and pioneers to travel west, a promise that led workers to picket lines and women to reach for the ballot.” The first two references—to immigrants escaping foreign oppression and pioneers overcoming nature’s hardships—are standard political fare. But by twinning them with workers battling exploitation and women battling sexism, Obama suggested that external and physical forces aren’t the only barriers to American progress. Sometimes, the barriers are other Americans.

In the spirit of that latter narrative, I'm giving over this Thanksgiving Day post to an oped interpreting the holiday by Nihad Awad of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Remember the Refugees at the First Thanksgiving

This Thursday, friends and family will gather to commemorate the resettlement of the first wave of refugees to what would become the United States. While we as a nation are now more cognizant of the terrible toll this resettlement took on the native inhabitants of the land, we also recognize that the resulting ethnic and religious diversity of America is unique in all the world.

In the midst of eating turkey and stuffing around the dinner table, we will be reminded that, at its core, America is a land of immigrants, a nation comprised of innumerable waves of men, women and children fleeing oppression and seeking a better life.

The history of our country is one defined by overlapping layers in which new groups of individuals have joined our national fabric and given it new shape through their cultural, artistic and intellectual contributions.

As we come together on this day to celebrate the tremendous blessings we enjoy as Americans, we must therefore also remember our shared work of fighting for freedom, equality and dignity for all people, regardless of their national, ethnic or religious background.

As the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), I believe strongly in the values and principles on which our country was founded, established by the descendants of those first refugees fleeing discrimination in their homeland.

They sought to create a country in which anyone could be welcome, their contributions valued and where freedom and justice would be the law of the land. For more than 20 years, and to this very day, CAIR has worked tirelessly in support of these founding principles. We are proud of what we have accomplished, but recognize that much still remains to be done to make them a reality for all Americans.

In the days and weeks leading up to this day of thanks, we have seen a darkening of the tone on the place of American Muslims. We have witnessed a Christian Ethiopian immigrant in North Carolina being threatened and beaten after being mistaken for a Muslim; we have seen airlines remove passengers because of their racial background or spoken language; we have watched as a pregnant Muslim woman was assaulted on the street in San Diego while pushing her child in a stroller; and we have seen too many mosques vandalized, shot at, threatened, and defaced by those who say that Islam has no place within America – the same rhetoric that has too often been leveled at Jewish, Catholic, Irish, and African-Americans.

Tragically, even those who hold or seek public office have turned this hatred against the newest wave of refugees seeking shelter in our land. Descendants of immigrants who came to our country seeking a better life have forgotten their past, and now turn their backs on Syrian refugees fleeing the horrors of ISIS on one side, and the brutality of the Assad regime on the other.

Groups such as the coalition of governors who demanded that President Obama suspend Syrian refugee resettlement coldly ignore the plight of innocent children who have the potential to become our next generation of doctors, lawyers, engineers, and elected officials. They place no confidence in our country's robust system for vetting newcomers and they forget that some of the greatest contributors to American society, such as Albert Einstein, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Steve Jobs' father (himself Syrian) have also been refugees from hostile countries.

They would sacrifice our shared humanity on the false altar of security, unable to understand the core truth that these values can only exist when they exist together.

On this day, I encourage us all to not only be thankful for the blessings we enjoy as Americans, but to recall the circumstances surrounding the first Thanksgiving: a huddled group of newcomers, fleeing persecution, giving thanks for the generosity of their hosts in a challenging new world.

Today, I invite you to join us in gratitude for all that we enjoy in this land, and to share in our efforts to make this bounty available to all.

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