Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Talking Truth to Turkey

Turkish Pres. Erdoğan and Pres. Santos talk trade yesterday.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Bogotá yesterday to met with Pres. Santos to talk about trade and fighting terrorism.

Those are important matters, naturally. And if Santos really wants to curry the Turkish government's favor, perhaps he should start by changing Colombia's name.

That's because Erdogan recently claimed that Muslims discovered America before Christopher Columbus did in 1492.

A pre-Columbian Muslim map supposedly showing America.
"Contacts between Latin America and Islam date back to the 12th century. Muslims discovered America in 1178, not Christopher Columbus," Erdogan said, according to the Washington Post. "Muslim sailors arrived in America from 1178. Columbus mentioned the existence of a mosque on a hill on the Cuban coast."

While it is certainly possible that Muslim Arabs or Africans reached America before Columbus, there's no solid evidence for it, and they certainly did not spread Islam thru the New World. Supporters of the Islamic discovery theory point to a line in Columbus's log referring to sighting a 'Mosque' on the Cuban coast. But no evidence of a pre-Columbian mosque has ever been found, and serious historians generally believe that Columbus used the word to describe a geographical outcropping.

If people from the Old World had really made sustained contact with New World residents, they would surely have left physical, cultural and even genetic evidence. After all, one of the first things different peoples do upon meeting is have sex.

Of course, one European nation, the Vikings, did visit America before Columbus - and we have archaeological evidence of their short-lived settlement on Newfoundland. Archaeologists do also believe that Polynesians visited South America's western coast before Columbus, based on evidence in languages and chicken DNA. If Arabs, Africans, Greeks, Romans or Chinese had really made trading visits to the Americas, we'd find evidence such as Old World products in pre-Columbian graves. And it would have made no sense for the visitors not to have carried home crops such as corn and potatoes which quickly spread across the world after Columbus's voyage, or not to have left behind technology such as the wheel and compass.

But the strongest evidence of lack of significant pre-Columbian contact is the medical one. After the Spanish arrival in the Americas, indigenous Americans died by the millions from new diseases. Some historians estimate that new diseases killed 90% of indigenous Americans. If the Old World and New World peoples had had previous contact, then the Americans would have had immune protection to things like chicken pox.

Erdogan's historical fantasies might not matter any more than do those of people who deny Darwinian evolution. Unfortunately, however, in both cases those who contradict science and history in these cases are also prone to contradict fact about more important issues. Deniers of evolution also tend to reject evidence of global warming, which happens to be about the biggest threat to Earth's well-being. Erdogan does appear to accept global warming. But he does not appear to value free speech and fair elections, which is why he's taking Turkey away from its tradition of secularism and democracy.

In any case, Erdogan's resentment against the Catholicized version of history is perhaps understandable. After all, the Spaniards had just ousted the last Moslems from Spain and proclaimed that the Americas were their reward for cleansing Spain of Jews and Moslems.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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