PJM: Exactly 234 years ago this week, two of America’s founding fathers documented their first exposure to Islamic jihad in a letter to Congress; like many Americans today, they too were shocked at what they learned.
Context: in 1785, Muslim pirates from North Africa, or “Barbary,” had captured two American ships, the Maria and Dauphin, and enslaved their crews. In an effort to ransom the enslaved Americans and establish peaceful relations, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams—then ambassadors to France and Britain respectively—met with Tripoli’s ambassador to Britain, Abdul Rahman Adja. Following this diplomatic exchange, the Americans laid out the source of Barbary’s hitherto inexplicable animosity in a letter to Congress, dated March 28, 1786:
We took the liberty to make some inquiries concerning the grounds of their [Barbary’s] 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 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.
Abdul had continued by smugly noting that Islam’s “law” offers “as an incentive” more slaves to those who are first to board infidel vessels, and that the power and appearance of the seaborne jihadis—who reportedly always carried three knives, one in each hand and another in their mouths—“so terrified their enemies that very few ever stood against them.”
One can only imagine what the American ambassadors—who years earlier had asserted that all men were “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights”—thought of their Muslim counterpart’s answer. Suffice to say, because the ransom demanded was over fifteen times greater than what Congress had approved, little came of the meeting.
Centuries before setting their sights on American vessels, the Barbary States of Muslim North Africa—specifically Tripoli, Algiers, Tunis—had been thriving on the slave trade of Christians abducted from virtually every corner of coastal Europe—going as far as Britain, Ireland, Denmark, and Iceland. These raids were so successful that, “between 1530 and 1780 there were almost certainly a million and quite possibly as many as a million and a quarter white, European Christians enslaved by the Muslims of the Barbary Coast,” to quote American historian Robert Davis. read more