Here’s The Crazy Story About Thanksgiving You’ve Never Heard

Especially the parts about Squanto the “friendly Indian.”

<span class='image-component__caption' itemprop="caption">This image from "Young Folks' History of the United States," published in 1903, is typical of depictions of the Thanksgiving story at the time.</span>
LIBRARY OF CONGRESSThis image from “Young Folks’ History of the United States,” published in 1903, is typical of depictions of the Thanksgiving story at the time.

The Thanksgiving story you know probably goes a bit like this: English Pilgrims, seeking religious freedom, landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts, where they found a rich land full of animals and were greeted by a friendly Indian named Squanto, who taught them how to plant corn.

The true story is more complicated. Once you learn about the real Squanto — also known as Tisquantum — you’ll have a great yarn to tell your family over the Thanksgiving table.

I asked historian Charles Mann, the author of 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, and Paula Peters, a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe and an expert on Wampanoag history, to tell me the real story.

“This is not revisionist history,” Peters promised. “This is history that’s just been overlooked because people have become very, very comfortable with the story of happy Pilgrims and friendly Indians. They’re very content with that — even to the point where no one really questioned how is it that Squanto knew how to speak perfect English when they came.”

Here’s what really happened.

In 1614, six years before the Pilgrims landed in modern-day Massachusetts, an Englishman named Thomas Hunt kidnapped Tisquantum from his village, Patuxet, which was part of a group of villages known as the Wampanoag confederation. (Europeans had started visiting the northeast of what is now the United States by the 1520s, and probably as early as the 1480s.)

Hunt took Tisquantum and around two dozen other kidnapped Wampanoag to Spain, where he tried to sell them into slavery.

“It caused quite a commotion when this guy showed up trying to sell these people,” Mann said. “A bunch of people in the church said no way.”

Tisquantum escaped slavery — with the help of Catholic friars, according to some accounts — then somehow found his way to England.

He finally made it back to what is now Massachusetts in 1619. As far as historians can tell, Tisquantum was the only one of the kidnapped Wampanoags to ever return to North America, Peters notes.

As far as historians can tell, Tisquantum was the only one of the kidnapped Wampanoags to ever return to North America.

But while Tisquantum was in Europe, an epidemic had swept across New England.

“The account that’s recorded by Gov. Bradford of Plymouth Plantation is that there’s a shipwreck of French sailors that year on Cape Cod,” Mann said. “One of them carried some disease and it wiped out a huge percentage of the population in coastal new England. … The guess is it was some kind of viral hepatitis, which is easily communicated in water. It exploded like chains of firecrackers.”

When Tisquantum returned to Patuxet, he found that he was the village’s only survivor.

“Into this bumbled the Pilgrims,” Mann said. “They had shown up in New England a few weeks before winter. … Up until the Pilgrims, the pattern had been pretty clear. Europeans would show up, and Indians would be interested in their trade goods, but they were really uninterested in letting [Europeans] permanently occupy land.”

Often, armed native people would even force Europeans to leave if they attempted to stay too long.

This time, the Europeans wanted to stay, and the disease that had decimated Patuxet ensured that they had a place to settle.

“Patuxet ultimately becomes Plymouth,” Peters explained. “They find this cleared land and just the bones of the Indians. They called it divine providence: God killed these Indians so we could live here.”

A website Peters helped create for the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ arrival puts it even more bluntly: “The graveyard of [Tisquantum’s] people became Plymouth Colony.”

Massasoit, a local Wampanoag leader, didn’t trust Tisquantum. “He looks at this guy and smells trouble,” Mann said. Massasoit kept Tisquantum under what was essentially house arrest until the Pilgrims showed up and promptly started starving to death.

Patuxet wasn’t the only native village decimated by the plague. The entire Wampanoag confederation had been badly hit — as much as 75 percent of the Wampanoag population was wiped out, Mann said. But the Narragansett, a rival neighboring group, basically weren’t affected by the disease at all. That put the Wampanoag in a precarious strategic position.

“The graveyard of his people became Plymouth Colony.”

 Massasoit had an idea.

“He decides we’ll ally with these guys, set up a good trading relationship, control supply of English goods, and the Narragansett won’t be able to attack us,” Mann said.

On March 22, 1621, Massasoit went to meet with the Pilgrims. He brought Tisquantum along to translate.

Mann described the meeting in a 2005 article in Smithsonian Magazine:

Tisquantum most likely was not the name he was given at birth. In that part of the Northeast, tisquantum referred to rage, especially the rage of manitou, the world-suffusing spiritual power at the heart of coastal Indians’ religious beliefs. When Tisquantum approached the Pilgrims and identified himself by that sobriquet, it was as if he had stuck out his hand and said, “Hello, I’m the Wrath of God.”

Massasoit was right not to trust Tisquantum, who soon tried to pit the Pilgrims against him. But the plan didn’t work: Massasoit “is just pissed off and demands the Pilgrims hand him over because he’s gonna execute him,” Mann said.

The Pilgrims didn’t. Instead, Tisquantum stayed in the colony with them, helping them prepare for the next winter.

“Never did the newcomers ask themselves why he might be making himself essential,” Mann wrote in Smithsonian. “But from the Pilgrims’ accounts of their dealings with him, the answer seems clear: the alternative to staying in Plymouth was returning to Massasoit and renewed captivity.”

It’s all a lot more complicated — Machiavellian, even — than the story you might have learned. Mann in Smithsonian again:

By fall the settlers’ situation was secure enough that they held a feast of thanksgiving. Massasoit showed up with “some ninety men,” Winslow later recalled, most of them with weapons. The Pilgrim militia responded by marching around and firing their guns in the air in a manner intended to convey menace. Gratified, both sides sat down, ate a lot of food and complained about the Narragansett. Ecce Thanksgiving.

So what does this all mean? “While it was by far not the first occasion of human trafficking conducted by European explorers to the new world, the capture of Squanto and his fellow tribesmen would forever alter the course of history for people on two continents,” Peterswrote on the anniversary website.

“We learn about Columbus landing in 1492 and it’s as if nothing happened for over 100 years until the Pilgrims landed,” Mann added. “But the Tisquantum story gives you this tiny peek into that all the people involved had been interacting for more than a century.”

And today, of course, the Wampanoag are still around.

Thanksgiving: celebrating the privilege to forget

By Sarah Yozzo On November 26, 2015

Post image for Thanksgiving: celebrating the privilege to forgetForget the past and today’s suffering, and join in the collective act of giving thanks. But beware not to remember and mourn all that has been lost.

Photo showing Navajo environmental protesters, by Nihígaal bee Iiná.

America is the land of amnesia. “Forget who you were, so that you can become American,” we are told.

Because who we were has no buying power in the colony. This is the land of skyrisers, not basements. Turn in our luggage, our languages. Uproot our identities, in exchange for new and better selves, complete with a well-earned white picket fence and an office with a view. Happy hour, golden retriever, two-week-paid vacation in Barbados, summering in the Hamptons. Take it now and leave everything else behind, this place was made for us.

Who we were would only confuse or anger those who have already properly assimilated. My blood is Sicilian, but I speak no Italian. I don’t even know how to pronounce my own last name correctly. The pasta maker in my mother’s kitchen is the only remaining vestige of my Mediterranean ancestry; the only connection I have to the lost.

But actually, this experience applies only for the privileged among us. Those of us whose parents and grandparents were allowed to choose forgetfulness in pursuit of capital, the American dream, are now encouraged to participate in the broader process of suppressing those who were never given this choice.

So on this thanksgiving, we are all American. We must all sit at the dinner table and choose forgetfulness: “Don’t bring up politics and rain on everyone’s parade. This holiday isn’t about ethnic cleansing; it’s about sharing and giving thanks now.”

Welcome to our Shangri La; our exclusive paradise where as long as one is an owning class, educated, white, able-bodied, cis-gender, heterosexual male English speaker with proper documentation, one has a seat at the table and a voice that will be heard. Regardless of whether one has a seat at the table, we all damn well better be thankful.

In many regards, those at the table are free: free from concern about losing property as it is appropriated in land grabs by the state, free from the burden of considering racial, gender, and legal-status categories as crucial determinants in ability to survive.

It is a freedom that provides suburban families central air while people of the Navajo nation choke on coal dust. Capitalism eats the lives of occupied peoples, collateral damage in a process of wealth accumulation. Our industries seep up, contaminate the ground water that once sat fresh and clean beneath what is left of the Navajo lands, so that America can maintain a healthy middle class with access to affordable electricity.

Black lives are cut short with the shot of a police gun, the poison of an unjust food system, countless violences of inherited dispossession and systemic racism. Beyond territorial borders, the finances of the American colonial project, for which so many nice families are thankful, fund the ammunition of other colonies, where other colonized people continue to resist the encroachment of capitalism’s beneficiaries.

Subhuman, those subaltern people always already are, just as other black and brown people have been throughout contemporary history. “They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.” How many homes have been destroyed, how many humans have been killed by those whose white-supremacist, euro-arrogant hallucinations transform children into serpents.

Gently, let’s all be thankful for forgetfulness.

Those of us whose grandparents turned in their cultures in exchange for capital and social inclusion, we must be thankful for, though not overly cognizant of, our privileges. Everyone else must forget the past, forget the present dispossessions in order to join in the act of giving thanks. And in giving thanks, no space will be left for us to collectively remember and mourn all that has been lost.

Sarah Yozzo teaches English Literature at a high school in Nablus, Palestine. She is a graduate from New York University’s Near East Studies program.

Turkey’s downing of a Russian jet and the danger of world war


25 November 2015
 The downing of a Russian fighter-bomber by Turkish fighter jets yesterday on the Turkish-Syrian border is a flagrant act of war. Turkish authorities have seized on the alleged Russian violation of their airspace to launch a monumental escalation of the proxy war in Syria between Islamist opposition fighters supported by NATO and the Russian-backed regime of President Bashar al-Assad. It threatens to provoke all-out war between Russia on the one hand, and Turkey and the rest of the NATO alliance on the other.

Turkish officials claimed that the Russian SU-24 had violated Turkish air space for one minute, while Russian officials said that it never left Syrian air space at all. The Turkish air force did not scramble jets to warn the Russian fighter or escort it back to Syrian air space, but, after allegedly warning the Russian jet for five minutes, shot it down.

It is unthinkable that Turkey would have taken a decision against a powerful neighbor, fraught with incalculable consequences, without direct prior approval from the US government.

US officials supported the Turkish downing of the Russian plane, making clear that they are willing to accept a direct military clash with Russia, a nuclear-armed power, in order to crush its intervention in Syria to defend the Assad regime.

At a press conference yesterday with French President François Hollande in Washington, Obama endorsed the downing of the Russian jet, claiming that Turkey “has a right to defend its territory and its airspace.” This amounts to a blank check to Turkish forces to attack Russian fighter jets again, should similar circumstances arise.

Obama then bluntly warned Russia not to attack Islamist opposition militias in western Syria that are supported by NATO: “I do think that this points to an ongoing problem with the Russian operations in the sense that they are operating very close to a Turkish border, and they are going after a moderate opposition that are supported by not only Turkey but a wide range of countries. And if Russia is directing its energies towards Daesh and ISIL, some of those conflicts, or potentials for mistakes or escalation, are less likely to occur.”

After Obama spoke, former US Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns again made clear that the Turkish government had acted as a proxy for Washington by shooting down the Russian plane. He told PBS News that US officials were considering declaring a no-fly-zone in the Syrian-Turkish border area. This would mean shooting down Russian fighters overflying the area in order to protect the Islamist opposition forces—that is, doing precisely what Turkey did.

The comments of Obama and Burns underscore the fraud of Washington’s claims to be waging a “war on terror” aimed at the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militia. While claiming to oppose Islamist terrorism, Washington is in fact protecting Islamist militias in the Lattakia mountain areas that include the Al Qaeda-linked Al Nusra Front, as well as Chechen Islamist fighters. On the pretext of fighting ISIS, Washington is in fact recklessly pursuing its geopolitical ambitions, which in the Middle East currently center on removing Assad from power.

This is only one step in a further confrontation with any powers posing a military obstacle to the ambitions of US imperialism, including Assad’s key allies, Russia and Iran, as well as China. Even as he was preparing to escalate the conflict in the Middle East, Obama exploited top-level summits in Asia over the past week to ramp up the US confrontation with China over its territorial claims in the South China Sea.

It is becoming ever clearer that ISIS itself emerged and was presented in the international media primarily in line with the shifting needs of the imperialist powers as a pretext for their wars. After the Obama administration sought to justify the pullout from Afghanistan by assassinating Osama bin Laden in 2011—when he was hiding in Pakistan, a key US ally—there was no clear target for the “war on terror.” Washington and the other NATO powers worked directly with Islamist militias as proxies, in the 2011 Libyan war and the beginning of the Syrian conflict.

The situation changed, however, when Washington and Paris were forced to pull back from a planned war in Syria in 2013, due to its unpopularity and deep divisions in the foreign policy establishment. As the NATO powers sought to find a way to justify a war, the claim that they were fighting against Islamist terrorism—though completely belied by their actual record of relying on these forces—again became attractive to them as a way of marketing the war.

Though its operations were little different than the bombings and atrocities carried out by other Islamist militias in Syria, ISIS was selected for attack in the media, while other similar Islamist groups continued to enjoy tacit and even explicit US support.

Yesterday’s events further darken the cloud of suspicion that hangs over the November 13 attacks in Paris, and the terrorists’ astonishing ability to pull off an operation under the noses of the intelligence services. In fact, close connections exist between Islamist terror groups and the NATO powers. The security panic whipped up by ruling circles in Europe after the attacks, along with confusion sown over the phantom war with ISIS, helps these powers create the political climate for the pursuit of their ambitions through catastrophic global wars.

The timing of the shoot-down is highly significant, coming also against the backdrop of conflicts between Washington and imperialist powers in Europe, particularly Germany and France, over the degree of Russian involvement in a planned neo-colonial settlement of the Syrian war. Washington has moved to decisively scuttle European attempts to negotiate a deal with Russia.

After the ISIS attacks in Paris and November 14 talks in Vienna, Hollande announced plans to forge a united coalition of the United States, Russia, and the European powers to fight ISIS in Syria and negotiate the ouster of Assad on terms acceptable to all the major powers.

As Hollande arrived for talks with Obama in Washington, however, the downing of the Russian jet presented him with a fait accompli, cutting off his diplomatic overtures towards Russia. The attack, USA Today noted, “badly damaged France’s drive to build an alliance with the United States and Russia to defeat the Islamic State in retaliation for the Paris attacks.”

Since the US- and German-backed coup in Ukraine last year, the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI) has repeatedly warned of the danger of world war. These warnings are being realized with extraordinary speed.

Today, the danger of war between nuclear-armed Russia and the nuclear powers of the NATO alliance is openly referred to in the media and by leading politicians. This danger does not, however, give pause to the reckless assertion of imperialist interests, above all by the United States. Instead, they are stepping up the war drive.

The Russian and Chinese regimes offer no counterweight to the ever more unhinged policies of the imperialist powers.

Events in Syria again point to the catastrophic geopolitical consequences of the dissolution of the USSR a quarter century ago. Moscow is desperate to defend its residual influence in the Middle East and to stop Islamist fighters from Chechnya and other regions of Russia from toppling Assad and returning to fight in Russia, where they can easily exploit the anger caused by disastrous social conditions and by the Russian-chauvinist policies of the Kremlin.

The warning made by Trotsky, that the restoration of capitalism in Russia would be followed by its transformation into a semi-colony, is being fulfilled. Putin’s delusion that the offensive of imperialism can be answered by using Russia’s military might is not only hopeless, it leads to catastrophic consequences. The policy of the Kremlin oscillates between surrender to imperialism and reckless military measures posing the danger of world war with the imperialist powers.

A world war is not only possible, it is inevitable, unless it is stopped by the emergence of a revolutionary movement in the international working class.

The war in Syria emerged and grew into an explosive proxy war, devastating the lives of millions and drawing in all the major powers in the region, as the imperialist powers sought to crush the Egyptian revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak. The next political offensive of the international working class must base itself on the struggle for socialism against the looming danger of imperialist world war.

World Socialist Web Site Editorial Board

In defense of the Grayzone: between ISIS and the West

By Sam Law On November 23, 2015

Post image for In defense of the Grayzone: between ISIS and the WestThe targets of the Paris attacks were not primarily the civilians killed but the world they inhabited — one not yet divided into two civilizations.

Photo: Mural of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi at the Abode of Chaos, by Thierry Ehrmann, via Flickr.

At this moment of closing borders and of politicians calling for surveillance of Muslims and deportations of refugees—with thought suspended and grief draped in the French flag—I hear whispers of the worst horrors of the last century. However, the document to which I turn to make sense of it all is a contemporary one. The Extinction of the Grayzone, an article published in the official ISIS magazine Dābiq, is a slick PDF that deftly binds together theology, politics and history in service of the so-called “caliphate.”

Reading Dābiq, I am struck by its reflection of the transnational, heterogeneous background of ISIS—demonstrating an impressive knowledge of contemporary graphic design, it is written in erudite English by those well-versed in ISIS’s theology. In its graphic depictions of violence, it is a document of barbarism, but then—as Walter Benjamin reminds us—so is every other document of civilization.

A world divided into two camps

Scrolling past images of militants brandishing kalashnikovs, knives held against bare necks, and graphic scenes of decapitations, I arrive at the issue’s eponymous article, “The Extinction of the Grayzone.” While “counter-terrorism experts” have argued that exploring the motives of the Paris attackers is futile, I believe this article demonstrates the importance of doing precisely that.

Through an examination of the establishment of their “Islamic Caliphate” and the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, the article clearly explains the goals of the Paris Attacks. In a tweet, the author and activist Iyad El-Baghdadi captured the main thrust of the article:

This world imagined by ISIS is one in which difference is contained, sterilized, and homogenized. It is a world of stark contrast where belief adheres to one of two strict orthodoxies and there is no middle ground.

Confounding those who argue ISIS is merely the product of blind adherence to an antiquated tradition, the author cites a distinctly modern figure as ISIS’ inspiration. This figure is none other than one of the most horrendous and violent individuals of this millennium: George W. Bush. The article cites Osama Bin Laden:

The world today is divided into two camps. Bush spoke the truth when he said, ‘Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.’ Meaning, either you are with the crusade or you are with Islam.

The only thing standing in the way of this world of two clearly opposed camps is the “Grayzone,” the messy zone of coexistence. As Iyad El-Baghdadi suggests, the grayness of the Grayzone contaminates the purity of ISIS’ clean division. As much for ISIS as for the “West,” the trouble with the Grayzone is that it ruptures and renders absurd the binary logic which forces a choice between us or them, between friend or enemy, the camp of Islam or that of the Crusaders.

In this sense, the Grayzone is what philosopher Giorgio Agamben refers to as a “zone of indistinction,” a zone which renders impossible the ability to determine inclusion and exclusion. Furthermore, in its contaminated grayness, it is an opaque blot that clouds the panoptic gaze of a regime of legibility, a gaze which forces the world to appear as a collection of discrete, uncontaminated wholes. Hidden from this gaze, the Grayzone is home to all those who live messy, entangled and irreducibly complex lives.

Planting one’s feet in the Grayzone and looking at the forces arrayed against it, the attacks of ISIS and subsequent jingoistic and military maneuvers of the West appear not as skirmishes in an almighty Clash of Civilizations but rather as different moments of a single strategy carried out by a Janus-faced power, a strategy intent on bringing about the extinction of the Grayzone. This is to say, the targets of the Paris attacks were not primarily the civilians killed but the world they inhabited, one not yet divided into two civilizations on the brink of total war.

Yet, the Grayzone offers more than a perspective to make sense of unfolding events. It also provides a footing to ward off the spectral presence of creeping fascisms and resurgent nationalisms. In these dark times, it is of the utmost importance to see the world from the Grayzone, to make common cause with those who inhabit it and to struggle for its defense.

Living in the twilight of the Grayzone

Created and inhabited through living messy lives that cross borders and don’t neatly correspond to fixed identities, the Grayzone is something we all experience, but some more viscerally than others. There are those who live entirely in the crepuscular light of this entangled indeterminacy. For these people, the experience of the Grayzone is not an abstraction, but their home in this world—a visceral texture of their day to day lives.

Dābiq’s “Extinction” depicts the Grayzone as inhabited by “hypocrites” and “deviant innovators.” It encompasses, for Dābiq, the parties which “claim to be independent of both opposing camps.” I count three signs that mark these denizens of the Grayzone:

  1. those with a heretical relationship to orthodoxy;
  2. refugees, migrants and all the others living a life straddling two worlds; and,
  3. those fighting a war on two fronts and being “independent” of both ISIS and the West.

Being branded a so-called “heretic” or “hypocrite” is the first mark that you are a denizen of the Grayzone. However, this “heresy” is not an empirical reality that exists in-and-of itself but a question of judgment. For the “heretic”, their beliefs are not blasphemous but faithful to their own interpretation. Indeed, the “heretic” is only named as such by the particular orthodoxy or prevailing systems of norms which marks their beliefs or behaviors as deviant.

The “heretic” thus establishes the Grayzone by arriving at an alternative (marked as “deviant”, “heretical” or “blasphemous”) interpretation of a common code and living their life accordingly. In so doing, they demonstrate the contingency of any interpretation, threatening to topple the orthodoxy and turn the fictive homogeneity of one camp into a heterogeneous space of discussion and disagreement.

Dābiqs main focus is this form of “heresy.” Indeed, the magazine’s cover displays the “hypocrites” who reacted against the attacks last January on Charlie Hebdo. This danger of these “heretics” or “hypocrites” lay in the fact that their disloyalty does not take the form of a desertion, renouncing Islam, or moving to the camp of the crusader. Instead, by retaining their allegiances to Islam but deriving different interpretations, they fundamentally challenged the so-called “Islamic State” as the univocal enunciator of religious truth.

This is the exact strategy of the ISIS #NotInMyName campaign in which Muslims reject ISIS’ ability to act in the name of Muslims. For ISIS, the task of eliminating the threat these heretical interpretations pose lies in convincing the “heretics” to move “from Hypocrisy to Apostasy.” In other words, ISIS wants to eliminate the heretics by leading them to renounce their faith, to abandon the camp.

This call for apostasy is echoed by the other camp as well. It finds its purest expression in the Islamaphobic proselytization of secularism. Last Spring, in his thinly-veiled call for Western military occupation of Iraq and Syria entitled, “What ISIS Really Wants,” Graham Woode embraces ISIS’ hegemonic grasp on the interpretation of Islam. Arguing that Islam is a fundamentally “backward” religion and that the only principled thing for Muslims to do is to renounce Islam altogether, Woode leaves no room for faithful Muslims to live according to the example of the prophet and the Koran:

The only principled ground that the Islamic State’s opponents could take is to say that certain core texts and traditional teachings of Islam are no longer valid,’ Bernard Haykel says. That really would be an act of apostasy.

Here again, the Grayzone is under siege not just by ISIS but also by the opposing camp. The West, especially in its mostferventdefenses of the “enlightenment,” “western values” and “secularism” cannot step outside of the Clash of Civilizations narrative. The only choice they offer Muslims is apostasy or desertion to ISIS’s camp—the Crusader’s choice of conversion or exodus at the barrel of a gun.

To destabilize this notion of a singular fixed truth — this destructive certainty upon which wars are waged and spaces of thought and discussion are closed — we must renounce the idea that there are “true” or “false” notions of concepts like Jihad or freedom. Instead, we must recognize that truth itself is the result of a struggle over interpretation.

In the wake of the Paris Attacks, a widely-circulated story celebrated the actions of Zouheir, the Muslim security guard who allegedly turned away bombers from a crowded soccer stadium. The popularity of the story depended on the “exceptional” character of Zouheir’s “selfless” and “heroic” actions, a framing which assumes all Muslims are aligned with ISIS.

Yet, if the Paris attacks are understood as a strategy of destroying the Grayzone—the space in which Muslims who do not accept ISIS’ interpretation of Islam reside—this story becomes one not of “selfless heroism” but of self-defense, defending the possibility of Muslim life outside the orthodoxy of ISIS.

But we must not tokenize these acts of self-defense; we must stand in solidarity. To do this means to assert the value of Muslim life and, like Zouheir, to defend the Grayzone which fosters and supports it. For non-Muslims, to not tokenize Muslims means to avoid claims about the “truth” of various interpretations of Islam. Such statements not only efface the diversity of Islamic interpretation but also risks furthering ISIS’s claims that the “heretics” are nothing more than “western puppets.” Yet, solidarity with Muslims undermining the authority of ISIS is not enough. The bombings, police raids, calls for ID cards, detentions and deportations in the West must also be met by cries of “#NotInMyName”.

The Grayzone is also a home for those who straddle different worlds. They cannot be neatly sorted into either camp. In this sense, the Grayzone is also a space inhabited by migrants and refugees. Forming a thread which entangles the fate of remote locales, they are a living testament to the porosity of borders.

Once more, we see ISIS and the West unified in their strategy to destroy the Grayzone, both undertaking measures to sterilize and purify their camps. In the West, this sterilization targets the bodies of migrants and refugees: restricting their movement, turning them away at borders, surveilling, containing, detaining and deporting them. For ISIS, the refugees fleeing violence are also heretics and apostates, blasphemously failing to heed the call to move to the so-called Caliphate. Yet, in Dābiq, ISIS envisions the outcome of these attacks as the production of a West so hostile to Muslims that they will have to choose between the “Caliphate” and renouncing Islam entirely.

Reflections and ghostly shadows

In this moment of widespread xenophobia cloaked in the language of security, I see reflections and ghostly shadows. ISIS’s desire for a West hostile to Muslims mirrors the xenophobic nationalists’ fantasy of Muslim self-deportation. And in the logic of immobilization, containment and sterilization, I see the specter of the unthinking bureaucratic administration of bodies—that specter which recalls some of the most horrific memories of the past century.

Our collective memory is crucial as we formulate responses to calls like those of Donald Trump for databases and identification cards for the two million Muslims living in America or by Slavoj Zizek for coordinated military detention and transportation of refugees. To honor this memory, we must reject attempts like those of Trump and Zizek to transform migrants and refugees into numbers in an administrative database or bodies in heavily guarded camps and instead forcefully affirm their freedom of movement that marks them as denizens of the Grayzone.

A final sign that marks someone as a denizen of the Grayzone is being targeted by or otherwise being at war on two fronts. Here, Dābiq gives significant attention to the “grayish calls and movements” of the “independent” Islamic parties in the Syrian Civil War.

To this account of “grayish” factions of the Syrian Civil War, it would be remiss not mention the Kurdish fighters of Rojava who are attacked regularly by bothISIS and the West—in the guise of NATO-ally Turkey. In their struggle for neither a nation-state nor a caliphate but a large territory of autonomous self-governed communities the Rojavan Kurds offer a powerful articulation of the Grayzone and the ethical and political possibilities that exists beyond the two choices proffered by ISIS and the West.

It is, however, not necessary to look as far afield as the Syrian civil war to find examples of those targeted by both ISIS and the West. As I have already discussed, this is also the case for Muslims in the West who face the daily threat of Islamophobic violence but would just as likely face violence at the hands of ISIS. So too is it the case with the refugees, who find themselves trapped between two hostile worlds and are thus forced to inhabit the Grayzone between them.

Facing this many-headed hydra intent on the destruction of the Grayzone, we cannot stand idly by.

Instead, heeding the grayish call, we must resist any attempt to divide the world into “us versus them” and rupture the fictive unity of these two camp by refusing to allow violent acts to be perpetrated in our name.

To defend the Grayzone means to call out Islamophobia and make sure that Muslim communities are safe. It means to counter an isolationist border policy by welcoming the stranger, the migrant and the refugee into our midst. And it means to refuse to let our grief to be draped in a flag, responding with the same outrage and grief to the airstrikes of the West as we did to the attacks in Paris.

Rejecting the narrative of an inevitable Clash of Civilizations, we must instead insist on coexistence. In the face of calls for its extinction, we must celebrate the entangled life that flourishes in the messy indeterminacy of the Grayzone.

Sam Law is a delivery boy in Brooklyn, NY. When not delivering bagels, he writes about and participates in struggles for autonomy, life and the commons. He blogs at The Counter Apparatus. Follow him on Twitter at @walmas.

“Pi” the Movie


My mind is always working on problems related to the meaning of life and the nature of the universe. Yep, that’s me. Even my days of dance and rave had a metaphysical quality. As I grow older and closer to death, however, I find myself more distant from answers about That Which Is than ever before. I know nothing; have little relationship with the One I used to know. At best I am an agnostic. In the dark times I am a nihilist.

The other night I had a dream. I had purchased tickets to a movie called “Pi.” When we got to the theatre we were refused entry because the theatre had been rented for the night by a group of men with beards. Yesterday after I woke I searched for the movie “Pi” and realized that I had a copy of it. I recalled seeing it when it was released in 1998 and we watched it last night. “Pi” is all about math, religion, mysticism and the relationship of the universe to mathematics. Some interesting messages in it for me. Take a look at the film. Well worth the time.