Sunday, September 28, 2008

America’s First War on Terror: The Barbary Pirates

There’s an old saying that history often repeats itself. An illustration relevant to Americans today is that the first war the United States fought as an independent nation was a war against Islamic terrorists. The Barbary Powers War lasted thirty-two years, through the presidencies of George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. It included 6 years of military action against Muslim terrorists overseas.

During the American Revolution four Muslim nations in the Mediterranean—Tunis, Morocco, Algiers, and Tripoli—initiated indiscriminate attacks against “Christian” nations. When the United States disbanded its army and navy following the Revolution, American merchant and civilian ships became vulnerable to hostile powers. The Barbary Pirates not only seized the cargo of captured ships, but also enslaved their seamen, subjecting them to brutal treatment, and American ships and seamen became a prime target.

In 1784 John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson were authorized by Congress to negotiate with the Barbary Powers. Adams and Jefferson asked the ambassador from Tripoli the reason for attacks against American shipping. He responded that it was the right and duty of Muslims to make war on all nations that didn’t acknowledge the authority of Islamic law and to enslave prisoners, adding that every Muslim killed in battle would go to Paradise.

With this incentive so many Christians were enslaved by Muslims that French Catholics developed a ministry to raise funds to ransom captured seamen who had been sold into slavery. The trade in ransom soon became highly profitable for Muslim terrorists.

During President Washington’s administration, American diplomats repeatedly negotiated treaties of Peace and Amity with the Muslim Barbary Powers in an effort to ensure protection for American ships in the Mediterranean. These often officially recognized the Muslim religion in order to halt the escalation of Holy War.

Under these treaties, the United States was forced to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in “tribute” to each of the Barbary nations. In 1795 tribute just to Algiers totaled almost one million dollars, and by the last year of Washington’s administration, sixteen percent of the federal budget was going to the Barbary Pirates. The United States was forced to obtain a loan from Holland to cover what had become a substantial economic burden.

President Washington considered paying extortion money to terrorists a disgrace. In his last year in office he urged Congress to fund a navy to defend America’s interests at sea. The Department of the Navy was created in 1798 under President John Adams; however, Adams was reluctant to use military force, fearing the people wouldn’t support it.

Thomas Jefferson disagreed, believing that the economic impact of tribute payments to Muslim terrorists and growing resentment against their unprovoked attacks would eventually gain popular support for taking military action. In time he proved to be right.

Coming up in our next post: America's First War On Terror: The Halls of Tripoli

For further information, go to Wallbuilders and Pirates and Privateers.

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