Five hundred and twenty years ago this weekend, Christopher Columbus crossed the Atlantic and discovered -- or, more accurately, "rediscovered" -- North America, a feat achieved several centuries earlier by Vikings and prehistorically by Siberian tribes crossing the land bridge to what is now Canada.
Many Americans may not know that Columbus' famed journey was related to the 1492 defeat of the Moors, or Spanish Muslims, who had lived in the kingdoms of Spain for seven hundred years. In an effort to defend Christianity as the "true faith," the religious Queen Isabella of Castile and her husband, Kind Ferdinand of Aragon, vowed to rid the Iberian peninsula of all non-Christians. In 1492, after a decade-long war, Spanish monarchs achieved their goal of defeating the Muslims in Granada. The Muslims, who had contributed to the vibrant economy of southern Spain and lived in harmony, or " convivencia" with Christians for centuries, were given two choices: convert to Christianity or leave Spain.
Most left, fleeing to Turkey, North Africa and the southern Mediterranean. But the "Expulsion" (which also famously scattered Spanish Jews) was only the latest event in a thousand year struggle between Christianity and Islam that hearkened back to Muslim dominance of the eastern half of the old "Holy Roman Empire," control of the spice trade and silk routes to the Far East, and their defeat of the Crusades.
Ironically, the 1492 defeat of the Moors inspired the fanatical Queen Isabella to fund Columbus' journey to cross the Atlantic. Lured by hopes of converting the pagans of the Far East and acquiring its silks, spices and gold, the queen gave Columbus two ships left over from the Moorish War and her blessings for his safe passage across the ocean in August. The following spring, 1493, the explorer returned with strange spices, aromatic herbs, a few bars of gold and several American natives.
Subsequent to Queen Isabella's death in 1504, the promise of wealth from the New World became a reality. Thanks to discoveries of American Indian gold and silver and Islamic/Ottoman defeats in 1571 and 1683 in the Mediterranean, the precarious balance of global wealth tipped from East to West. By the end of World War I, the rich resources of the Muslim kingdoms impelled Britain and France to acquire the wealth of the old Ottoman Empire through creation of unstable governments which allowed them to extract fossil fuels from their lands. Before long, oil-hungry America was bought into the act by placating Arab puppet governments, whose monarchs and leaders kept their people ignorant and powerless, with religion as their only consolation.
Only recently, with the flow of social media into what has become known as the Arab Spring, have young Muslims expressed rage en masse towards the West. While several media reports claim the recent protests of the anti-Muhammad video created by an obscure American citizen an overreaction, religion has again been blamed. But that is only an excuse, the resort of the desperate, the trip wire detonating a long-fated explosion against oppression.
Tragically, the current struggle between East and West is one more chapter born out of Columbus' journey to America, fueled by a zealous Christian queen.