America's First Entanglement with Radical Islam
There were many of the risks that the Founders of the United States of America faced in asserting independence. One risk involved exposing merchant shipping.
Without the protection of the British Navy and with the fledgling American Navy otherwise engaged in a constant struggle to break the coastal blockade Britain had constructed against the 13 rebellious colonies, the US merchant fleet was exposed to constant attack by free enterprise of another sort—piracy.
The worst of the piracy experienced by the new nation was found off the coast of Northern Africa, where American ships were regularly attacked, cargos pilfered and crews enslaved.
Pirates under contract by governments are properly called privateers. So let’s get this out of the way first. American merchant shipping was being attacked by privateers under the control of hostile Islamic regime.
The Algerian Pasha-Dey, Muhammad V ben Othman (1766-1791), commissioned corsairs to attack and subdue foreign shipping. The Regency of Algeria was a part of the Ottoman Turkish Empire that had been granted a great deal of autonomy in pursuing economic gain. Ben Othman was perhaps the most enterprising of the Algerian rulers during the 18th century.
The troubles caused by Islamic privateers in the Mediterranean led to a negotiated treaty with the four “Barbary States” of North Africa.
Even today, from time to time, you will hear racist African Americans lay claim to and attach their heritage to this part of Islamic North Africa. Of course, they do so out of ignorance.
It should be obvious to anyone, even with a very limited understanding of African history, that not all Africans are of the same race or creed. In fact, these Barbary Pirates were not the ancestors of African Americans. Rather, they were their first enslavers-- Arab, Muslim enslavers who subjugated the African natives. Arab, Muslim overlords dominated native Africans.
But I digress…back to their enslavement of US Citizens.
Incredibly, in 1784, Congress decided to seek negotiations with the Barbary States. Yep, that’s right, the new America government attempted to appease the Islamic enslavers. How? By paying tribute and ransoms! They thought that the most inexpensive way to get American commerce in the Mediterranean moving again, to retrieve ships seized by the privateers, was to pay tribute and buy their freedom. The military option was deemed “too expensive.”
It pains me to write this, but John Adams actually argued in favor of this payment scheme. Thomas Jefferson, on the other hand, was virulently opposed to the notion, citing that once we bought back the freedom of our citizens and paid tribute that there would be no end to future demands. Jefferson theorized that any nation that acted as a supplicant would be treated as such in the future.
Jefferson preferred settling the matter by force and argued that any number of nations in Europe that valued the freedom of the seas would probably be willing to form a coalition to end the menace. Alas, his arguments fell on deaf ears.
In 1786 Jefferson and John Adams took part in negotiations in London. At these negotiations, Ambassador Sidi Haji Abdrahaman, representing the Algerian side, was asked a poignant question by the US delegation: On what grounds does this extortion and enslavement continue?
The following is what Jefferson reported to US Secretary of State John Jay, and, in turn, to Congress:
“[their right] was founded on the Laws of the Prophet (Mohammed), that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have answered their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as prisoners, and that every Mussulman (or Muslim) who should be slain in battle was sure to go to heaven.” [Oren, Michael B. The Middle East and the Making of the United States, 1776 to 1815]
Nevertheless, Congress opted for the “payment plan,” giving those who terrorized US shipping millions of dollars over a 15-year period—even though the payments came to nearly twenty percent of yearly revenues collected by the Federal government in 1800.
We had fought a war of independence to escape repressive taxes imposed by George III of Great Britain, but somehow allowed ourselves to kneel at the feet of a the 19th century equivalent of a tin pot dictator.
Things took a radically new direction with the inauguration of Thomas Jefferson as our third President in 1801. He sent frigates and Marines to the Barbary Coast to defend our right to freedom of trade and freedom from enslavement, with the solemn declaration that the US was willing to spend “millions on defense, but not one cent for tribute.”
By 1805 American Marines had landed in Egypt and marched west across the coast of North Africa to Tripoli. There, US Marines forced the surrender of the Algerian capital and liberated all American slaves.
Jefferson went to the brink, risking war with the Ottoman Turkish Empire, with the intense naval bombardment and shore raids conducted by US Marines all across Northern Africa. In the end, the Muslim Barbary States were forced to abandon slavery and piracy.
Ultimately, it wasn’t until 1815 that a full settlement was achieved. That means that the US had to endure 14 years of on-again, off-again warfare—one year less than the 15 years of disgraceful appeasement that preceded Jefferson’s actions.
When will America learn that we cannot buy our way out of these problems? Despite the fact that we have taken military action, we continue to pay more money to radical Islam than at any time before.
Buying friends does not, and has never, worked. Every time we buy oil from the nations that provide safe havens for terrorists, we sponsor our own destruction. Every time we send billions upon billions of dollars in financial aid and assistance to “moderate Islamic states,” that just can’t seem to control their own radicals, we end up sponsor terrorist acts against us.
We must attack radical Islam intelligently. That’s right, we must use military force because they cannot be bought off. But, the way we use military force is equally important.
Occupation of land is counterproductive, no matter how good our intentions might be. We should use our military might to destroy the infrastructure of nations that continue to sponsor or provide safe havens for terrorists and then establish an economic blockade. Without outside help these nations cannot rebuild or refit their industry and would cease to be any real threat to the civilized world.
Then we will find out if there really are people in the region who want to be free because the dictators and monarchies will be denied the funds necessary to stay in power.
We need to cordon them off from the rest of the world in every way possible. Let these nations decide internally what sort of government they want. If civil war erupts in these nations, let them fight it out without interference. No matter who wins, they will only be the rulers of a vast, unindustrialized desert—harmless to the rest of the civilized world.
Posted by Peter David Orr
at 6:10 PM EDT
Updated: Saturday, 28 April 2007 6:16 PM EDT