There is much in the mass media about Muslims and their rights. But nothing about the nature of their aggression in the past. Those who don't know history are going to repeat it, as the saying goes. But this is part of a continuum, not separate episodes of aggression.
Most Americans are unaware of the fact that over two hundred years ago the United States had declared war on Islam and Thomas Jefferson led the charge! At the height of the eighteenth century, Muslim pirates (the "Barbary Pirates") were the terror of the Mediterranean and a large area of the North Atlantic . They attacked every ship in sight, and held the crews for exorbitant ransoms. Those taken hostage were subjected to barbaric treatment and wrote heart-breaking letters home, begging their government and family members to pay whatever their Mohammedan captors demanded.
These extortionists of the high seas represented the North African Islamic nations of Tripoli, Tunis, Morocco, and Algiers - collectively referred to as the Barbary Coast - and presented a dangerous and unprovoked threat to the new American Republic.
Before the Revolutionary War, U.S. merchant ships had been under the protection of Great Britain. When the U.S. declared its independence and entered into war, the ships of the United States were protected by France. However, once the war was won, America had to protect its own fleets.
In July of 1785, Algerian pirates captured American ships, and the Dye of Algiers demanded an unheard-of ransom of $60,000. It was a plain and simple case of extortion, and Thomas Jefferson was vehemently opposed to any further payments. Instead, he proposed to Congress the formation of a coalition of allied nations who together could force the Islamic states into peace. A disinterested Congress decided to pay the ransom.
In 1786, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams met with Tripoli's ambassador to Great Britain to ask by what right his nation attacked American ships and enslaved American citizens, and why Muslims held so much hostility towards America, a nation with which they had no previous contacts.
Despite this stunning admission of premeditated violence on non-Muslim nations, as well as the objections of many notable American leaders, including George Washington, who warned that caving in was both wrong and would only further embolden the enemy, for the following fifteen years the American government paid the Muslims millions of dollars for the safe passage of American ships or the return of American hostages. The payments in ransom and tribute amounted to over twenty percent of the United States government annual revenues in 1800!
Jefferson was disgusted. Shortly after his being sworn in as the third President of the United States in 1801, the Pasha of Tripoli sent him a note demanding the immediate payment of $225,000 plus $25,000 a year for every year forthcoming. That changed everything!
Jefferson let the Pasha know, in no uncertain terms, what he could do with his demand. The Pasha responded by cutting down the flagpole at the American consulate and declared war on the United States. Tunis, Morocco, and Algiers immediately followed suit. Jefferson, until now, had been against America raising a naval force for anything beyond coastal defense; but, having watched his nation be cowed by Islamic thugery for long enough, decided that is was finally time to meet force with force.
He dispatched a squadron of frigates to the Mediterranean and taught the Muslim nations of the Barbary Coast a lesson he hoped they would never forget. Congress authorized Jefferson to empower U.S. ships to seize all vessels and goods of the Pasha of Tripoli and to "cause to be done all other acts of precaution or hostility as the state of war would justify".
When Algiers and Tunis, who were both accustomed to American cowardice and acquiescence, saw the newly independent United States had both the will and the right to strike back, they quickly abandoned their allegiance to Tripoli. The war with Tripoli lasted for four more years, and raged up again in 1815. The bravery of the U.S. Marine Corps in these wars led to the line "to the shores of Tripoli" in the Marine Hymn, and they would forever be known as "leathernecks" for the leather collars of their uniforms, designed to prevent their heads from being cut off by the Muslim scimitars when boarding enemy ships.
Islam, and what its Barbary followers justified doing in the name of their prophet and their god, disturbed Jefferson quite deeply. America had a tradition of religious tolerance. In fact Jefferson, himself, had co-authored the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, but fundamentalist Islam was like no other religion the world had ever seen. A religion based on supremacism, whose holy book not only condoned, but mandated violence against unbelievers, was unacceptable to him. His greatest fear was that someday this brand of Islam would return and pose an even greater threat to the United States.
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