Thanksgiving and the Islamic State

وهكذا تم ثأر الانتقام الإلهي على هذا الخائن المشهور الذي ضد حكومته

“Thus did Divine Vengeance retaliate upon this notorious Traitor, that had…risen up against the Government”

Following the condemnation, the “Traitor” was summarily beheaded by religious extremists and his head was put on display as a warning to other opponents of the state. The assailants would not tolerate any dissent in its spread across a fractured landscape of tribal groups.

This beheading was the culmination of a meteoric rise of religious extremism. Leaders of the theocracy were able to attract similarly minded followers to make the long trek from Europe. Using word of mouth and effective advertisements, the religious leaders were able to appeal to hundreds and later thousands of people who believed that God and worship needed to be the center of their lives. Society, many thought, had been corrupted by a lax following of religion and the only option was to start anew. This new state would be governed by laws derived from religious texts, created and enforced by members of the religious hierarchy.

With growing numbers of zealots among them, local tribes were at a loss as to how to react. Religious leaders exploited the long standing animosity among these groups and began to make alliances. Armed with superior weapons and strong convictions, this new state’s army became a formidable force. To prove themselves to their new tribal allies and frighten any opponents, surprise attacks were launched, with enemies kidnapped and beheaded. When the time came, a full scale war was launched and the new state established itself as the dominant power in the region.

Of course, this group would be known as the Pilgrims, whose dinner we celebrate on Thursday.

King Philip aka Metacom Source: Library of Congress

King Philip aka Metacom
Source: Library of Congress

The Pilgrims left England in search of a location where they could practice their religion freely. The beliefs of this group were considered extreme to many in England and they faced harsh criticism and ridicule. When the Mayflower anchored off Plymouth in 1620, the local native tribes had been decimated by disease, leaving them vulnerable and in need of allies. The Pilgrims, cold and sick upon arrival, needed help surviving. Thus, the Wampanoag and Pilgrims became tentative friends.

This uneasy friendship didn’t last long, with the Pilgrims and thousands of new Massachusetts Bay settlers gaining strength in numbers and independence. The quest for new land brought conflict with the Native American tribes in the area, culminating in King Philip’s War in 1675. The namesake of the war, King Philip, also known as Metacom, was the son of Massasoit, the Wampanoag Sachem who negotiated the initial treaty with the Pilgrims. It was his head that was cut off and put on a spike that sat outside Plymouth for years. Many other Native Americans were enslaved and shipped the Caribbean.

The story of America’s forefathers draws parallels with the Islamic State, currently trying to establish itself in Syria and Iraq.

The United States also proverbially broke bread with what was then known as ISIS as it, so claim many observers, supported rebel groups with supplies against the Assad government. Founded by religious extremists in the wake of the United States entry into Iraq, ISIS attracted radicals from around Europe and the world. Their savvy use of media has even included the use of video games and YouTube.

Source: wikipedia

Source material: Wikipedia

This deal with the devil went sour after the group of religious extremists displayed a propensity for beheading captives. Now, the Islamic State is the target of an international coalition of nations. Their desire to create a new state didn’t leave them with a national holiday, but instead a plethora of bombs on their doorsteps (and roofs, cars, stores, ect.).

Now, I’m not trying to say that the Islamic State is like the Pilgrims and deserves to be viewed in a positive light. On the contrary. I fully support efforts to minimize their power and protect innocent civilians. What they are doing is as reprehensible as any atrocity in recent memory.

However, it would serve us well not to fall into idle hero worship as Americans did for so long with Columbus. The Pilgrims were brutal. They chopped the hands off of Quakers and heads off of Native Americans. All this in spite of eating a meal together.

Thanksgiving can’t make people friends. It shouldn’t. However, it can (and should) celebrate the friends you already have, introduce you to some new ones, and give thanks for what is good in this world.

Perhaps the Islamic State should step back and eat a meal and consider how they want to be remembered, what their legacy shall be. The Pilgrims, for all their faults, lucked out and are remembered for a meal (even though we forget that eels were on the menu). I don’t think the Islamic State will be so fortunate.


Thanks to Hannah Perry for Arabic translation assistance.