Friday, December 03, 2010

A 19th-Century Jihad on American Shipping

Anestos Canelides returns with a new essay about the sustained conflict during the earliest days of the American Republic known as the Barbary Wars.
Barbary map

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.

Barbary War #1It 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.

Barbary War #2

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
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.

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



History's Jefferson & Madison.

Will we find courageous men like this again in the 2012 elections in the USA?

Obamanation is Waterloo!

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Nick said...

I can recommend 'White Gold' by Giles Milton if anyone wants a crash course in this subject.

Ray Boyd said...

From 1776 t0 1812 the British and the Americans were hardly buddies so they could not expect protection from the Royal Navy.

There was animosity among British and American seamen of the merchant fleets also for many reasons - particularly the aggression of the Americans during the whaling trade.

Mainland England suffered the scourge of the pirates. In the West of England the better part of the population of many coastal villages were taken as slaves.

As for the Royal Navy the pirates were afraid of them. Any attack on a British merchant ship was punished ruthlessly. The British dealt with the Barabary pirates by diplomatic chicanery and the threat of overwhelming retribution.

Charles Martel said...


Thanks for the recommendation. I just purchased the book and look forward to reading it.


Sean O'Brian said...

The Barbary pirates were still taking Christians captive and harassing Mediterranean trade routes after 1815. Lord Exmouth led the Royal Navy in a bombardment of Algiers in August 1816 after failing to secure concessions related to the treatment of captured prisoners from Tripoli, Tunis and Algiers. In 1824 another British fleet under Admiral Sir Harry Neal again bombarded Algiers.

It took a unified act of war to end the Barbary piracy

Barbary piracy was conclusively ended when France colonised North Africa, beginning with the French invasion of Algeria in 1830.

Hell_Is_Like_Newark said...

There is an excellent book on the birth of the United States Navy called "Six Frigates" A good portion of the book deals with the war with the Barbary Pirates.

Richard said...

The US war was to secure the release of US citizens and their property, at that time the various nations of the world rarely cooperated in actions against common enemies. Which is one reason the Moslems held on to so much of the land they stole.

Hesperado said...

The money quote -- i.e., the words used by the Muslim ambassador to Jefferson & Adams -- used by Anestos Canelides has a couple of errors. The first is the missing word "acknowledged" which I inserted below in square brackets; the second is that in the original the word "battle" was not capitalized.

… 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 who should be slain in Battle was sure to go to Paradise.”

Also, such a crucially important quote as this should be provided with the best citation, which I have noticed nobody on the Blogosphere (or even in published books -- cf. Spencer) bothers to do. I had to spend a couple of hours in my university library tracking it down. Nearly two years ago, I wrote an extensive essay on my blog about this, so it's not like the information has not been out there.

Here's the proper citation for that most important quote:

The Papers of Thomas Jefferson
pp. 357-9 in volume 9,
Julian P. Boyd, Editor
Princeton, NJ
Princeton University Press, 1954.

For more information, see:

1389 said...


Sadly, not much has changed since then. Non-Muslim countries should be cooperating against the global jihad, and thus far, they haven't been.