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'Fear and hatred of Islam' prompted Columbus' Atlantic voyage: op-ed

'At heart, Columbus was a Crusader,' writes Alan Mikhail, head of Yale University History Department

Michael Hernandez   | 11.10.2021
'Fear and hatred of Islam' prompted Columbus' Atlantic voyage: op-ed

WASHINGTON

Christopher Columbus' "fear and hatred of Islam" caused him to cross the Atlantic and discover what would become known as the "New World," according to an editorial published on Monday.

"At heart, Columbus was a Crusader. Throughout his life, in his encounters with and then battles against Muslims, he felt the burden of holy war deep in his soul," Alan Mikhail, the History Department chair at Yale University who specializes in Ottoman history, wrote in the Los Angeles Times newspaper.

"As he bobbed westward on the high seas — with the formal mission of finding a trade route to the Far East that would circumvent the need to go through Muslim territory — his mind was occupied by neither a secular passion for discovery nor a calculating commercial vision. More than anything else, he sailed to the Americas imbued with a Christian zeal," added Mikhail.

The professor pointed to what he said was imagery used by Columbus to describe the indigenous peoples of the Americas, from describing their weapons as "alfanjes" -- a Spanish word used to refer to scimitars, to describing scarves worn by some women as "Moorish sashes."

Additional references of a similar nature would be used by Hernan Cortes, the infamous Spanish conquistador, who wrote that Mexico's Aztecs donned “Moorish robes,” and falsely claimed over 400 mosques existed in Mexico -- despite none being there -- while calling Moctezuma a "sultan."

"How to explain something so odd?" wrote Mikhail. "For all their lives, these men had learned that Muslims were their foremost enemies. In their mind’s eye, an enemy conjured up the image of a nonwhite Muslim. Europeans fell back on this framework to understand the new enemies they faced in the Americas — Indigenous peoples."

"This largely forgotten history matters. An anti-Islamic worldview was the mold that cast the European understanding of race and ethnicity in the Americas, as well as the concept of warfare in the Western Hemisphere. It, therefore, needs to be a part of any understanding of the history of the Americas and, regrettably, of Native American history," he added.

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