A question of ‘who discovered America?’

Erdogan’s statement can be considered a form of cultural entertainment

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

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I’ve read heavy criticism by a number of Arab authors leveled at Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for recently claiming during an Istanbul summit of Muslim Leaders from Latin America that Muslim sailors, not Christopher Columbus, had discovered the Americas.

For me, and perhaps for many others, Erdogan’s statement can be considered a form of cultural entertainment. However, perhaps what he said further infuriates losers who suffer from inferiority complexes and blame other sides such as the West for stealing everything, including discoveries and accomplishments by Muslims! His statement may also subject him to the mockery of others, such as that of Arab intellectuals. Erdogan was most probably addressing people at the level of their own intellectual capabilities by stripping all the positive characteristics of his rivals and ascribing them to himself.

Can dredging up the narrative of who discovered America change history? What’s certain is that it will not alter the present as today there are certain nations at the forefront of our era while there are others such as ourselves who lag behind. What’s ironic is that as Erdogan made that statement, the Europeans announced that their Rosetta spacecraft, which they launched 10 years ago, finally landed on a comet. The landing is the first of its kind. Imagine a 10-year journey to study a comet in the unknown reaches of space.

Arab accomplishments

Can Erdogan tell us what we were doing to ourselves in the past 10-year period. We saw the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri to the looting of dozens of cities to the murder of hundreds of thousands of people and to replacing dictators with even worse ones.

By repeating the stories of late Libyan Col. Moammar Qaddafi, Erdogan has gone from the successful renaissance experience to the ranks of political jesters and swindlers for the sake of satisfying an idle audience through the borrowing of other people’s achievements. What Mr. Hazem Saghieh wrote in his article on political leaders’ confusion during disputes rings true in this case. Saghieh said that they tend to force the political dispute beyond its borders to include culture and history. Therefore, tactics are employed according to the needs of the moment.

Can dredging up the narrative of who discovered America change history?

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Who discovered America? If by this we really mean to ask who the first human to set foot on the continent was, then scientists will confirm that thousands of years ago there were neither Arabs nor Muslims. If what is meant is to ask who conquered it, then Muslims may have arrived there later, just as other sailors who traversed the Atlantic Ocean arrived on its eastern shores, but this is of no value. No one is fighting over who discovered the rest of the earth because this is of no value and it’s nothing to take pride in. The United State is an extension of European civilization which is an extension of previous civilizations.

Our false pride is not limited to narration of history, forging William Shakespeare’s origins, claims of being the innovators of aviation, or aggrandizing our contributions in the fields of chemistry, physics and medicine, but also extends to PhD holders and researchers. Our reality will not change and we will continue to go backward with this mentality which does not appreciate education and the sciences and which takes pride in displaying degrees and holding governmental posts.

In boasting about the past, like Erdogan is doing, and remaining static as religious fundamentalists do, there is exploitation of people’s frustrations and their inability to escape the rut they have been living in for centuries.

Erdogan has the Turkish experiment, meaning he has the recent present to draw examples from instead of borrowing valueless folklore from the past. Where is the value in Muslims arriving on a hill that today is known as Cuba if they had no role in its development?

Muslims’ relationship with America is symbolized by the queues they stand in to attain a visa from American consulates in order to escape their countries and governments and to find a safe haven for their children, a job to make a living, hospitals to treat their diseases and universities to get an education. That is the modern reality.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on November 19, 2014


Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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