Last Sunday was a great day as we celebrated the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ. On that day we also received news that Navy SEALs rescued Capt. Richard Phillips of the USS Maersk Alabama from Somali pirates.
Piracy and enslavement of others on the Mediterranean off the coasts of Africa is nothing new. For centuries Muslims have seized ships and raided coastal villages, taking captives and holding them for ransom or selling them as slaves in foreign ports.
In the late 1700s, as America was beginning its commerce with world powers, she reluctantly followed European powers that paid annual tribute to Muslim rulers to ensure the safety and protection of their ships and crews. In 1786, when the Muslim rulers demanded more than Congress could budget for tribute, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams traveled to London to negotiate with the ambassador from Tripoli, Sidi Haje Abdrahaman. When asked by what right Tripoli could claim tribute from nations that had done no injury to his country, Abdrahaman’s answer revealed much about Muslim attitudes and policies toward the West. Jefferson and Adams reported that Abdrahhaman said:
“It was written in their Quran that all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet (Muhammad) were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful (Muslims) to plunder and enslave; and that every Muslim who was slain in this warfare was sure to go to paradise.”
In May 1801, after Jefferson became president, he refused to pay tribute, and the Pasha (ruler) of Tripoli declared war on the United States. Tripoli was soon joined by Algiers and Tunis. Our fledgling navy was ordered to seize all vessels and goods of Tripoli “and also to cause to be done all such other acts of precaution or hostility as the state of war will justify.” From 1801-1805 the American navy blockaded the Barbary Coast, and American mariners eventually captured Tripoli, an act memorialized in the Marine Hymn’s reference to “the shores of Tripoli.” After a treaty and short period of peaceful relations, war was again declared by the Dey (ruler) of Algiers for American failure to pay tribute. This time a new American president, James Madison, responded with an even greater show of force by sending 10 ships under the command of Commodore Stephen Decatur Jr. and Commodore William Bainbridge who forced the Algerian ruler to submit to another treaty that guaranteed no future demands for tribute money. (A thorough discussion of the Treaty of Tripoli written by professor and historian Col. John Eidsmoe can be found at www.morallaw.org.)
America has, over the centuries, learned that respect for our country is garnered by firmness and resolve, not by tribute or obeisance (submission). Today our new president seems to pursue a new course.
On April 1, 2009, Barack Obama greeted King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia with a full bow, incorrect protocol for any president of the United States and something no other head of state present performed. The White House disingenuously explained that Obama did not really bow to the king but merely bent slightly because King Abdullah was shorter. Pictures can speak a thousand words. Americans may not understand the significance of such a gesture, but those in the Muslim world know exactly what it means.
President Obama’s bow to Saudi king
Obama speaks briefly with Saudi king after bowing
A few days later Obama told the Turkish Parliament, “We will convey our deep appreciation for the Islamic faith, which has done so much over the centuries to shape the world – including in my own country.” He continued by stating that we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation, or a Jewish nation, or a Muslim nation, but rather, “a nation of citizens who are, uh, bound by a set of values.” In a thinly disguised slap at his predecessors, Obama declared that his policy will begin “by listening, because all too often the United States starts by dictating,” and he assured them that the “United States is not, and never will be, at war with Islam.”
I don’t favor a war with Islam. But Americans certainly don’t embrace its philosophy or agree that anyone who does not acknowledge Muhammad is a sinner. Nor has our country been shaped by Islam, but rather the Christian faith. This is a present truth and an historical fact as shown most clearly by the United States Supreme Court’s recognition that “This is a Christian nation” in Church of the Holy Trinity (1892).
It is one thing for Obama to give his own personal view, but it is quite another for him to distort history, logic and common sense – especially when speaking as a representative of the United States to a foreign parliament. Bowing to a Muslim ruler, apologizing for America’s past policies and kowtowing to any foreign power is a mistake. Obama can pretend that America has been a “bad guy” and that the world will suddenly love our country because its president shares their low view of America, but while that may work in a one-on-one personal relationship, it is a fanciful basis for foreign policy. Perhaps our best policy should be, to paraphrase Theodore Roosevelt, “Walk softly and carry a big stick.”
A world superpower is never going to be popular, but we can demand respect. And we should never forget our Christian heritage. Yes, last Sunday was a good time to celebrate and remember the Lord who “will give strength unto his people” and “will bless his people with peace” (Psalms 29:11).
America must never bow to any foreign power or ruler; we bow only to the one true God: “That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow … And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).