Speed Reads

Historical Truthiness

Turkey's president says Muslims beat Columbus to America by centuries, wants a mosque in Cuba

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Columbus truther? The Turkish president said in a televised speech on Saturday that Muslims beat the Italian-born, Spanish-employed explorer to the Americas by hundreds of years.

"Contacts between Latin America and Islam date back to the 12th century — Muslims discovered America in 1178, not Christopher Columbus," Erdogan told Latin American Muslim leaders at a conference in Istanbul. "Muslim sailors arrived in America from 1178. Columbus mentioned the existence of a mosque on a hill on the Cuban coast." In fact, he added, "a mosque would go perfectly on the hill today."

Erdogan appears to be referring to a widely disputed 1996 article in which historian Youssef Mroueh cites Columbus' diary as proof that Cuba had a pre-Columbian mosque in 1492. And he appears to be wrong. What the log of Columbus' voyage, written by Bartholome de Casas, actually says, RT reports, is that Columbus saw several "lofty and beautiful" mountains, and that "one of them has another little hill on its summit, like a graceful mosque."

The Turkish leader also noted that European Christians violently "colonized America for its gold" (and "the Middle East for its oil,") but added the demonstrably false addendum: "Converting people by force, by the sword, has never been a part of Islam."

RT engages in a little fact-checking on that one, but Ishaan Tharoor at The Washington Post says Erdogan's comments are "worth taking into consideration, if not for the reasons that he would intend": The Spanish colonizers of the New World "were animated by the zeal of the Spanish Inquisition, and in some accounts refer to the indigenous populations they encounter as 'moors' and 'infidels.'"

Also, of course, if we're looking for bragging rights, the Native Americans beat Columbus by about 14,500 years, and the Vikings beat him by about 500 years.