The Barbary Wars: A 19th-Century Jihad on American Shipping
by Anestos Canelides
One year after Great Britain recognized American Independence, a crew on a US merchant ship in the Mediterranean lost their freedom.
The crew and their vessel were captured by Barbary pirates and held for ransom, and this would not be the last attack on U.S. shipping. The capture of the Betsy and the Dauphin would be the beginning of a conflict between the newly independent nation of the United States of America and the Muslim pirates of North Africa. The conflict with the Barbary pirates from the nations of Morocco, Tunis, Tripoli, and Algiers, would last from 1786 to 1815.
It took a combined U.S. fleet to defeat them in the Tripolitan war, from 1801 to 1805. The end result of this first war with the pirates was that the Americans were forced to pay tribute just to make sure they could maintain peace and free trade in the Mediterranean. Tribute and negotiations did not stop the piracy, and in time the truce failed, resulting in a decisive American victory in the Algerine War of 1815.1
From the time of their first assault on our shipping, the U.S. government did not understand the corsairs’ unprovoked attacks. These attacks on American shipping came as a shock to our founding fathers, but they were part of a greater jihad in the Mediterranean by Muslim pirates. According to Dr. Andrew Bostom, “Jefferson and Adams, in their subsequent report to the Continental Congress, recorded the Tripolitan Ambassador’s justification:
… that it was founded on the Laws of their Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have 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 Musselman who should be slain in Battle was sure to go to Paradise.”
The Muslim pirates had justified their attacks on Christians for centuries as an important element of Jihad. It was referred to as al-jihad-fil-babr or holy war at sea and it was a community of seamen or ta’ifa, it was an integral part of a holy war against the Christian infidel. This form of piracy provided the pirates with their greatest military heroes. 2
There were two concepts involved, Dar al Islam or “house of peace” and Dar al-harb or “house of war”. The Americans were not paying tribute to the Barbary Pirates, so this placed them under the house of war and allowed them to become prey to piracy. Until they signed a treaty and tribute was exacted from them, they would remain victims of jihad. Once they were captured, the ship and its cargo were seized and the men were often sold into slavery.
In this jihad all captives were prisoners of war and were subject to slavery but the outcome for prisoners of war was: death, ransom, exchange, taxation, release, and enslavement. In the Barbary states slavery was usually the choice. “Islamic law, piously laid down: (slavery is) a humiliation and a servitude caused by previous unbelief and having as its purpose to discourage unbelief. From such opinions the Barbary pirates were able to legitimize outright slave raids.3
The British government encouraged this form of piracy, and during the Revolution, American colonial shipping in the Mediterranean was no longer no longer protected by the British Navy. In fact, the British allowed this assault on American shipping to keep them out of the Mediterranean so as to reduce competition in trade. Prior to this the British provided passes honored by the Barbary pirates simply because they feared the British navy, the most powerful navy in the world at the time.
Originally these assaults on infidel shipping were for the pure consideration of jihad, but over time the greed for booty and state revenues changed this motive. Even so, the religious foundation remained central to their piracy. Their God was money, but their prophet truly was Muhammad and they never forgot this.4
The assault on our merchant fleet continued until the U.S. realized that paying tribute alone would not end this conflict. It was a combined U.S fleet that crushed the pirates in 1815 and not only ended their piracy on our shipping, but allowed free trade in the Mediterranean Sea. Courage to stand up to them was the only thing the pirates respected.
By the same token, determined force is the only thing the modern day Somalia pirates will respect. Islam only respects strength, and unless we crush the modern day pirates off the coast of Somalia, the piracy will never end.
It took a unified act of war to end the Barbary piracy, and nothing short of the same actions will end today
s piracy. As Teddy Roosevelt once said, when it comes to these Islamic pirates, “Speak softly, but carry a big stick.”
|1||Lambert, Frank. Barbary wars. Hill and Wang. New York, 2005|
|2||London, Joshua. Victory in Tripoli. John Wiley & Sons Inc. New Jersey. 2005|
Previous posts by Anestos Canelides:
|2010||May||29||The Last Empire|
|Jun||18||The Muslim Devastation of India|
|Aug||20||Are They Lying to Us?|
|Sep||28||Devshirme: A Muslim Scourge on Christians|
|Oct||6||AIFD: Friends of America and Freedom|