From the series, “Letters from prison”
We get interesting news here in jail. Sometimes they come in late. Like the other day, we heard of Turkey’s President Erdogan talking about the discovery of America. Turns out, it wasn’t Christopher Columbus, but actually muslim explorers who found the new land just a few hundred years before, in 1178. This conclusion was drawn based on the memoirs of Columbus where he wrote of the Cuban coast and “existence of a mosque atop a hill on the coast of Cuba” adding that before there was Columbus Islam already existed and widely spread across America. Apparently, this statement made a big fuss in the world.
We cannot read
The New York Times
The Washington Post
here in jail. What we can read in jail is only
. So this is my only source. From what I have read, following this statement, everyone tried their best at exposing President Erdogan as a liar. Turns out, before the Muslims explorers, there were also the Scandinavians, the Spanish, the Portuguese, Irish and even Japanese claiming to be there first. There is much scientific work on this topic, volumes of books written on the origins of the discovery not to mention, archeological excavations and more.
But what I don’t understand is whats the fuss all about? Who cares who discovered America first? Is it some kind of a privilege? In jail these kinds of things are not interesting. I see it as very illogical engagement. Columbus discovered America and this is when Europeans started carrying out exploitations of it.
But lets not totally dismiss Erdogan’s words. After all, we should not forget the valuable role the Ottoman Empire played in discovery of America. In 1453 after Sultan Muhammad conquered Constantinopol (today’s Istanbul). This prevented Europeans from reaching out to the East. And so they exploring alternative routes to eastern lands and territories and by mistake discovered America.
I consider the discovery as the mark for Muslim disasters to come. This was the time when Muslims were far more ahead in development than Europe. The Ottoman Empire at the time, held control over large territories. And it was to its advantage to control these territories. However, what the Empire didn’t have was the access to the waterways to America, India and China. The discovery of these waterways, led to a speedy development of Europe. Europe was able to access new cheap material, cheap labor and market.
Following the discovery of waterways much of Europe rejected traditional means of transportation opting instead for alternatives. For the Ottomans this meant further distance from the development shaping the rest of the world. But it wasn’t just the Empire lagging behind. Rather it was other Muslim communities controlled by the Ottomans who too were losing from this geographical separation.
Whether it was good or bad, the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, opened its territorial boundaries to mass exploration of the Muslim world by the Europeans and the Americans that took place into the World War I. Turkey’s Ataturk [Father of a Turk] had to push back the idea of “people’s state” and instead replace with a Republic and European’s popular “nation state” ideology. Ataturk knew he could not compete with Europe and America. Hence he stayed true to a minimalist policy and even compromised Mosul to British.
Today what makes Erdogan profoundly differ from Ataturk is the replacement of that minimalist approach with maximal policy and the return to the idea of “People’s state”. There is a wind of Ottomanism blowing these days in Turkey. President Erdogan is acting like a leader of all Muslims – in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Palestine he is clashing with them, seeing himself as the follower of Sultan Mohammad and Sultan the Great.
Of-course, Turks always have been the avant-garde of the muslim world. But the times have changed a lot, the wold is not the same anymore, the power centers are different. Economic power is far more important now. The Muslim world has it’s own new players who have gain wealth from the oil revenues (Saudi Arabia, Qatar and etc.). But Turkey’s economy is in the hands of foreign investors. And Erdogan – the follower of Sultan Mohammad – is signing shameful contracts with Europe and thus can consider himself the follower of the XIX century Ottoman Empire sultans. But more often, he resembles Enver Pasha, the leader of “Young Turks”. His life ended somewhere in the sands of Asia.
My only hope is for Erdogan sharing a different faith.
The losing side in this story would be Turkey.