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Sunday, May 5, 2013

The US war on terror in the 19th century

History revisited - Part 2 –  A sense of deja- vu?

As reported to the US Congress in 1786:

We took the liberty to make some inquiries concerning the Grounds of the their pretentions to make war upon Nations  who had done them no  Injury, and observed that we considered all mankind as our friends who had done us no wrong, nor had given us any provocation.

“The ambassador # answered us that [the right] was founded on the Laws of the Prophet, 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’ who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise.”[ # Ambassador Sidi Haji Abdrahaman ]

The whole letter can be read here and makes interesting reading. 

The Barbary coast consisted of several kingdoms, Morocco, Tripoli, Tunisia and Algeria.

In 1780’s, the new United States encountered a very hostile force, in the form of the Barbary pirates.  Since the Islamic conquest of North Africa in the Middle-Ages, these Muslim pirates habitually captured foreign ships, looted cargo, carried out razzias, demanded ransom money for prisoners and also took slaves for the North African & Middle Eastern markets.   They were literally adhering to the following Quranic verse: 

“Whenever you encounter the ones who disbelieve [during wartime], seize them by their necks until once you have subdued them, then tie them up as prisoners, either in order to release them later on, or also to ask for ransom, until war lays down her burdens.”

As can be seen from the Ambassador’s statement, it was a state-sponsored act of warfare.  Slave-raiding was a lucrative business, both in terms of slaves and also payment of “protection-money” in the form of tributes.   Although Morocco, one of the Barbary states recognised the independence of the U.S.A in 1777, it was nevertheless the first north African state to a capture US ship, (in 1784).

As result of the pirate acts & on the advice of Spain, the U.S.A signed several “peace treaties”; however, it was obliged to pay tributes to ensure the safety of its shipping in the Eastern Atlantic and also the Mediterranean. This state of affairs continued for over 15 years. Eventually, the US refused to pay the extremely large tribute (aka, extortion money), which was about 10% of the U.S. government annual revenue, so the Pasha of Tripoli declared war on the U.S.A.   

US Marines in Tripoli, 1804
By this time, the U.S.A, under the leadership of President Jefferson, decided to send the re-established US Navy and Marines to the North African state. US naval officers such as Stephen Decatur fought in this conflict, known as the Tripolitan War or the First Barbary War.  In 1804, Admiral Horatio Nelson is said to have called one particular naval battle "the most bold and daring act of the age."

The US Navy joined the Swedish navy and blocked the port of Tripoli for over  This was a hugely significant event for the new U.S.  It was huge event for the US Marines as well, as this is the same “shores of Tripoli” as in the US Marine’s Hymn!  Despite this, hundreds of US citizens were taken captive and enslaved by the North African Muslims until 1815.
3 years, until the Pasha of Tripoli signed a peace treaty with the U.S, promising not to take US ships.

By 1807, the promise made by the Pasha was broken, as Barbary pirates started to attack US shipping once more, but this time, the focus of action was based in Algiers. Once more, the US Navy headed off to North Africa & engaged in several battles with the Algerian Navy.  Once more, Stephen Decatur fought off the Barbary coast. The U.S. Navy reached Algiers and threatened it with destruction. Not surprisingly, Algiers capitulated and signed a peace treaty with U.S., returning captured U.S. ships and U.S. captives.

North African “white slavery” was not finally eradicated until Algiers was taken by the French in 1830.  More shockingly, Islamic “black slavery” was not officially eradicated until Saudi Arabia abolished it in 1962.

1 comment:

  1. "Yet his words are virtually identical to those spouted ad nauseum by jihadists today who justify their bellicosity as a reaction to these U.S.-centric factors, which were nonexistent in Adja's time."