In 1492 Colombo crossed the Ocean
Only one of many horrors that would then be set in motion
As his men cut limbs of Arawaks and burned children at the stake
Plundering a continent for God’s sake

In 1492 when King Ferdinand won Granada
He passed a law known as the Edict of Alhambra
It was as the landlords wanted, as his gracious God had willed
That any Jew in Spain had three months to leave or else be killed

And 800,000 Europeans became refugees
And headed east across the Mediterranean Sea

In 1492 they were starving and bereft
The King said they’d be safe up until the time they left
But Christian Europeans cut them open with their swords
Searched their stomachs for gold and dumped them overboard


In 1492 the Sultan sent his fleet
To go rescue Sephardim after the Ottoman defeat
Hundreds of thousands of people who knew their deaths were near
Were rescued by Muslims and taken to Izmir

In 1492 the Sultan said that’s fine
If they’d impoverish their kingdom just to enrich mine
The Sultan also passed an edict – he said “welcome home
“Now treat your new neighbors as if they were your own”


Excerpt from my Primer on Refugees:

Before the Americas became the primary method for the European ruling classes to give rebellious peasants the “flight” option (within the “fight or flight” equation), European refugees went south and east instead of across the Atlantic. That is, throughout what in Europe they called the Dark Ages, starving European peasants fled in their thousands every year to live in relative safety and prosperity in lands ruled by the Ottoman Empire.

That is, European Christians fled Europe in order to live under Muslim rule in the Middle East and North Africa. Every year, in their thousands. It was a one-way flow. Muslim farmers from Ottoman lands wouldn’t think of moving to Europe. Such a move would likely result in them being killed for the crime of not being Christians. Also, while most of Europe was ruled by petty, xenophobic despots in the post-Roman period, the Middle East and North Africa, by contrast, was ruled by comparatively enlightened rulers. Things in the Ottoman lands were much more predictable, much more stable. You got taxed once a year, rather than whenever the local baron wanted to build a new castle or make war on his neighbor. And you could freely practice any religion and speak any language without fear of persecution.

By far the most dramatic chapter in the history of refugees on our planet took place in 1492, when the new rulers of Spain, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, declared in their Edict of Alhambra that all of Spain’s approximately 800,000 Jews (the Sephardim) had three months to leave Spain before they would be killed.

Thousands of Sephardic Jews died in various attempts to get out of Spain, “aided” by Spanish sailors who generally took them out to sea, only to cut them open and dump them overboard once they got far enough from land. (There were rumors that the Jews were eating gold and diamonds, so the Spanish sailors had to verify whether or not this was true, rather than saving their lives.)

However, the vast majority of the Sephardim survived the Alhambra Edict — by being rescued by the Ottoman fleet. That is, the Ottoman ruler, the Sultan, sent his navy to Spain in order to rescue Spanish Jews, and resettle them within Ottoman lands that had not recently been overrun by xenophobic religious bigots such as Spain’s new rulers.