Saturday, January 19, 2013

Columbus, the Inquisition and the Defeat of the Moors

From the USA Today Book Review, "Inquisition still dogs our world," by Deirdre Donahue, on 10 October 2005 -- Bookstore shelves are heavy with titles on issues far more timely than the 15th-century Spanish Inquisition, so to be reading about those long-ago atrocities in James Reston Jr.'s Dogs of God: Columbus, the Inquisition, and the Defeat of the Moors seemed rather self-indulgent, even esoteric. I couldn't have been more mistaken.

In the second paragraph of his prologue, Reston notes that the al-Qaeda spokesman taking responsibility for the 2004 Madrid train bombings made reference to the Spanish Catholic crusade against the Muslims of Granada centuries earlier. "Historical resentments are deeply and sincerely felt in the Islamic world," he writes.
Dogs of God: Columbus, the Inquisition and the Defeat of the Moors
Dogs of God: Columbus, the Inquisition and the Defeat of the Moors
By James Reston Jr.

That people in the 21st century could still mourn the surrender of the Moorish palace, the Alhambra, to the Spanish monarchs King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in 1491 may seem inexplicable to Americans. Yet in an energetic style unfettered by scholarly jargon or too many footnotes, Reston brings alive the conflict between Catholic and Muslim and how the outcome still resonates today.

Although the defeated Muslims were promised the freedom to pursue their faith, the Spanish Inquisition was as brutal to the Moors as it was to the Jews. Both groups had lived, flourished and mightily enriched Spain for centuries in such areas as medicine, trade, architecture, science, philosophy and language.

Reston writes for the lay reader, not the historian. He uses broad strokes to outline his theories.

Isabella's sincere piety led her to accept the savagery of the Inquisition.
Her more cynical husband, Ferdinand, by contrast, followed the modern catchphrase "Show me the money." Expelling the Jews, whether they converted to Catholicism or not, allowed the crown to seize their money, their property and pay for the war against the Muslims. Saving souls was not his concern.

Reston explores how gold extracted by the Inquisition paid for Christopher Columbus' exploration of the New World.

Reston does not attempt to disguise his personal attitudes toward the historical figures he writes about. He clearly believes that the Catholic Church has not fully repented for crimes against Muslims and Jews. And he sees strong connections between the Inquisition and the German Nazis.

But the most compelling aspect of Dogs of God emerges from the parallels with our own time.

Reston paints a world of religious fanatics in mortal combat. Terrorized by epidemics, natural disasters and exhausting wars, ordinary people turned to superstition, magical thinking and demonizing others.

Sound familiar?  (source: USA Today Book Review)

James Reston wrote about the year 1492, which was the year that Christopher Columbus discovered the new world. It was also the year in which Europe’s desire for global conquest resulted in religious wars, international battles for land, and political upheaval across the continent due to the close relationship between national governments and religion. Following his presentation, Mr. Wells and Mr. Larson joined the author in responding to questions and comments from members of the audience. (source: C-Span)

Click here to watch James Reston talk about his book Dogs of God: Columbus, the Inquisition, and the Defeat of the Moors, on C-Span.


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