SOURCE: America has been fighting Islamists for longer than many realize. Even before independence was declared, American ships were pirated and their Christian crews enslaved by Muslim pirates operating under the control of the “Dey of Algiers”—an Ottoman Islamist warlord ruling Algeria. When the colonists rebelled against British rule in 1776, American ships lost Royal Navy protection. A Revolutionary-War era alliance with France offered French protection to US ships, but it expired in 1783. Immediately US ships came under attack and in October 1784 the American trader “Betsey” was taken by Moroccan forces. This was followed with Algerians and Libyans (Tripolitans) capturing two more US ships in 1785.
Lacking the ability to project US naval force in the Mediterranean, America tried appeasement. In 1784, Congress agreed to fund tributes and ransoms in order to rescue US ships and buy the freedom of enslaved US sailors.
In 1786 Thomas Jefferson, then US ambassador to France, and John Adams, then US Ambassador to Britain, met in London with Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja, the Dey’s ambassador to Britain, in an attempt to negotiate a peace treaty based on Congress’ vote of funding. To the US Congress these two future Presidents later reported the reasons for the Muslims’ hostility towards America, a nation with which they had no previous contacts.
“…that it was founded on the Laws of their Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have acknowledged 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 (Muslim) who should be slain in Battle was sure to go to Paradise.”
In this 1790 satirical piece, his last published letter, Ben Franklin, in the midst of a Congressional debate on slavery, compares the arguments of pro-slavery Southerners (“Mr. Jackson”, a South Carolina delegate) to the arguments of a hypothetical Algerian Muslim “Mussulmen” pirate, Sidi Mehemet Ibrahim. The rationalizations, justifications and excuses of Franklin’s “Sidi” are almost word-for-word those of the Georgia and South Carolina Congressional delegates. The Algerian Islamic “Erika” sect was an allegory to members of the American Christian “Quaker” sect who in 1790 unsuccessfully petitioned Congress, with Franklin’s support, for an end to the importation of slaves from Africa. (Text and link below)
Ben Franklin died on April 17, 1790 just twenty-five days after his letter was published.
Congress in 1790 did not come up with a means to end the slave trade, much less slavery itself. This is largely because representatives of South Carolina and Georgia threatened secession which would have led to war. As with any appeasement of evil to avoid war, the problem continued and festered, growing worse until finally a much larger war–the Civil War– broke out 71 years later causing 600,000 US casualties. Also killed by appeasement; untold numbers of African slaves during the Atlantic crossing and while held in slavery in the US.
And the Muslims? By 1800 the annual tribute and ransom payments first agreed in the mid 1780s amounted to about $1 million–20% of the federal budget. (For fiscal year 2007, 20% of the US revenues would equal $560 billion.) In May, 1801 Yussif Karamanli, the Pasha of Tripoli, declared war on the US by chopping down the flagpole in front of the US Consulate. Seventeen years after appeasement and tribute payments had begun; President Thomas Jefferson led America into the First Barbary War.
From May 1801 to June 10, 1805 sailors and Marines of the young American nation fought battles immortalized in a line of the Marine Hymn: “…to the shores of Tripoli”. As American forces approached Tripoli on land threatening to capture it, Karamanli suddenly became interested in negotiations. The war ended with a treaty exchanging prisoners, Americans giving Karamanli another $60,000 in ransom and an agreement from the Muslims to cease attacks on US ships.
But for a Muslim to keep his word to an Infidel at the expense of opportunities to expand Islamic power is the Islamic equivalent of a mortal sin. In 1807 Muslim pirate attacks on American ships began anew. As a result Americans led by President James Madison fought Algerians in the Second Barbary War in 1815, leading to another treaty under which the Muslims paid American $10,000 for damages. The Algerian ruler almost immediately repudiated the new treaty after the US departure and again began piracy and the enslavement of captured Christian sailors necessitating an 1816 Anglo-Dutch shelling of Algiers and ultimately the colonization of Algeria in 1830 and Tunisia in 1881 by France and Libya in 1911 by Italy. By then most of the Islamic world was under Christian domination. With the Ottoman Empire defeated in WW1, secularist Turkish rebels in 1923 overthrew the last Islamic Caliphate, destroying the pinnacle of Islamist power and ending a line of succession allegedly reaching back to Mohammed.
The trend of Muslim defeat began to reverse after the Second World War even though many Muslim leaders had backed Hitler’s Third Reich. Most Islamic countries became independent of Christian colonial rule between 1946 when Jordan achieved independence and 1971 when Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, and the UAE finally became independent of Britain. The next year Muslim terrorists killed 11 Israeli athletes and one German police officer at the Olympic Games in what became known as the Munich massacre, an attack which some see as opening the current war between Islam and the West. In an echo of the Barbary Pirates, an airliner was hijacked in October 1972 causing Germany to release to Libya the two terrorists being held for trial in the attack.
And the Quakers? Today the Quaker “American Friends Service Committee” no longer demands resolute action against slavery. They are on the other side–serving the modern equivalents of Franklin’s allegorical Sidi Mehemet Ibrahim by demanding that America once again appease the Islamists. Their demand for withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan in the face of Islamist attacks aimed to re-enslave the populations of those countries will get US into a much larger war a lot sooner than the 17 years to took for appeasement to lead to war at the end of the 18th Century.
Ben Franklin’s use of an imaginary Algerian pirate to satirize a pro-slavery Congressman shows his clear understanding of the danger posed by Islamism. Modern-day Americans would do well to consider the lessons of the War with Islamism fought by Thomas Jefferson and again by James Madison and this alternate meaning in Franklin’s final words of warning.