For homework, I told students to research a 1786 conversation Thomas Jefferson and John Adams had in London with a representative of the Barbary Pirates named Ambassador Adja. Most students found it. Jefferson and Adams asked Adja why his government was so hostile to America which had done nothing to provoke them. His answer was reported by Thomas Jefferson and my students thusly:
that it was founded on the Laws of their Prophet [Mohammed], 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 jihadi] who should be slain in Battle was sure to go to Paradise.
Sound familiar? It matches statements we’re hearing from ISIS today. My intent was for students to find out for themselves that Islamic terrorism isn’t new. The United States has been dealing with it since our country was founded. War with ISIS is just the latest chapter of a 1400-year-old war of Islam against western civilization. And yes, I’m teaching American History again, as I reported in my column published September 2nd.
Evidently Adja didn’t mention the 72 black-eyed virgins with whom the slain Muslims believe they would be provided for their eternal pleasure in Paradise. When Jefferson became president in 1801, he stopped paying tribute to the Barbary Pirates and dispatched the Marines “to the shores of Tripoli” as the Marine anthem lyric goes. Marines are called “Leathernecks” because of the stiff leather collars they wore for protection against beheading by Arab scimitars. Under the command of Maine’s Commodore Preble the United States took the fight to the pirates. Southern Maine Community College in South Portland is on the site of the former Fort Preble, named for the Commodore.
Their homework assignment for this week is to find out what happened on September 11, 1683 in Vienna. They’re good students, and they’ll come back next week knowing that a Muslim army of 300,000 gave up its siege of that fortified western city and retreated in defeat. The late Christopher Hitchens was the first modern westerner to point out the significance of that September 11th date only three weeks after the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center. “[The siege of Vienna] can rightly, if tritely, be called a hinge-event in human history,” wrote Hitchens in The Guardian. “The Ottoman empire never recovered from the defeat; from then on it was more likely that Christian or western powers would dominate the Muslim world than the other way around.”
And so it was — especially after Ottoman defeat in World War I — western powers did indeed dominate, until oil was discovered under much of the Muslim world in huge quantities. The independent Muslim nation-states we know today became very, very wealthy. Money is power, and several have renewed Mohammed’s goal to take over the world and make it Muslim. Some, like Qatar and Saudi Arabia, try to do it covertly. Others, like Iran, do it openly.
Although Turkey’s Kamal Ataturk abolished the last caliphate -- which was based in Turkey -- in 1924 and separated church and state there. ISIS - the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria - has taken up the Muslim mantle of leadership and re-established it after the caliphate’s only known hiatus in its 1400-year war on the west. ISIS is obeying the Quran which instructs them in verse (8:12): “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.”
The renewed caliphate has beheaded three Americans so far this year. Our leaders, including Presidents Bush and Obama, keep insisting that Islam is a “Religion of Peace.” Trouble is, we’re not seeing much evidence to support their claims. When I go over this week’s homework with my students, I’ll ask them if they agree.