November 28, 2014 By Saad Salmi. AP

America That Erdogan Saw


RecepTayyip Erdogan is in the news, this time too, as always, for stoking up shock waves with his trademark nonchalant statement. In the conference of Muslim leaders held in Istanbul, he suggested a correction to the known history of America. It was not Columbus, he said, who invented America, but Muslims. Hearing him, one might be feeling that one hardly missed AhmadiNajad, a provoker par excellence. If we take for granted Vali Nazr’s diagnosis of Najad’s provocations as being resulted in by the craving of a hero status through resurrecting and boxing the enemy rooted in the psychosis of the Muslim community, Erdogan seems to be adopting the same trend used to a fault by populist Muslim leaders. Erdogan, however, does not appear to be fit in the costume of a statement peddler.

Erdogan hoists his statement around the argument posed by Yousuf Mroueh in a research paper in 1996. Yusuf has it that much before Columbus reached America Muslims had lived in the land and had been involved in religious, social and political activities.

Despite posing such a controversial statement which ruffles many feathers in the field of writing history, he does not harm the colonial historical narratives about the “Discovery” of America. Columbus’ discovery, as it was widely known, was accompanied by a violent onslaught of the black natives whom the colonizers code-named as Afro-American. The formation of the United States of America has many bloody tales accompanied with it. The expansion of boundary of the state was done through gross violence which went on and on. The rationale for geographic expansion through violence was that the savage races who pose threat to the progress of the nation should be wiped out at any cost. This counter narrative made popular by Frantz Fanon in his ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ has helped us question the construct of American self through gaps wherein lie the annihilated selves of the native people. When he says ‘Muslims, not Columbus, discovered America; Erdogan was either covering up the racist history of the nation or was making a claim for ‘the discovery.’ He was following the same rationale that was put forth by the theorists of colonial modernity.

Walter D. Mignolo’s The Darker Side of Western Modernity narrates how colonialism transformed itself into a new power centre through the subjugation of the native American people. The book describes how modernity segued into a value system and a Euro-cenric power centre came to be formed. Mignolo calls it epistemological violence. Erdogan’s statement accompanied by the silence about the identity of the African-American people can also be termed epistemological violence.

At the same time, Erdogan speaks volumes about the advances of Muslims at different stages in the world history. He separates the Muslim advances from the exploitation of the European colonizers, signifying the emancipatory angle of the former. His statement is borne out by the conversion in large numbers of the Black communities in America who had been suffered under the yoke of the white racism. (Shermann Jackson: Islam and the Black American). Jackson considers Islam as a motivating force of liberation activities of the Black Americans. Erdogan does not make even a passive reference to such counter narratives but just replaces Columbus with Muslims.

This is not to belittle the contribution of Erdogan as a mature, sane political leader in the world. He was daring enough to take some crucial decisions and brilliant political steps. He was noted for speaking for the rights of sexual minorities, arguably the only leader of a nation to speak for LGBT. His historic statement seeking forgiveness for the Armenian genocide is also to be remembered in the context. He was a stern opponent of the human rights violation of Israel, having once sent the Freedom Flotilla for the Palestinian refugees. But a politician of his caliber is hardly expected to make such irresponsible statements.



Posted in: Articles, Uncategorized