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The Barbary Wars and Modern Islamophobia


By Garibaldi

The Barbary Wars are a period of much modern polemic in the West, specifically the United States. Islamophobes and racists such as the late Christopher Hitchens popularized the notion that today’s “War on Terror” is just the most current manifestation of a long, continuous and unbroken history of conflict pitting the United States against Islam or so-called “Islamic terrorism” to use their language. In their telling the aggressors have always been Muslims, driven by Islamic doctrine and an urge to take over the West.

The ahistorical use of the Barbary wars fails to account for the nuances of the time period and the motives of Barbary, and other states in the Mediterranean Sea. The following excerpt from “The Wars of the Barbary Pirates: To the Shores of Tripoli: The Rise of the US Navy and Marines” critiques the distortions of Islamophobic propagandists who seek to satisfy contemporary political agendas, i.e. unending wars in Muslim majority nations.

“Even when light is shone on this long-forgotten period, reality is occasionally distorted by those who would seek to satisfy a political agenda rather than establish historical fact. In no way is this more obviously so than with respect to the role – or lack thereof – played by religion in America’s wars against the Barbary States. Despite the many parallels recently drawn between these conflicts and that between United States and al-Qaeda, the historical record does not lend itself to comparison. In short, the Barbary Wars, did not constitute, as at least one author maintains, “America’s first war on terror.” America did not perceive itself at war with terrorists, however defined, and while piracy was clearly a scourge to American trade, the religious component to the wars was confined to the Barbary States’ notion that Christians, being infidels, were inferior to Muslims. In recognizing this, one must not ignore the fact, that conversely, Christians felt themselves superior, morally and theologically speaking, to their Muslim opponents, as is clear from contemporary literature.

Yet however much the two sides condemned the other as deviants from the one true faith, they did not emphasize differences of religion in any more than peripheral terms – much less claim them as a motive for war. The Barbary States were not theocracies, with Muslim clerics controlling the levers of power. There was no “jihad,” except insofar as the stirring of religious hatred served the interests of powers bent on profit. Nor had the United States, specifically founded on the basis of a separation of church and state, any religious agenda to pursue. It, too, sought profit, but in the form of free trade rather than piracy.

If a degree of hypocrisy creeps into the debate over the motives behind America’s wars against the Barbary States, no more is this so than with respect to the issue of white slavery. Morally reprehensible though the enslavement of Christians by Muslims certainly was, it was no more unpalatable than the Western practice of enslaving black Africans. Slaves on American plantations had virtually no prospect of eventual release (known as manumission): they were denied citizenship, and their inferior status also denied them recourse to the judicial system to challenge the legal basis that categorized them as property rather than as people. Nor did sharing a common Christian faith – clearly interpreted differently by slaves and slave-owners – protect them from bondage.

By contrast, not only did the Barbary States decline to enslave co-religionists, they had a vested interest in releasing slaves, for freedom came at the price of ransom, for the purpose of which the captives had been taken in first place. If, pending their release, the white slaves held by the Barbary States were put to hard labor, poorly fed, and subjected to abuse, the same was true for slaves in South Carolina or Jamaica – the difference being that whereas a white slave in North Africa could hold out some hope of eventual release, the same could not be said for his black counterpart in North America. It is important, moreover, to compare the scale of slavery as practiced, for instance, in the United States on the one hand, and Algiers on the other. Whereas in 1790 there were nearly 700,000 slaves in America, there were only 3,000 in Algiers. Even an aggregate total for the whole of North Africa would not begin to approach the scale of slavery as conducted in the United States alone, not to mention the West Indies and other parts of the New World. Western powers situated on the Atlantic seaboard, practically all of which themselves practiced slavery, naturally did not recognize this apparent paradox.”

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  • Khizer

    The situation in the modern Middle East is due to western exploitation of the region. Western destruction and intervention of the Middle East has caused many of these ‘mowrawns’ and their terror groups to prop up.

    If you don’t want ‘mowrawns’ retaliating against western nations, then you should ask your elites and leaders to stop plundering the Middle eastern region out of their own self-interest. If you also don’t want ‘evil refugees’ to come to your nation, stop destroying theirs, simple, refugees would have less of a reason to go to western countries when they find out that their own nations are doing well and stabilised, which western ‘intervention’ has made sure such a thing does NOT happen.

    “Muhammad was desert nomad and warlord? Kinda makes sense now doesn’t it.”

    Such a petty, emotional and fact-less statement regarding him being a ‘warlord’. There are many studies and information about him that state otherwise, especially if you view all the info on him in context.

    Honestly, your rant is a prime example of looking through history and modern politics through a one-sided, ethnocentric lens.

  • DC

    The real factor of difference between the Barbary coast days and modern Islamic fascists is money and information. While generally deplorably uneducated, Islamic rank and file terrorists have access to the Internet where they can operate in a meta-vacuum of like minds, learning virtually nothing about the culture they loathe by doctrine. At the same time, the cabal of cronies that run operations like ISIS are bank rolled by mountains of cash, stolen, donated and otherwise.

    Most of the Middle East at the time of the Barbary Coast wars were little more than feudal tribes, literally riding horses around and piloting crude sailing ships. True to their culture and religion, they had little of value to trade. They had no information because almost no one could read or write (save me the ancient “but they invented …” rants, by 1790 they were running dry). Money? What money? Maybe a saltan here or there, but most people were salting dirt for dinner. Raw materials, then as now, were few and far between in the desert, so they looked to other things, like raping, pillaging, and slaves. Did I mention Muhammad was desert nomad and warlord? Kinda makes sense now doesn’t it.

    Things like eating pork were banned, not because bacon wasn’t tasty, but because it requires a truckload of wood to cook properly. Wood a real pain to find in a place with no trees, a commodity. Yada, yada, yada, and then one day, a bunch of yankees with boats loaded full of products they would never have the resources to make themselves comes sailing cluelessly along.

    The business decision is obvious, steal jack their stuff and sell off their people for ransom, because your middle-of-nowhere warlord religion tells you it’s a wonderful thing to do. It works. Lather, rinse repeat, until the Yankees return with steel ships and hoist the middle finger flag.

    Now what we have in the Middle East is a bunch of mowrawns manipulated by religion in very much the same way illiterate Christians were manipulated into fighting in the crusades during the 12th century. Only in this modern day reverse scenario, the West is too inept with too many feckless leaders to effectively fight back. Instead, clueless globalists like Merkel let the common people take it on the cheek, and big surprise, the common people elect the likes of Donald Trump, in the case of the US.

    Really if the left would give up on “open borders,” a mathematical formula that even a chimp could tell you is a formula for everlasting poverty, then most people would continue to put up with their useless leaders. But since the leftists can never give an inch, despite seldom ever having anything more than a feeling to stand on, the polarizing of our politics continue and extremists gain power.

    The only solution to extremism is to duck, roll, and hope for the best. We lost our chance for diplomacy we bent over and laughed about having only two parties to represent our interests – Coors or Bud anyone?

  • Isabella vd Westhuizen

    That Islamic slavery was actually not that bad it was the western slavery that was bad

  • George Carty

    The tsetse fly was also why the Boers couldn’t venture north of the Limpopo, as it killed off their livestock.

  • (((Reynardine)))

    In fact, Spanish, Portuguese, French, and English slavers *hired* indigenous people to go inland for them, but their ships were waiting for the delivery. They also took people directly from the coast, when that was convenient; the vulnerability of horses to African sleeping sickness hindered them from inland travel.

  • George Carty

    Don’t think you’re quite right about the Atlantic slave trade – almost no Africans were enslaved directly by white people. Almost all were (IIRC) taken during wars between African tribes or nations.

  • (((Reynardine)))

    Thanx. I never saw that.

  • George Carty

    I’m guessing he’s Captain John Smith (with the image being from Disney’s Pocahontas).

  • (((Reynardine)))

    Also ate the same hardtack and salt fish. There is a Caribbean dance called the “merengue”, danced with one leg stiff, to imitate the wooden leg many pirates wound up with. It literally meant “meringue”. The legend is that when pirates hit a port and managed to raid a bakery, they were so overjoyed at the prospective improvement in their diet that they danced around the pies.

  • (((Reynardine)))

    Who is this guy?

  • (((Reynardine)))

    There is very little one could add to that. Pirates were in business for themselves; when a government paid a pirate captain to hit only the other side, it issued him a letter of marque rendering him a “privateer”, entitling him, if captured, to be treated as a prisoner of war rather than hanged outright.

    Barbary pirates/privateers and their ships were both styled “Corsairs” — chasers. If memory serves me, they operated along the North African coast, and you knew if you were entering their territory, unlike the slaving ships that could come from clear across the Atlantic and send squads to whisk you off to the canefields and cottonfields even as you were tending goats, digging yams, having dinner, or doing #2, as you had done every day of your life before. Now, that’s terrorism…

  • JD

    Time to ruin your childhood so was this guy.. who sent two years reading classical military texts and studying horsemanshi so he could fight the Turks seen as a threat to Christendom in Europe

  • 786 Hey Garibaldi, thank you! It’s good to see some movement on LW again.
    If you would please mention the name of the author it would almost surely be more useful unto me. Thanks.
    In the meantime, it may be instructive to add the text of Article 11 of the treaty we ratified after the First Barbary War, since it clearly shows that the war was neither based on religious differences nor perceived as such by the United States:
    “As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense
    founded on the Christian Religion,-as it has in itself no character of
    enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen,-and as
    the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility
    against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no
    pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an
    interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries”
    Some modern Christian ideologues object that the text of Article 11 is not in the Arabic version of the treaty. They are correct, but that is a canard: the English text is what was presented to, and unanimously ratified by, our Senate.
    It must be noted in fairness that this treaty was superseded by later treaties after the conclusion of the Barbary Wars in the nineteenth century, and these later treaties contain no language comparable to that of Article 11. Nevertheless they also contain no language which contradicts the sentiments of Article 11.

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