The first war we fought as a new nation was against Islamic pirates along the North African coast in Tunis, Algiers and Tripoli. At the time these were Islamic city-states loosely under Ottoman control. The pirates were a scourge and once we were no longer under British and then French protection, it was open season on US ships and crews. The ships and cargoes were seized and our crews held for ransom or sold into slavery. Here’s the Wikepedia description of these filthy beggars:
Pirate ships and crews from the North African Ottoman provinces of Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli and the independent Sultanate of Morocco under the Alaouite Dynasty (the Barbary Coast) were the scourge of the Mediterranean. Capturing merchant ships and enslaving or ransoming their crews provided the Muslim rulers of these nations with wealth and naval power. The Roman Catholic Trinitarian Order or Order of “Mathurins” had operated from France for centuries with the special mission of collecting and disbursing funds for the relief and ransom of prisoners of Mediterranean pirates.
Barbary pirates led attacks upon American merchant shipping in an attempt to extort ransom for the lives of captured sailors, and ultimately tribute from the United States to avoid further attacks, much like their standard operating procedure with the various European states. Before the Treaty of Paris, which formalized America’s independence from Great Britain, American shipping was protected by France during the Revolutionary years under the Treaty of Alliance (1778–83). Although the treaty does not mention the Barbary States in name, it refers to common enemies between both the U.S. and France, which would include the Barbary States or pirates in general. As such, piracy against American shipping only began to occur after the end of the American Revolution, when the U.S. government lost its protection under the Treaty of Alliance.
Our response for many years was to pay these jackals protection money (“tribute”). In 1785 – not long after the Treaty of Paris – John Adams and Thomas Jefferson met with Tripoli’s envoy in London to negotiate. They were naturally curious about why the pirates (apart from being brigands) would “make war upon nations who had done them no injury”. The envoy’s reply (contained in the report to John Jay) was most enlightening – and contemporary:
It was 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; and that every mussulman who was slain in this warfare was sure to go to paradise. He said, also, that the man who was the first to board a vessel had one slave over and above his share, and that when they sprang to the deck of an enemy’s ship, every sailor held a dagger in each hand and a third in his mouth; which usually struck such terror into the foe that they cried out for quarter at once.
So, what’s changed in 208 years?
When Jefferson became president in 1801, the Congress appropriated the money to build six modern frigates – the genesis of the U.S. Navy. Eventually, Jefferson sent squadrons to the Med to protect our shipping and have it out with the pirates. The rest is, of course, history. If you had a halfway decent education (doubtful in many public schools) you know the stories of the USS Constitution, Commodore Preble, Stephen Decatur and Lieutenant Eaton’s overland march to capture Dema with his marine force.
But rest assured, the “Islamic World” – driven by the same theology – hasn’t changed a bit.