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Relevance of the Barbary Wars in the early 19th Century

Reader comment on item: In 1796, U.S. Vowed Friendliness With Islam

Submitted by Jascha Kessler (United States), Nov 14, 2006 at 15:10

Perhaps it will be useful readers to learn more of the entire background and relevance of the Barbary Wars in the early 19th Century. Mr. Pipes' squib seems to me to have tortured all the available records to further an argument that we are not really at war with Muslims or Islam, based on some old records of treaties which he does not place in full historical context and reality, then or now." .

The list of treaties is available at: http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/diplomacy/barbary/barmenu.htm

Now look for example at the 1795 treaty with the Dey of Algiers at: http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/diplomacy/barbary/bar1795t.htm

It has a lot of articles protecting US interests. Then it ends with ...

"... to keep the Articles Contained in this Treaty Sacred and inviolable which we the Dey & Divan Promise to Observe on Consideration of the United States Paying annually the Value of twelve thousand Algerine Sequins (1) in Maritime Stores Should the United States forward a Larger Quantity the Over-Plus Shall be Paid for in Money by the Dey & Regency any Vessel that may be Captured from the Date of this Treaty of Peace & Amity shall immediately be deliver'd up on her Arrival in Algiers." ...

followed by ... http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/statutes/bar01.htm

"Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That for the purpose of defraying the expenses of carrying into effect the treaty made between the United States and the Dey and Regency of Algiers, the monies arising under the revenue laws of the United States, which have been heretofore passed, not already appropriated to any other purpose, or so much thereof as may be necessary, to the amount of twenty-four thousand dollars per annum, be, and the same are hereby>pledged and appropriated for the payment of the anuity stipulated in the said treaty, to be paid to the said Dey and Regency of Algiers, and to continue so pledged and appropriated, so long as the said>treaty shall be in force."

That's what the treaties are about. Protection money. This is the pattern with all the countries that used the Mediterranean - pay the Barbary coast pirates bulk or annual sums instead of per-ship ransoms. You can see from the list of treaties that none survived very long.

And the treaties worked so "well" that the US fought the first and second Barbary wars (1801-1805 & 1815), sometimes called collectively the Tripolian War.

Pipes says: "Has the United States ever engaged in a crusade against Islam? No, never. And, what's more, one of the country's earliest diplomatic documents rejects this very idea. [...] This antique treaty implicitly supports my argument that the United States is not fighting Islam the religion but radical Islam, a totalitarian ideology that did not even exist in 1796." Pipes gives this treaty the weight of some major expression of US policy towards Islam. And.. mentions ... as noted by

David Hunter Miller (1875-1961), an expert on American treaties, "the Barlow translation is at best a poor attempt at a paraphrase or summary of the sense of the Arabic."

And yet at the same web page where that quotation came from there is http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/diplomacy/barbary/bar1796n.htm

... Miller also says: "Thus the proclamation was immediate with the ratification and did not await any such formality as notice to the Bey of Tripoli of the ratification of the treaty by the United States. The treaty, like the treaty with the Dey of Algiers of 1795 (Document 17), had been bought; and, as much of the purchase price had already been paid, any subsequent item of procedure was doubtless considered to be of comparatively little importance."

Sooooo … the Senate ratified something already done, a "subsequent item of procedure" that "was doubtless considered to be of comparatively little importance" - rubber stamping a "protection money" treaty.

The foregoing is far too selective a use of sources and rather one constructed for non-too objective argument.

And yes, the Senate did indeed ratify the treaty including the peculiar article 11 that says: "As the Government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the law, religion or tranquility of Musselmen; and as the states never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mohometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinion shall ever produce an interruption of harmony existing between the two countries." I.e. the Senate agreed that it has no enmity towards Islam, that the US had no wars (yet) against Islamic states and that religion is not to be a pretext when disputing (har)money. What does that import?

Even if this article is given more importance than it actually carried — where does the article "reject the very idea of a crusade against Islam" as a US policy for the future? It actually implies that if harmony is in point of fact interrupted for a non-religious reason, the US may actually engage in "war or act of hostility towards Islamic states" - which it did (in the two Barbary wars) ...

Incidentally ... from (Marines history division) ... http://hqinet001.hqmc.usmc.mil/HD/Historical/Customes_Traditions/Marines_Hymn.htm

"Following the war with the Barbary Pirates in 1805, when Lieutenant Presely N. O'Bannon and his small force of Marines participated in the capture of Derne and hoisted the American flag for the first time over a fortress of the Old World, the Colors of the Corps was inscribed with the words: "To the Shores of Tripoli."

Jascha Kessler, Professor of English & Modern Literature, UCLA

Submitting....

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