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Saturday, 29 September 2007

Elizabeth I and Islam?


There is something of a flutter on the conservative political blogs about a lecture given by Dr Jerry Brotton published on the website of the Campaign for Racial Equality: Why Muslims make Britain a better place.

Brotton argues that the Muslims were responsible for the defeat of the Spanish Armada. Somewhat gauchely, he says "it was Turkish naval manoeuvres, rather than Drake's swashbuckling, which delivered the fatal blow to the Spanish invasion plans." Of course, Tim on Conservative Party Reptile: "Eh?" points out, this should be the "Ottoman Empire" since Turkey was not created for another 350 years.

General conservative reaction to this is that it is wacky political correctness and so indeed it seems if the claim is taken at face value. The Spanish Armada was much larger than the English navy but was outgunned and outclassed in seamanship. Any ships detained to defend Spain against the Ottomans would have made little difference to the outcome.

However, nobody seems to dispute the claim that Walsingham, Elizabeth's spymaster, sent a letter in the mid-1580s to the ambassador in Istanbul, William Harborne, ordering him to encourage the Turks to harry the Spanish navy. If so, this sheds light on the intrigues in policy of Elizabethan England. Brotton's rosy view that we might all be speaking Spanish ignores the possibility that undermining the alliance against the Ottomans might have ended with us all speaking another language entirely.

Conservative Party Reptile also points out an amusing infelicity in Brotton's wide-ranging assessment of inter-religious dialogue. In a purple passage, he enthuses:
But we do know that of all the countries of Europe, Britain enjoyed the most extensive trade with Muslim lands throughout the first millennium after Christ. Happily, today English schoolchildren are learning that there is more to Genghis Khan than the hordes.
CPR tentatively suggests:
"I'm pretty certain that Ghengis wasn't a Muslim actually - the Mongols had their own religion I believe..."
Right there; Chingis Khan (I think that is more politically correct version) dallied with various forms of shamanism and Buddhism. He was certainly not a Muslim :-)

H/T to Laban on UK Commentators.
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