The Religious Justification for Theft, Enslavement, Ransoming, Torture and Murder!

A lot of Americans don’t realize that the United State declared war on Islam over 200 years ago. The war was championed by Thomas Jefferson but the real enemy was the Barbary States, not Islam itself. When the Revolutionary War ended, American merchant ships plying the Mediterranean were no longer under the protection of the French Navy as they had been during our little conflict with the Brits. This suddenly made them easy pickings for the Barbary Pirates, considered by some to be the world’s first state sponsored terrorists. These swashbuckling extortionist were in fact working for their government and considered themselves corsairs or privateers rather than pirates.

The Islamic nations of Tripoli, Tunis, Morocco and Algiers collectively made up what was known as the Barbary Coast of north Africa. It was at the behest of various Pasha’s, Mullah’s, Mufti’s and Sultans that passed for leadership in those countries that hundreds of unprovoked attacks on American shipping were carried out. Perhaps the most prolific pirates of the time, the Barbary Pirates stalked, attacked and boarded mostly defenseless cargo ships that were just trying to conduct honest trade.  Ships and cargo were seized and crews killed, enslaved or held for ridiculously high ransoms. Sailors made into slaves endured some of the harshest possible depravations and cruelty and had a very short life expectancy. The more fortunate (mostly officers or wealthy passengers) were also treated barbarically but at least kept alive merely because they were more valuable as ransom bait.

 Suffice it to say that as a country, we learned some of our first lessons about dealing with Islamic terrorists over two centuries ago. Our modern Navy (originally only a domestic coastal and river defense force) and Marine Corps were born out of a necessity for protecting our merchant ships abroad and particularly in the Mediterranean. The lyric “the shores of Tripoli” in the Marine Corps hymn was inspired by of one of our retaliatory attacks on these Islamic fiefdoms to “persuade” them to sign treaties to halt unprovoked attacks. The “Leatherneck” moniker for Marines actually came from the thick leather collars incorporated into their uniforms as a defense against scimitar decapitation!

For many years before we finally went on the offensive to combat piracy, our fledgling nation found it simply more economical to pay ransoms than to go to war with what was at the time considered a much more formidable enemy. 

In a recent interview, Donald Trump raised the question of why Islam holds so much hostility against us. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams posed a similar question to Tripoli’s ambassador to Great Britain in 1786. They asked “by what right do Islamic nations attack American ships and enslave our citizens?” The answer, not surprisingly, had to do with religion. The gist of it was that it’s a devout Muslims right and duty to make war upon, capture and enslave any citizen of any country that doesn’t recognize the ultimate authority of the Nation of Islam. It would also seem that some Quran inspired “money-jihad” even made it a duty to steal property and ransom captives for the glory of Allah. Of course we mustn’t forget that every Musselman (what Muslims were called in those days) slain in battle against the infidel was guaranteed entry to paradise and their own haram of 72 virgin concubines.

Known for tolerance of other religions, Thomas Jefferson feared any religion based on supremacism, especially one that didn’t just condone but required violence against unbelievers as a duty. His greatest fear was that someday this particular brand of Islam would return and pose an even more serious threat to the United States.

So now we fast forward over 200 years. Hundreds of attacks upon private yachts, oil tankers and other merchantmen off the coast of Somalia were until recently considered the worst piracy problem on the high seas. Were these attack motivated by a sense of duty to Islam?  More likely it was some combination of poverty, religious zeal, revenge and a sense of entitlement. It may be that religious justification for modern piracy is still derived from the concept of a duty to capture, imprison, enslave or ransom infidels. By some accounts much of the financing for Al-Qaida affiliate Al Shabaab has come from the filthy lucre of Somalian piracy. That argues for at least some degree of religious motivation.

Today, the epicenter of modern piracy is The Gulf of Guinea in western Africa. Unlike the Somalian scalawags these pirates prefer their booty black and sludgy. Oil that is, black gold, Texas tea! They don’t seem to bother much with hostages. The payoff for hostage taking is slow and outcomes not always certain. Kidnapping oil (known as illegal oil bunkering) just makes much better business sense. Nobody to feed or house and no worries about escaped hostages. Negotiations for hostages can take up to a year to come to fruition but oil, especially with a pre-arranged buyer, converts to cash in as little as a week. Just ask ISIS.

Are the Gulf of Guinea attacks part of the global jihad? Boko Haram might think so since the Nigerian arm of Al Qaida is a direct beneficiary of pirated petrol profits. The truth is most rank-n-file pirates today are either terrorists or desperate peasants, religious crusaders or opportunistic criminals or some combination thereof.

Modern day piracy is a result of many complex underlying factors. Some governments simply find it cheaper to accept a certain level of loss due to piracy than to invest resources to snuff it out. Some are corrupt to the degree they underhandedly profit from it. Some are just so pathetically poor and disorganized they can’t possibly mount any kind of meaningful defense against it.

Published by Bill Hoover