German Chancellor Angela Merkel sought on Saturday to defuse tensions over immigration, urging citizens in a newspaper interview to get used to mosques as part of the country's changing landscape.
"One thing is for sure: our country will continue to change..."
On June 9, 721 ad., Duke Odo of Aquitaine defeated Al-Samh ibn Malik al-Khawlani before the walls of the besieged city of Toulouse. This battle, followed by the victories of King Pelayo of Asturias and Charles Martel at the battles of Covadonga and Tours, brought to an end a century of remarkably successful Islamic expansion. Over the next 760 years, the Umayyads' conquests on the Spanish peninsula were gradually rolled back by a succession of Christian kings, a long process disturbed by the usual shifting of alliances as well as varying degrees of ambition and military competence on both sides of the religious divide. The "Reconquista" was completed with the fall of Muslim Granada in 1492 to the Castilian forces of King Ferdinand.
The Spanish Inquisition, which began in 1481, cannot be understood without recognizing the significance of this epic 771-year struggle between Christians and Muslims over the Spanish peninsula. What took the great Berber Gen. Tariq ibn Zayid only eight years to conquer on behalf of the Umayyad Caliphate required almost 100 times as long to regain, and neither King Ferdinand II of Aragon nor his wife, Queen Isabella of Castile, was inclined to risk any possibility of having to repeat the grand endeavor. Isabella, in particular, was concerned about reports of conversos, purported Christians who had pretended to convert from Judaism but were still practicing their former religion. This was troubling, as it was reasonable to assume that those who were lying about their religious conversion were also lying about their loyalty to the united crowns and it was widely feared that Jews were again encouraging Muslim leaders to attempt the recapture of al-Andalus, as they had its original capture eight centuries before.
("It remains a fact that the Jews, either directly or through their coreligionists in Africa, encouraged the Mohammedans to conquer Spain." The Jewish Encyclopedia (1906). Vol XI, 485.)
What happened in between November 1478 and September 1480 to inspire this sudden burst of action? While historians such as Henry Kamen pronounce themselves baffled as to what could have provoked the Spanish crown, the most likely impetus was that on July 28, three months before Ferdinand's decision to appoint the two inquisitors, a Turkish fleet led by Gedik Ahmed Pasha attacked the Aragonese city of Otranto. Otranto fell on Aug. 11, and more than half of the city's 20,000 people were slaughtered during the sack of the city. The archbishop was killed in the cathedral, and the garrison commander was killed by being sawed in half, alive, as was a bishop named Stephen Pendinelli. But the most infamous event was when the captured men of Otranto were given the choice to convert to Islam or die; 800 of them held to their Christian faith and were beheaded en masse at a place now known as the Hill of the Martyrs. The Turkish fleet then went on to attack the cities of Vieste, Lecce, Taranto and Brindisi and destroyed the great library at the Monastero di San Nicholas di Casole before returning to Ottoman territory in November.
It is one of the great ironies of history that three times more people died in the forgotten event that almost surely inspired the Spanish Inquisition than died in the famous flames of the inquisition itself. Despite its reputation as one of the most vicious and lethal institutions in human history, the Spanish Inquisition was one of the most humane and decent of its time, and one could even argue the most reasonable, considering the circumstances.