Every year on Thanksgiving Day I give thanks that Iran’s problems with the West are gravy compared to what the Indian chief Massasoit faced when English settlers landed at Plymouth Rock in1620. As the story goes, the newcomers were starving that first winter in America and the Indians helped them survive. The outcome was pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce, leftover turkey sandwiches, and the United States of America. Also, the Native American way of life was demolished.
Massasoit was a great and wise chief. Undoubtedly he saw the threat these foreigners posed. One of his aides, a man named Squanto, had been to London and knew all about siaasat e Eengleesaa. Maybe that’s why Massasoit waited until spring to reach out to the settlers. By then only 53 of the original 102 had survived. Their ship, The Mayflower, had landed too late in the year for planting, and the English hadn’t brought enough supplies. The settlers weren’t fooling anyone trying to hide their dead as the winter took them one by one. Chief Massasoit’s spies kept good track of how many they would have to fight if hostilities broke out. In fact a clash of civilizations had happened before the official first contact. The starving newcomers tried to raid Indian corn stashes guarded by dead ancestors.
Chief Massasoit didn’t really need the land the pilgrims had settled on, because no one lived there anymore. Diseases carried by earlier European ships had wiped out most of the natives in the area. Here’s another reason for Iranians to give thanks: biological immunity. Eengleesa and Iranians live on the same Eurasian landmass and have immunities to the same diseases. When the Shirley brothers first came to the court of Shah Abbas to talk shop, 9 out of 10 Iranians didn’t drop dead. Khodaa raa shokr.
Ironically, a depleted population was the reason Massasoit needed the English. His people, the Wampanaug Indians, were sitting ducks for the less depleted enemy tribe, the Narraganssets. Massasoit figured if he made friends with the “pilgrims,” the enemy would back off. He was right. The Wampanaug tribe flourished during the fifty years of off-and-on cooperation that followed the peace treaty. War respectfully waited for the great chief to die of old age. War was also waiting for the natives to run out of trade goods the English would want. Soon after the settlers learned how to take care of themselves on the new continent, a native who needed a frying pan would have to trade land for it.
Now Massasoit could have gone to the Narragansset chief and tried to persuade him that the natives should gang up on the English, nipping these dangerous settlements in the bud. But he may as well have tried to sell the Narragansset a home insurance policy. The idea of “Native American” as a unifying identity wasn’t invented yet. The logic behind this gives another reason for Iranians to supersize their sofreh nazri on Thanksgiving. Though the two tribes lived in the same few-mile area, the Wampanaug and the Naragansset languages were only somewhat intelligible to each other. No common language means no common identity. Yet, thanks to Farsi, an Ahangar in Balkh could say “marg bar Sultan,” and a thousand miles away, a mesgar in shushtar would lose his head for it. Farsi is not just shekar; it is also glue.
Without a shared identity, it would be hard for the natives to sound a general alarm across their North American homeland. Viewing each other as separate peoples, the tribes took opposite sides in European rivalries and were ground underfoot in the dance of Western politics. This is why Native Americans now have a common expression for Thanksgiving Day. In English, they call it “The National Day of Mourning”. Finally, American natives have a national identity, their bond of unity a history of pain, their common language: English!
This is in itself a reason for giving thanks. Beautiful cultures on the verge of extinction found a way to survive, just like the pilgrims. And of course there is the side of Thanksgiving that has always been upbeat. The settlers, zealous refugees of Europe’s faith wars, turned their devotion towards building a powerful country. They had a revolution and wrote the Declaration of Independence, becoming the only country founded on the self-evidence of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. One is Iranian by virtue of geography, parentage or culture. One is American by believing in the principles laid out by its founders. Americans invented the atom bomb and overthrew Mossadegh, then they recorded Elvis and went to the Moon. Also there is household electricity, modern air travel, Monopoly (the game), and Not Without My Daughter (the farce).
Last and least is television commercials. In between them we can glimpse reruns of Star Trek and wonder if intelligent life on other planets is also thankful on this day that these English-speaking explorers are just actors.
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