America has been fighting Islamists for longer than many realize. Even before independence was declared, American ships were pirated and their Christian crews enslaved by Muslim pirates operating under the control of the “Dey of Algiers”—an Ottoman Islamist warlord ruling Algeria. When the colonists rebelled against British rule in 1776, American ships lost Royal Navy protection. A Revolutionary War-era alliance with France offered French protection to US ships, but it expired in 1783. Immediately, U.S. ships came under attack and in October 1784 the American trader “Betsey” was taken by Moroccan forces. This was followed with Algerians and Libyans (Tripolitans) capturing two more U.S. ships in 1785.
Lacking the ability to project U.S. naval force in the Mediterranean, America tried appeasement. In 1784, Congress agreed to fund tributes and ransoms in order to rescue U.S. ships and buy the freedom of enslaved American sailors.
In 1786, Thomas Jefferson, then U.S. ambassador to France, and John Adams, then American Ambassador to Britain, met in London with Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja, the Dey’s ambassador to Britain, in an attempt to negotiate a peace treaty based on Congress’ vote of funding. To Congress, these two future presidents later reported the reasons for the Muslims’ hostility towards America, a nation with which they had no previous contacts.
…that it was founded on the Laws of their Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as Prisoners, and that every Musselman (Muslim) who should be slain in Battle was sure to go to Paradise.
In this 1790 satirical piece, his last published letter, Ben Franklin, in the midst of a Congressional debate on slavery, compares the arguments of pro-slavery Southerners (“Mr. Jackson”, a South Carolina delegate) to the arguments of a hypothetical Algerian Muslim “Mussulmen” pirate, Sidi Mehemet Ibrahim. The rationalizations, justifications and excuses of Franklin’s “Sidi” are almost word-for-word those of the Georgia and South Carolina Congressional delegates. The Algerian Islamic “Erika” sect was an allegory to members of the American Christian “Quaker” sect who in 1790 unsuccessfully petitioned Congress, with Franklin’s support, for an end to the importation of slaves from Africa. (Text and link below.)
Ben Franklin died on April 17, 1790, just 25 days after his letter was published.
Congress in 1790 did not come up with a means to end the slave trade, much less slavery itself. This is largely because representatives of South Carolina and Georgia threatened secession, which could have led to war or complete or partial dissolution of the Union. As with any appeasement of evil, the problem continued and festered, growing worse until finally a much larger war--the Civil War-- broke out 71 years later causing 600,000 American casualties. Also killed by appeasement were untold numbers of African slaves during the Atlantic crossing or during enslavement.
And the Muslims? By 1800, the annual tribute and ransom payments first agreed in the mid-1780s amounted to about $1 million--20% of the federal budget. (For fiscal year 2007, 20 percent of U.S. revenues would equal $560 billion.) In May, 1801 Yussif Karamanli, the Pasha of Tripoli, declared war on America by chopping down the flagpole in front of the U.S. Consulate. Seventeen years after appeasement and tribute payments had begun, President Thomas Jefferson led America into the First Barbary War.
From May of 1801 to June 10, 1805, sailors and Marines of the young American nation fought battles immortalized in a line of the Marine Hymn: “to the shores of Tripoli.” As American forces approached Tripoli on land threatening to capture it, Karamanli suddenly became interested in negotiations. The war ended with a treaty exchanging prisoners, Americans giving Karamanli another $60,000 in ransom and an agreement from the Muslims to cease attacks on U.S. ships.
But for a Muslim to keep his word to an infidel at the expense of opportunities to expand Islamic power is the Islamic equivalent of a mortal sin. In 1807, Muslim pirate attacks on American ships began anew. As a result Americans led by President James Madison fought Algerians in the Second Barbary War in 1815, leading to another treaty under which the Muslims paid American $10,000 for damages. The Algerian ruler almost immediately repudiated the new treaty after the U.S. departure and again began piracy and the enslavement of captured Christian sailors necessitating an 1816 Anglo-Dutch shelling of Algiers and ultimately the colonization of Algeria in 1830 and Tunisia in 1881 by France and Libya in 1911 by Italy. By then most of the Islamic world was under Christian domination. With the Ottoman Empire defeated in WW1, secularist Turkish rebels in 1923 overthrew the last Islamic Caliphate, destroying the pinnacle of Islamist power and ending a line of succession allegedly reaching back to Mohammed.
The trend of Muslim defeat began to reverse after the Second World War even though many Muslim leaders had backed Hitler’s Third Reich. Most Islamic countries became independent of Christian colonial rule between 1946 when Jordan achieved independence and 1971 when Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, and the UAE finally became independent of Britain. The next year, Muslim terrorists killed 11 Israeli athletes and one German police officer at the Olympic Games in what became known as the Munich massacre, an attack which some see as opening the current war between Islam and the West. In an echo of the Barbary Pirates, an airliner was hijacked in October 1972 causing Germany to release to Libya the two terrorists being held for trial in the attack.
And the Quakers? Today the Quaker “American Friends Service Committee” no longer demands resolute action against slavery. They are on the other side – serving the modern equivalents of Franklin’s allegorical Sidi Mehemet Ibrahim by demanding that America once again appease the Islamists. Their demand for withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan in the face of Islamist attacks aimed to re-enslave the populations of those countries will get America into a much larger war a lot sooner than the 17 years to took for appeasement to lead to war at the end of the 18th Century.
Ben Franklin’s use of an imaginary Algerian pirate to satirize a pro-slavery Congressman shows his clear understanding of the danger posed by Islamism. Modern day Americans would do well to consider the lessons of the War with Islamism fought by Thomas Jefferson and again by James Madison and this alternate meaning in Franklin’s final words of warning.
Full Text of Ben Franklin’s last letter:
On the Slave-Trade
To the Editor of the Federal Gazette
March 23d, 1790
Reading last night in your excellent Paper the speech of Mr. Jackson in Congress against their meddling with the Affair of Slavery, or attempting to mend the Condition of the Slaves, it put me in mind of a similar One made about 100 Years since by Sidi Mehemet Ibrahim, a member of the Divan of Algiers, which may be seen in Martin's Account of his Consulship, anno 1687. It was against granting the Petition of the Sect called Erika, or Purists who pray'd for the Abolition of Piracy and Slavery as being unjust. Mr. Jackson does not quote it; perhaps he has not seen it. If, therefore, some of its Reasonings are to be found in his eloquent Speech, it may only show that men's Interests and Intellects operate and are operated on with surprising similarity in all Countries and Climates, when under similar Circumstances. The African's Speech, as translated, is as follows.
"Allah Bismillah,&c. God is great, and Mahomet is his Prophet."
"Have these Erika considered the Consequences of granting their Petition? If we cease our Cruises against the Christians, how shall we be furnished with the Commodities their Countries produce, and which are so necessary for us? If we forbear to make Slaves of their People, who in this hot Climate are to cultivate our Lands? Who are to perform the common Labours of our City, and in our Families? Must we not then be our own Slaves? And is there not more Compassion and more Favour due to us as Mussulmen, than to these Christian Dogs? We have now about 50,000 Slaves in and near Algiers. This Number, if not kept up by fresh Supplies, will soon diminish, and be gradually annihilated. If we then cease taking and plundering the Infidel Ships, and making Slaves of the Seamen and Passengers, our Lands will become of no Value for want of Cultivation; the Rents of Houses in the City will sink one half; and the Revenues of Government arising from its Share of Prizes be totally destroy'd! And for what? To gratify the whims of a whimsical Sect, who would have us, not only forbear making more Slaves, but even to manumit those we have.
"But who is to indemnify their Masters for the Loss? Will the State do it? Is our Treasury sufficient? Will the Erika do it? Can they do it? Or would they, to do what they think Justice to the Slaves, do a greater Injustice to the Owners? And it we set our Slaves free, what is to be done with them? Few of them will return to their Countries; they know too well the great Hardships they must there be subject to; they will not embrace our holy Religion; they will not adopt our Manners; our People will not pollute themselves by intermarrying with them. Must we maintain them as Beggars in our Streets, or suffer our Properties to be the Prey of their Pillage? For men long accustom'd to Slavery will not work for a Livelihood when not compell'd. And what is there so pitiable in their present Condition? Were they not Slaves in their own Countries?
"Are not Spain, Portugal, France, and the Italian states govern'd by Despots, who hold all their Subjects in Slavery, without Exception? Even England treats its Sailors as Slaves; for they are, whenever the Government pleases, seiz'd, and confin'd in Ships of War, condemn'd not only to work, but to fight, for small Wages, or a mere Subsistence, not better than our Slaves are allow'd by us. Is their Condition then made worse by their falling into our Hands? No; they have only exchanged one Slavery for another, and I may say a better; for here they are brought into a land where the Sun of Islamism gives forth its Light, and shines in full Splendor, and they have an Opportunity of making themselves acquainted with the true Doctrine, and thereby saving their immortal Souls. Those who remain at home have not that Happiness. Sending the Slaves home then would be sending them out of Light into Darkness.
"I repeat the Question, What is to be done with them? I have heard it suggested, that they may be planted in the Wilderness, where there is plenty of Land for them to subsist on, and where they may flourish as a free State; but they are, I doubt, to little dispos'd to labour without Compulsion, as well as too ignorant to establish a good government, and the wild Arabs would soon molest and destroy or again enslave them. While serving us, we take care to provide them with every thing, and they are treated with Humanity. The Labourers in their own Country are, as I am well informed, worse fed, lodged, and cloathed. The Condition of most of them is therefore already mended, and requires no further Improvement. Here their Lives are in Safety. They are not liable to be impress'd for Soldiers, and forc'd to cut one another's Christian throats, as in the Wars of their own Countries. If some of the religious mad Bigots, who now teaze us with their silly Petitions, have in a Fit of blind Zeal freed their Slaves, it was not Generosity, it was not Humanity, that mov'd them to the Action; it was from the conscious Burthen of a Load of Sins, and Hope, from the supposed Merits of so good a Work, to be excus'd Damnation.
"How grossly are they mistaken in imagining Slavery to be disallow'd by the Alcoran? Are not the two Precepts, to quote no more, 'Masters, treat your Slaves with kindness; Slaves, serve your Masters with Cheerfulness and Fidelity,' clear Proofs to the contrary? Nor can the Plundering of Infidels be in that sacred Book forbidden, since it is well known from it, that God has given the World, and all that it contains, to his faithful Mussulmen, who are to enjoy it of Right as fast as they conquer it. Let us then hear no more of this detestable Proposition, the Manumission of Christian Slaves, the Adoption of which would, by depreciating our Lands and Houses, and thereby depriving so many good Citizens of their Properties, create universal Discontent, and provoke Insurrections, to the endangering of Government and producing general Confusion. I have therefore no doubt, but this wise Council will prefer the Comfort and Happiness of a whole Nation of true Believers to the Whim of a few Erika, and dismiss their Petition."
The Result was, as Martin tells us, that the Divan came to this Resolution; "The Doctrine, that Plundering and Enslaving the Christians is unjust, is at best problematical; but that it is the Interest of this State to continue the Practice, is clear; therefore let the Petition be rejected."
And it was rejected accordingly.
And since like Motives are apt to produce in the Minds of Men like Opinions and Resolutions, may we not, Mr. Brown, venture to predict, from this Account, that the Petitions to the Parliament of England for abolishing the Slave-Trade, to say nothing of other Legislatures, and the Debates upon them, will have a similar Conclusion? I am, Sir, your constant Reader and humble Servant,
(Pseudonym of Ben Franklin)
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