Monday, October 11, 2010

Columbus Invades America! Establishes Settlements! Is the UN Aware of This?

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By Barry Rubin

It’s Columbus Day. So guess what? Even my wife (who sometimes thinks I exaggerate about these things) is shocked by what happened in the fifth-grade class today.

You see, it's also parents’ visiting day, so what better highlight for the event than a denunciation of the man who brought America into world history and made possible the existence of those parents, that school, and all the rest of it.

The context was a section introducing students to historical fiction featuring: Christopher Columbus! And can you guess what it was? The story of a Caribbean Indian boy who sees Columbus arrive and forsees this is going to be a very bad thing indeed!

The boy pictures massive bloodshed. Columbus is shown in a picture. He is rolling a gold coin in his hands. Capitalist greed?  My wife (remember she is the non-exaggerating type to say the least) describes as incredibly ominous. My wife, again remember she is the most understated person I know, said, "Remember how people in Nazi Germany used to picture Jews? That's what he looked like."

Columbus's men kidnap him--for what reason isn't clear--and to escape the boy jumps in the water to come ashore on another island. (Note: In such a case, I'll bet the odds are good that the tribe living there would have killed him immediately. Xenophobia isn't just a Western trait.)

Guess what? The class read the exact same book about the evil Columbus last year! Perhaps it will be an annual event.


Later in the day the librarian asked the class: How would you like it if someone came, took over your land, and changed its name?

Not a single word was spoken during the day about Columbus's foresight, courage, and struggle. Also keep in mind that Columbus was not responsible for what the Spanish conquerors of the Aztecs and Incas would do after his death. And of course, the Native Americans were painted as an idealized group that had no problems and never enslaved other tribes.

Beyond all of this, the students were not told one word about Columbus's innovative view (in Spain at least) that the world was round rather than flat.

Nor were they taught that he was looking for the spice islands of Asia for purposes of trading, not conquest.
But why did Spain, and Europe in general, need a new route to the spice islands? Because Islamic empires and pirates had shut down Mediterranean trade so they could have a monopoly over this commerce. Well, right there you see the problem in providing an accurate view of Columbus's history.

Of course, they could have explained that at the end of the Spanish Christian Reconquest of Iberia, the Muslims and Jews were expelled. See, they could have made the white Europeans look bad with some actual history! And then they could have gotten in the Spanish Inquisition, a great opportunity to make Christianity look bad.

On the positive side, however, this session was indeed a splendid introduction for the students to the world of historical fiction! It's what they teach now in place of history.

Seriously, though, it would be possible to teach a balanced approach rather than either a European triumphalist view or an anti-white, anti-European, anti-Christian (or at least anti-Catholic) approach. But this isn't what's happening in many American schools.

My wife, appalled by what she's seen, remarked, “I’m no expert on Columbus but if it weren’t for him all these people wouldn’t be here.”

And if they keep teaching their kids like this, guess what? They won’t

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at http://www.gloria-center.org and of his blog, Rubin Reports, http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com.

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