Monday, February 18, 2008

The Barbary Wars, Islam in American History & Churchill on Wahhabism

One historical perspective of Islam concerns the very first war America fought after its Independence from Britain. It was a 32 year war against the Muslim Barbary pirates who believed their religion justified attacks on the shipping of non-believers and enslaving all Christians they could take prisoner. A second perspective that we get is through the eyes of Winston Churchill, who wrote of his observations of Islam in the Sudan and Afghanistan, and warned against the Wahhabi Islam of the Sauds. Had we but listened to Churchill, our world would be very different today.


There are a couple of fascinating posts that I have stumbled across today. The first, with a hat tip to Red Alerts, is a very good article on the history of Islam in our nation and the first war that our nation ever fought against the Muslm pirates of the Barbary Coast. This from Wallbuilders:

. . . The Barbary Powers (called Barbary “pirates” by most Americans) attacked American civilian and commercial merchant ships (but not military ships) wherever they found them. Prior to the Revolution, American shipping had been protected by the British navy, and during the Revolution by the French navy. After the Revolution, however, America lacked a navy of her own and was therefore left without protection for her shipping. The vulnerable American merchant ships, built for carrying cargoes rather than fighting, were therefore easy prey for the warships of the Barbary Powers, which seized the cargo of the ships as loot and took their seamen (of whom all were considered Christians by the attacking Muslims) and enslaved them.

In 1784, Congress authorized American diplomats John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson to negotiate with the Muslim terrorists. Negotiations proceeded, and in 1786, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson candidly asked the Ambassador from Tripoli the motivation behind their unprovoked attacks against Americans. What was the response?

The Ambassador answered us that it was founded on the laws of their Prophet [Mohammed] – that it was written in their Koran that all nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners; that is 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.

Given this “spiritual” incentive to enslave and make war, the Muslim attacks against American ships and seamen were frequent. In fact, in the span of just one month in 1793, Algiers alone seized ten American ships and enslaved more then one hundred sailors, holding them for sale or ransom. Significantly, when Adams and Jefferson queried the Tripolian Ambassador about the seizure of sailors, he explained:

It was a law that the first who boarded an enemy’s vessel should have one slave more than his share with the rest, which operated as an incentive to the most desperate valor and enterprise – that it was the practice of their corsairs [fast ships] to bear down upon a ship, for each sailor to take a dagger in each hand and another in his mouth and leap on board, which so terrified their enemies that very few ever stood against them.

The enslaving of Christians by Muslims was such a widespread problem that for centuries, French Catholics operated a ministry that raised funding to ransom enslaved seamen. . . .

This is a long article and there is much more. Do read the whole article. It is footnoted, though I have deleted them in the section quoted above.

And as long as we are speaking of historical perspectives on Islam, one should never forget the observations of one of the greatest men of the West, Winston Churchill. As a young man, Churchill served in the military in the Sudan, eventually writing his first book about his experiences, The River War:

"How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries.

Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property, either as a child, a wife, or a concubine, must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men.

Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities. Thousands become the brave and loyal soldiers of the Queen; all know how to die; but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world.

Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science, the science against which it had vainly struggled, the civilisation of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilisation of ancient Rome."

The River War, first edition, Vol. II, pages 248 50 (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1899). And later, Churchill would write specifically about the Wahhabis and Ibn Saud:

"A large number of Bin Saud's followers belong to the Wahabi sect, a form of Mohammedanism which bears, roughly speaking, the same relationship to orthodox Islam as the most militant form of Calvinism would have borne to Rome in the fiercest times of [Europe's] religious wars.

The Wahhabis profess a life of exceeding austerity, and what they practice themselves they rigorously enforce on others. They hold it as an article of duty, as well as of faith, to kill all who do not share their opinions and to make slaves of their wives and children. Women have been put to death in Wahhabi villages for simply appearing in the streets.

It is a penal offence to wear a silk garment. Men have been killed for smoking a cigarette and, as for the crime of alcohol, the most energetic supporter of the temperance cause in this country falls far behind them. Austere, intolerant, well-armed, and blood-thirsty, in their own regions the Wahhabis are a distinct factor which must be taken into account, and they have been, and still are, very dangerous to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

Read the entire article. Unlike our modern Nero's, Churchill spoke the truth about what he saw. How prescient and clearheaded was Churchill? In 1919, he wanted to fully invest the White Revolution and end Boshevism before it took hold and became the communist state of the Soviet Union. In 1933, he wanted to threaten military force against Nazi Germany to stop their rearmanent. In between, he argued against backing Ibn Saud to take over Arabia. Amazing, that this one man clearly saw the three greatest threats to civilization of the past century, and had we but listened to him at any of those junctures, how many tens of millions of lives would have been spared?

1 comment:

Jonathan said...

One interesting historical fact that you won't find in the Wallbuilders article: Adams and Jefferson as Presidents fought the brunt of the war with the Muslim pirates. Their person religious creed was a unitarian theology that thought most if not all religions were valid ways to God, including Islam. If there was a strong theological element to that war, Adams & Jefferson didn't see it. Their unitarian blinders stayed put and they continued to view Islam exactly as they viewed Christianity: True at heart but corrupted by dogma.