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June 19, 2006
America's First Jihadi War

The Jerusalem Post reviews a book by Joshua E. London on the first war that pitted Americans against jihadist Muslims titled Victory in Tripoli: How America's War with the Barbary Pirates Established the U.S. Navy and Shaped a Nation. The history of that conflict, and how America prevailed over an enemy comprised of suicidal zealots, would appear informative in today's conflict:

A fledgling republic without a navy, the United States seemed ripe for the picking. In 1783, Muslim pirates - the sea-faring terrorists of their day - began attacking American merchant vessels in the Mediterranean, and the following year, the Moroccans captured a brig called Betsey and enslaved its crew. Soon afterwards, the ruler of Algiers declared war on the US, a declaration backed up by marauding corsairs.

The situation worsened with each coming year, but for the life of them, the Americans could not figure out what they did to make themselves so hated. In May 1786, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, then both diplomats in Europe, met with Tripoli's ambassador to London. Why did the North Africans attack ships of a country that had done nothing to provoke such hostility, the two asked him.

The response was unnerving. As Adams and Jefferson later reported to the Continental Congress, the ambassador said the raids were a jihad against infidels. Muslim privateers felt "it was their duty to make war upon them [non-Muslims] wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could as Prisoners, and that every Mussleman [Muslim] who should be slain in Battle was sure to go to Paradise."

The Americans now had two choices: pay tribute or fight the pirates.

Eventually, we stopped paying the Danegeld and took North African politics into our own hands. The Marine Corps hymn does not include "the shores of Tripoli" because it makes for a nice rhyme with "on the land and on the sea". The resolution of the war with the Barbary Pirates came because we decided to institite a policy of regime change on the southern shores of the Mediterranean. It didn't take long before the Muslim pirates of the Barbary Coast got the message and left American shipping alone, both in the Atlantic and in the Mediterranean.

The Post does not give a complete endorsement of the book. Erik Schechter scores London for not being more condemning of the racist statements from American figures of those times, and also complains about sketchy details in London's work. However, Schechter remains positive about the book overall and remarks on London's abilities to make the colorful personalities "come alive". And Schechter notes that London's work reminds us that America's troubles with Islamists did not start in 1948 with the creation of the state of Israel.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 19, 2006 10:26 PM

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