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Ignored History: Columbus Sought to End Islamic Tyranny

When President Benjamin Harrison issued his “Proclamation 335 -- 400th Anniversary of the Discovery of America by Columbus,” on July 21, 1892, he emphasized how the great discoverer pioneered “progress and enlightenment,” reflected four centuries later in America’s system of universal education:

Columbus stood in his age as the pioneer of progress and enlightenment. The system of universal education is in our age the most prominent and salutary feature of the spirit of enlightenment, and it is peculiarly appropriate that the schools be made by the people the center of the day's demonstration.

President Harrison also highlighted the patriotic motivations for the holiday, and the shared “devout faith” -- Christianity -- of Columbus and the American people, so abundantly blessed by “Divine Providence”:

Let the national flag float over every schoolhouse in the country and the exercises be such as shall impress upon our youth the patriotic duties of American citizenship. In the churches and in the other places of assembly of the people let there be expressions of gratitude to Divine Providence for the devout faith of the discoverer and for the divine care and guidance which has directed our history and so abundantly blessed our people.

As we celebrate Columbus Day -- for those of us still inoculated enough against cultural relativist depravity to do so -- it is also worth recapturing concretely the specific late 15th century religious motivations for Columbus’ voyage. Simply put, Columbus sought “eastern (even far eastern) alliances” to end a millennium of Islam’s jihad-imposed tyranny against Christendom. Louis Bertrand’s scholarly 1934 tome, The History of Spain, elegantly -- and unapologetically -- characterized the now well-nigh forgotten, or ignored, historical context.

When the Spanish Christian monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella recaptured Granada on January 2, 1492, they ended almost eight centuries of jihad ravages (described by Bertrand in 1934, and in 2016 here) -- massacres, pillage, mass enslavement, and deportation -- and the grinding imposition of Sharia by Spain’s various pious Muslim conquerors, and rulers. Bertrand’s unsparing narrative describes the bitter, chronic fate of Spain’s Christians under Islam, both those fully subjugated and the populations never entirely subdued in the semi-autonomous northern regions:

The Christians of the interior were mastered. They had lost their leaders and their principal centers of resistance. The armies of the Caliph, the Arab and Berber chieftains, had massacred them, burned them out and pillaged them to the best of their ability. Thus decimated and humiliated, they nevertheless continued to exist, in a furtive and more or less precarious way of life …

The Christians of the North scarcely knew the meaning of repose, security, or any of the amenities of life. They were continually at war with their Musulman [Muslim] neighbors. It was the fatality of that Arab conquest, a superficial and hasty conquest, never carried through to the end, that it had divided the country into two irreducible camps: that of the replete, and that of the hungry; those who held the best soil, and those who were relegated to the mountains or to desert plains…[The Muslims] interposed a desert between themselves and the Christians, and made a waste of the region which lay on the left bank of the latter [Duero] river. This was what they called “the Great Desert.” …

To keep the Christians in their place it did not suffice to surround them with a zone of famine and devastation. It was necessary also to go and sew terror and massacre among them. Twice a year, in spring and autumn, an army sallied forth from Cordova to go and raid the Christians, destroy their villages, their fortified posts, their monasteries and their churches, except when it was a question of expeditions of larger scope, involving sieges and pitched battles. In cases of simply punitive expeditions, the soldiers of the Caliph confined themselves to destroying harvests and cutting down trees. Most of the time they took the field to win booty. A district was allowed to re-people itself and be brought under cultivation; then it was suddenly fallen upon. Workers, harvesters, fruits and cattle were seized.