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Editorial

First Thanksgiving got it right

As xenophobia sweeps over the U.S., it's a good time to remember what the holiday is supposed to mean.

November 24, 2010

This year Thanksgiving arrives at a propitious moment, delivering its message of gratitude at a time when many Americans would be wise to recall it.

Across the country, xenophobia is enjoying a heyday. Oklahomans, of all people, recently approved a ballot measure to ban the use of international law and, specifically, Sharia law, in their courts. As has been widely noted, that manages the rare feat of being both unnecessary and unconstitutional. More troubling, it suggests the degree to which voters have become motivated by fear and the extent to which they are willing to retreat into insularity.

Politicians feel it and exploit it. Elected officials who know better prey upon the public's anxiety by suggesting that immigrants, especially those in the country illegally, are to blame for the economic collapse of the George W. Bush years or the long, hard climb out of it. Some argue for retooling the Constitution itself, as if limiting citizenship to those born in the United States would create jobs or ease home foreclosures. Immigrants are somehow cast as threats to the society they risk their lives to join.

American Muslims, who enjoy every right of every American, also suffer from? this inward-looking narrowness. When a popular commentator confesses that he is? unnerved to sit next to a Muslim on an ?airplane, too many Americans reflexively sympathize. When another commentator questions whether Jews have a right to? consider themselves an oppressed minority, those same Americans should feel the recoil of their bigotry. Many do not. The freedom to practice one's religion is celebrated this week, but of late, it is denigrated too often, as if this were a Christian country or a? Judeo-Christian country rather than one of magnificent, intentional diversity.

As families sit down Thursday for Thanksgiving, our wish as Americans would be that they recapture a measure of the original meaning of this holiday. It was a? day when native-born Americans welcomed undocumented immigrants, here in search of work and religious freedom, with benevolence and goodwill. Those native hosts were naive, perhaps, but well intentioned, imbued with an American spirit before America existed. The hosts and guests that day spoke different languages, followed different faiths. And yet they ate together, appreciated one another, saw their common humanity across their vast differences of culture.

This holiday is testament to those most fundamental American values — tolerance, curiosity, shared appreciation for struggle. As we celebrate the day, we should remember its meaning.

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