Here are some points to ponder on this sacred day, September 11.
In 1785, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams traveled to London to meet with Sidi Haji Abdrahaman, the “Ambassador” from Tripoli, in the hopes of making a $100,000 payoff to prevent the “Pirates of the Mediterranean” from kidnapping more American Seamen.
Attacks on American shipping and shanghaiing of sailors for ransom had become common place. As we had no navy at the time, it was felt that the best way to deal with the intolerable situation was to pay the ransoms.
Our two future Presidents asked Sidi Haji Abdrahaman, this question:
“What is the justification of why Tripoli is capturing American ships and holding sailors for ransom while turning them into slaves. ” The ambassador replied:
“It is written in their Koran, that all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave.” He added “that every Muslim who was slain in this warfare was sure to go to paradise.”
As we had no navy to speak of, for 16 years the United States paid ransoms while the pirates continually kidnapped American sailors, enslaving some of them for as long as 10 years.
Countless others died in captivity.
The Barbary Coast Pirates did not invent this game. Capturing, enslaving, and ransoming human beings had been going on in the Mediterranean and the rest of the world from the beginning of time.
It matters not whether one is talking about the early Assyrians under Erishum I; Egypt in the time of Menes; Persians under Cyrus; Greece in the time of Thucydides; or Rome when Caesar was up in Gaul chasing Vercingetorix and his merry band of men: tribal societies and early city states routinely conquered weaker states, cities or tribes.
Whenever captives were ransomed, their families, clans, home towns or nations had to pay the ransom in order to free their relatives and neighbors from enslavement—or they likely died in captivity.
“It’s the way the ancients rolled.”
Jefferson refused the demand. (Fortunately, just before his inauguration, Congress had passed legislation that provided for six frigates (which) “shall be officered and manned as the President of the United States may direct…”)
On May 10, 1801, the Pasha declared war on the U.S., by cutting down the flagstaff in front of the U.S. Consulate. (Does that sound familiar?)
Sea battles raged on and off until 1805 when a contingent of U.S. Marines (backed by mercenaries) captured the city of Derna (on the way to Tripoli).
“From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli…..”
Yusuf Karamanli signed a treaty ending hostilities on June 10, 1805.
(Algeria then got back into the business of ransoming U.S. sailors and hostilities in the Mediterranean didn’t end until after the 2nd Barbary War. Decisive naval victories led to treaties ending all tribute payments by the U.S in 1815).
In short, it took force to bring the peace—and to secure it.
Herodotus reported one of the reasons why force is necessary against these tribal societies.
In 545 B.C. emissaries from Sparta traveled to Sardis (modern Turkey) to implore Cyrus the Great not to attack Sparta and attempt to conquer her people.
Cyrus replied: “I have never feared any men who have a place in the center of the city set aside for meeting together, swearing false oaths, and cheating one another….”
His disdain for democracy is matched only by Basaar Assad’s (and perhaps Putin’s).
With the birth of Muhammad this view didn’t change. With the Shia—Sunni schism, the utter contempt for Western liberal democracy has just accelerated.
Maybe they’re right. Perhaps might should make right and we should discard Western liberal democracy and our thirst for the rule of law.
But if they are not right, and personal freedom, equality and the rule of law are worth preserving, (to say nothing of the lives of innocent children and civilians) then there is no negotiating “the removal of chemical weapons from Syria.”
Tribal societies are different. It’s not about ethnicity or religion. Tribes, War Lords, Gangs, call it what you will, it is in their DNA. They will lie, obfuscate, delay, and work any angle that gives them an advantage because Sidi Haji Abdrahaman words were prescient.
“…all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave.”
Jefferson got it right.
We don’t have to “bomb them back to the stone age.” But we must deal with them in the currency that they understand and respect.
Maybe you think we’ve progressed—that we are more civilized today than we were 2,700 years ago (or even 200 years ago)—that the world has evolved and that we are not the savages that Cyrus, Darius, Xerxes, and the Pasha of Tripoli et al. were.
Two words refute that argument: Bashar Assad.