The stories we read in today's headlines of Islamic terrorism against innocent civilians and slavery under Islamic regimes are nothing new. Just as the current Islamic regime in Sudan enslaves it's southern Christians, and gives them the choice of "convert or die," the Islamic armies that overran the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe gave their captives the simple choice of conversion, death, or slavery. Two hundred years ago American sailors sailing the Mediterranean faced the same choice when their unprotected ships were captured by the Islamic "Barbary Pirates" of North Africa.
In The Jerusalem Quarterly (1987; Vol. 42, Pp. 84-85), the scholar Bat Ye'or described the impact Arab Muslim conquests had on indigenous Jews and Christians of the Middle East: "Muslim chroniclers described the ongoing jihad (holy war), involving the destruction of whole towns, the massacre of large numbers of their populations, the enslavement of women and children, and the confiscation of vast regions. This picture of catastrophe and destruction corresponds to the period of gradual erosion of Palestinian Jewry. According to [the Muslim chronicler] Baladhuri (d. 892 C.E.), 40,000 Jews lived in Caesarea alone at the Arab conquest, after which all trace of them is lost."
The four centuries from 640 and 1240 C.E., she further observes: ".. witnessed the total and definitive destruction of Judaism and Christianity in the Hijaz (modern Saudi Arabia), and the decline of once flourishing Christian and Jewish communities in Palestine (particularly in Galilee for the Jews), Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia, and Persia. In North Africa, the Christians had been virtually eliminated by 1240 C.E., and the Jews decimated by Almohad persecutions… notwithstanding some brighter intervals, these six centuries witnessed a dramatic demographic reversal whereby the Arab-Muslim minority developed into a dominant majority, resorting to oppression in order to reduce the indigenous populations to tolerated religious minorities."
After conquering the Middle East and North Africa, Muslim armies turned their attention in 711 AD to Europe, by crossing the Strait of Gibraltar and conquering Spain. A decade later, Abd-er Rahman, the governor of Spain, led an infantry force of 60,000 to 400,000 Islamic soldiers over the Western Pyrenees to France. At the Battle of Poitiers, south of Tours, on October 10, 732, Islamic expansion in the West was stopped by Charles Martel ("The Hammer"), and the Celtic army of the Franks, when Abd-er Rahman was killed.
In the East, the Seljuk Turks defeated the Byzantines at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, just five years after the invasion of England by the Norman William the Conquerer. At the Council of Clermont in 1095, Pope Urban II laid upon the French the Christian duty to recapture the Holy Land from the Turks, thus initiating the First Crusade. Slavery was declared to be illegal throughout Christianity by the Pope in 1098. At about the same time, Christian armies began a 400 year reconquest of Spain.
A century later, in 1187, Sultan Yusuf ibn Ayyub (Saladin), proclaimed a new Islamic Jihad against Christian Crusaders and recaptured Jerusalem. On July 4, 1187, Saladin (Salah al-Din) completely annihilated the 20,000-man Crusader army at the battle of the Horns of Hattin, driving the Christians from the Holy Land until the 20th century. In 1190 Richard Coeur De Lion ("heart of the lion") joined the Third Crusade, and conquered Cyprus the next year, while en route to Jerusalem. The Crusaders were unable to liberate the Holy Land, but were able to negotiate a truce with Saladin in 1192 which gave Christian pilgrims increased access.
By the early 13th century, most of Anatolia (present-day Turkey) had been conquered by Islamic forces, and in 1291 the Crusaders were completely expelled from Islamic territory. In 1301 the Ottoman Empire, which eventually reached from the Persian Gulf to Vienna, was born when Osman, a Turkish warrior chief, declared himself Sultan.
In the fourteenth century, Eastern Europe was invaded by the Islamic armies of Emir Murad I. They destroyed everything in their path, and forcibly converted or killed all that stood in their way. Of those who refused to convert to Islam, the women were first raped and then sold into slavery, along with their children. The men not killed on the battlefield were castrated and blinded to make them docile slaves. Many Christian cities, along with their inhabitants, were burned to the ground by the invaders. The Turks nailed some 12,000 Serbians to crosses in mockery of their Christian Faith.
The Islamic invasion of Eastern Europe seemed unstoppable until 1389, when they reached the Kosovo Plain, in Serbia. Under the Serbian Prince Lazar, some 77,000 Christian knights and soldiers made a vow to one another and to Christ to die rather than "convert or die" under Islam. Upon hearing of the death of the Prince, a group of knights, outnumbered two hundred to one, charged through the enemy lines to the center of the enemy camp and killed the Emir.
Though they were themselves decimated, the Serbs killed so many Islamic soldiers that the Islamic advance into Europe was halted. This battle is considered by many Christian historians to be the single greatest sacrifice of Christian martyrs killed in a single day. Serbia remained in Muslim hands until the 19th century.
In 1453, after many years of resistance, Constantinople was finally conquered by the Ottoman Empire. Forty years later, in 1492, Islamic forces were finally defeated in Spain by the Christians, with legendary leaders such as "El Cid". Four hundred years of warfare between Muslim and Christian might help explain the Spanish intolerance for religious "heresy" exemplified in the Spanish Inquisition, and their forceable conversion of natives in the New World.
Meanwhile, Islam contined to expand in the East when the Turks, under their leader Suleiman the Magnificent, marched across the Danube River to defeat the Hungarians at the Battle of Mohacs, in 1526. Within three years they were at the gates of Vienna.
In 1529, in his treatise "On War Against the Turk," Martin Luther exhorted the rulers of Europe to put aside their petty rivalries and unite against the threat posed by Islam. He said that self-defense against the Muslim "abomination," who he called "blasphemers against Christ," was a divinely ordained application of the sword.
"Doubtlessly they know better than I how cruelly the Turk treats those whom he takes captive. He treats them like cattle, dragging, towing, driving those that can move, and killing on the spot those that cannot move, whether they are young or old."
Luther's call for unity was answered by an alliance of German, Austrian and Polish forces, which ended the siege of Vienna in 1529, that same year. With the death of Suleiman in 1566, Ottoman expansion ended for a time, until 1683, when they began the second Seige of Vienna. After they had forced a breach in the city walls, they were only able to occupy parts of the city for several weeks before being expelled by an alliance of European forces. Peace was finally established with the Peace of Karlowitz, signed in 1699, which gave the Ottoman Empire Macedonia and the Balkans, and Austria the provinces of Hungary and Transylvania.
Throughout these centuries of conflict between Christian and Muslim, besides the perils of land travel, any Christian Crusader or pilgrim who sailed the Mediterranean to the Middle East risked capture and enslavement by Muslim pirates. Among those captured was St. Vincent de Paul and Miguel de Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote. Both of these famous men, and many lesser ones, were ransomed over the course of centuries by the Roman Catholic Religious Order of Trinitarians.
Pope Innocent III, the founder of city hospitals, established the Order in 1198 as the Ordo de Redemptione Captivorum (Order for the Redemption of Captives). It's members were more generally known as Trinitarians, but they were sometimes called Mathurins, from the name of their first church in Paris. The Order was organized to collect and distrbute funds for the relief and ransom of Christian captives, and originally devoted one third of their income for this purpose. In 1200 the first ransomed captives arrived from Morocco. The Order spread throughout Southern France, Spain, Italy, England, Saxony, and Hungary, and they eventually became the accredited agents for the ransoming of prisoners.
The Western movement for the abolition of slavery is believed to have grown out of this tradition of Christian charity and ransoming of slaves.
"The Knights Hospitaller, also known as the Knights of St. John, began their occupation of Rhodes in 1309. They began a new identity as the "Knights of Rhodes" and began to engage the Barbary Pirates in naval warfare, as part of their greater war on the Ottoman Empire.
"To protect Rome from Islamic invasion, in 1530 Charles V deeded the island stronghold of Malta to the knights. The newly christened "Knights of Malta" widened their war against the pirates and their Ottoman masters to include the entire Mediterranean. From the 16th century until 1798, Malta served as a bastion defending Europe against the corsairs and pirates of Algeria and Barbary..." First Barbary War
By the time of the "Age of Discovery" in the sixteenth century, Hapsburg Spain and the Ottoman Turks were coming into conflict over who would control the Mediterranean. The lure of power, money, and slaves brought many adventurers from around the Mediterranean to the North African coastal towns. One of them, Khair ad Din, known as Barbarossa ("Red Beard"), seized Algiers in 1510, with the stated purpose of protecting it from the Spaniards. He was subsequently appointed regent over the territory, after recognizing the sovereignty of the Ottoman Sultan over the African coast.
The Barbary Coast of Northern Africa consisted of the four states of Algiers, Morocco, Tripoli, and Tunis. The "Barbary Pirates" had for centuries captured vessels sailing the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. They occasionally raided coastal villages to capture Christian slaves, such as a village in southern Ireland, which was said to have been entirely captured by Muslim raiders.
Earning their living by blackmail, tribute, piracy and slavery, the Barbary Pirates received yearly sums of money, ships, and arms from foreign powers. Those who payed their tribute were allowed to sail unmolested along the Barbary Coast, and trade in the African ports. Those who did not had their ships seized and their crews held for ransom or sold into slavery. In 1662, England agreed to pay an annual tribute, in return for free passage along the Barbary Coast.
Religion was a factor, just as it is now. The Barbary Pirates were Muslims. Those they preyed upon were exclusively Christians, and if not released through the payment of tribute, faced slavery or worse. Those few who converted to Islam escaped slavery, and were treated as equals. If any Christian dared to blaspheme Allah, he risked being impaled or roasted alive. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, serving at the time as European Ministers, asked the ambassador from Tripoli why his government sanctioned such savagery. He replied that the Koran stated that non-Muslims were "sinners," and Muslims had a "...right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as Prisoners."
"Contemporary scholars estimate that over 1 million white Christians from France and Italy to Spain, Holland, Great Britain, the Americas, and even Iceland were captured between 1500 and 1800. The bloodcurdling tales of brutality and horror that awaited Christians unlucky enough to fall victim to the Barbary Pirates were widely known, although sometimes wildly exaggerated." Victory in Tripoli: Lessons for the War on Terrorism by Joshua E. London
By the 18th Century, the fearsome reputation of the Barbary Pirates, and self-interest, had led most of the European powers to routinely pay the tribute demanded. The Europeans, who had strong navies, found it easier to pay tribute to the Barbary states than to try to suppress it, since it achieved the strategy of reserving the Mediterranean to those who were wealthy. During the Colonial period, the American colonies, under the protection of Great Britain, developed a prosperous trade throughout the Mediterranean.
For the duration of the War of Independence, American ships sailed under the protection of the 1778 alliance with France, which directed French vessels to protect "American vessels and effects against all violence, insults, attacks, or depredations, on the part of the said Princes and States of Barbary or their subjects." At the conclusion of the war in 1783, American shipping was once more left defenseless, so in 1784 Congress appropriated $80,000 in tribute money to the Barbary states, and directed Jefferson and Adams to begin negotiations.
The first American ship to be captured was the brig Betsey, captured in the Atlantic by Moroccans in 1784. America was a new nation, and the Moroccans had never before seen an American flag. Any Christian ship was assumed to be fair game, however, as it was taken for granted that they were at war with every Christian nation, unless a peace treaty had been signed.
Morocco, however, out of all the Barbary States, had a stable dynasty, with control over the interior, a regular food supply, and extensive Saharan trade routes. As a trading nation, the Emperor of Morocco was willing to negotiate a treaty, and one was signed, freeing the Betsy and her crew after six months of imprisonment. Morocco became the first neutral nation to recognize the United States.
Two ships, the Maria of Boston and the Dauphine of Philadelphia, were captured by Algiers in 1785, and their crews of 21 men enslaved. A ransom of almost $60,000 was demanded by the dey of Algiers, but it would be ten years before the surviving eleven were released.
The nation's first Secretary State, Thomas Jefferson, told Congress it must choose "...between war, tribute and ransom." He believed war was the only reasonable choice, and advocated the creation of a navy. Tribute paid to the pirates was "money thrown away," and the only thing they truely understood was gunpowder and shot. Just as Luther 250 years earlier, Jefferson called for a united military alliance among the European powers, along with America, to blockade North Africa and provide for a military solution against the pirates. Europe chose to continue paying tribute.
"Would to Heaven we had a navy to reform those enemies to mankind, or crush them into non-existence," said George Washington in 1786. Said one American envoy, "There is but one language which can be held to these people, and this is terror."
By 1794, Algiers had captured 11 American vessels and taken over 100 prisoners. In 1795 Congress agreed to their ranson by authorizing a payment of cash, munitions, a 36-gun frigate, and an annual tribute of $21,600 worth of naval supplies. In 1799, agreements were negotiated with Morocco, Algiers, and Tunis. Tripoli agreed not to attack American shipping, in return for an annual tribute of $18,000.
The Barbary Pirates, though discriminating against Christians, were businessmen, much like the Mafia. It was reported that ransom rates were set at a fixed price: $4,000 for a passenger, $1,400 for a cabin boy. In the coastal towns of Salem, Newport, and Boston, the names of those who were captured by the Barbary Pirates were read aloud each Sunday in the churches, just as those who were lost at sea. Most of the ransom had to be raised privately, as Congress was unable or unwilling to pay the full asking price.
By 1800 a new slogan was beginning to appear across the new country, "Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute."
"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.)" The Colonial War Against Islam
Finally in 1801, with Jefferson as the new President, the country had enough. Three months after Jefferson's inauguation, after refusing to pay Tripoli's demand for immediate payment of $225,000 and an annual payment of $25,000, the Bashaw of Tripoli cut down the flagstaff at the U.S. consulate and declared war. Jefferson ordered the frigates President, Essex, and Philadelphia and the sloop Enterprise, under Commodore Richard Dale, to patrol the North African coast and to bombard Tripoli.
In September, 1803 Captain Edward Preble was given command of the American fleet. He soon convinced the Sultan of Morocco to stop preying on American shipping by sailing the Constitution into the harbor of Tangiers, and pointing the cannon at the Sultan's palace.
On October 31, William Bainbridge, captain of the Philadelphia, attempted to blockade Tripoli, but ran aground on a sandbar two miles offshore in the Bay of Tripoli, while pursuing a Muslim corsair. The crew worked for hours trying to get free of the sandbar, but were unseccessful. Finally, surrounded by smaller craft, and unable to fire effectively because of the tilt of the craft, Bainbridge threw his cannon overboard and surrendered to prevent his crew being slaughtered. The crew of 309 were enslaved and forced to work on the fortifications of Tripoli.
Captain Preble attempted to ranson the crew of the Philadelphia with an offer of $50,000, and then $100,000, but was refused. There was little he could do. The harbor fortress of Derna (Tripoli) was manned by approximately 25,000 soldiers, with 115 cannon. There were 24 Muslim warships guarding the harbor, besides the Philadelphia, which the Muslims had refloated and were rigging for their own use. Preble had 1,060 men under his command, aboard seven ships, of which only the Constitution had heavy guns.
In December, the Captain of the sloop Enterprise, Lt. Stephen Decatur, captured an enemy ketch, a small four-gun vessel which could be rowed. On the night of February 15, 1804, with 74 volunteers disguised as North Africans, he used this captured vessle to slip into Tripoli harbor. Coming alongside the Philadelphia in the dark, and using grappling hooks to draw the ships together, his men used tomahawks to kill twenty Muslim guards, and chased the rest overboard. They then set the ship on fire, and escaped from the harbor unscathed, under bombardment from the harbor fortress.
For this successful operation, Lt. Stephen Decatur, then just 25 years of age, was given promotion to the rank of Captain, the youngest man in U.S. Navel history to be so honored.
On August 3 that same year, Captain Preble and his squadron began a bombardment of Tripoli harbor. In engagements with the enemy, American sailors participated in fierce hand-to-hand fighting, capturing three Barbary gunboats and sinking one. In one engagement, outnumbered three to one, they killed twenty-one pirates and took 15 prisoners. Their commander, Lt. John Trippe, killed the Turkish captain with a pike, after suffering eleven wounds.
The only American casualty during these actions was Captain Decatur's younger brother, James, who was murdered by the captain of a pirate ship, after it had feigned surrender. Decatur challenged the Muslim murderer to a duel, and killed him in what was described as savage hand-to-hand combat.
Over time, Captain Preble and his sqadron returned five times to bombard Tripoli, but because of a lack of manpower, could not make a landing and seize the fortress. His successor, Captain Samuel Barron, commanded the largest fleet to sail under the American flag up to that time: six frigates, seven brigs, and ten gunboats.
William Eaton, an ex-Army officer appointed consul to Tunis in 1798, along with special diplomat James L. Cathcart tried to work out a settlement. They believed that to effect a peace with Tripoli, they needed to reinstate the exiled Hamet Karamanli to the throne. This ruler had been overthrown and exiled by his brother Yusuf. Eaton returned to the states to present their plans to Congress. In 1804, with $20,000 in cash, the brig Argus, and a force of nine men, he returned to the Mediterranean with the new title "Navy Agent to the Barbary States" and permission to carry out his plans.
In 1805, in Alexandria Egypt, he recruited an army of 300 Arab mercenaries, three dozen Greeks, and ten Americans, including eight United States Marines, command by 1st Lt. Presley O'Bannon. On March 8, 1805, they left Alexandria and headed West, marching overland through 500 miles of desert, supported by the Argus offshore. On April 27 they stood before the walls of the fortress of Derna (Tripoli), and Eaton ordered the attack. The U.S.marines and Greek mercenaries charged the walls and managed to take the town, which was the first city in the Old World to be captured by Americans.
Eaton was wounded by a musket ball through the wrist, and two marines and twelve Greeks were causualties. Lieutenant O'Bannon was cited for bravery in the battle for Derna, and presented the "Mameluke" sword, still carried by Marines officers today. This battle is further remembered by the line in the Marine Corp Hymn "From the Halls of Montezuma, To the Shores of Tripoli."
Though Eaton had won the battle and the city, or perhaps because of it, a settlement was negotiated with Yusuf, the ruler of Tripoli, which released all Christian prisoners and ended the practice of seizing ships and taking slaves. The other Barbary coastal cities were not subdued, however. Algiers captured three ships in 1807, and received a ranson of $18,000 for the release of the crews.
For the three years of the War of 1812 (1812-1814) English warships were dominant on the High Seas and the Mediterranean. With the American Navy no longer a threat, the Dey of Algiers announced his new "...policy to increase the number of my American slaves." In August of 1812 Algiers captured the brig Edwin and enslaved its crew, who suffered for three years until the war's end.
Finally, on March 2, 1815, Congress approved action against Algiers, and Commodore Decatur and Commodore Bainbridge were each given command of a naval squadron. Decatur captured the Dey's flagship, along with 486 prisoners, and sent an ultimatum: "Free every slave at once, pay an indemnity of $10,000 to the survivors of the brig Edwin, and cease all demands for tribute forever."
After the conclusion of the Napoleonic wars, which ended in 1815, inspired by America's example, Great Britian and Holland ended their policies of appeasement by bombarding Algier's fleet and fortresses. Franch began it's long colonial relationship with North Africa by conquering Algiers and making Tunis and Morocco protectorates. Italy overthrew the Bashaw of Tripoli and formed the new state of Libya. It was 19th century colonialism that finally put an end to centuries of North African piracy, just as it was the Western nations that finally ended the Slave Trade.
Unfortunately the slave trade, taking of captives for ranson, and terrorism lives on Islamic societies.