While Muslim terrorists kidnapped and killed innocent people around the world as they do today, Thomas Jefferson knew exactly how to end radical Islam’s bloodshed – with a classic American take-no-prisoners smackdown.
President Jefferson refused to play games when given the choice of appeasement or confrontation in the face of terror.
Historian David Barton told WND Jefferson led America’s first war against radical Islam. And the author of the newly released expanded edition of the bestselling book, “The Jefferson Lies” sees many parallels between the young republic’s struggle against the Barbary Pirates and the West’s current war against Muslim terrorists.
“The one thing Thomas Jefferson showed throughout his life is that he was diligent about and intolerant of violations of individual rights,” Barton said. “Jefferson was very clear that our people and property were entitled to protection wherever they go. And he was just as diligent to protect American rights in Europe and on the high seas as he was within America.”
During the period of the American Revolution and the early republic, American merchants and sailors were under constant threat from North African pirates from the Muslim powers known as the Barbary States. More than one million Europeans were captured and enslaved by Muslim raiders between the 16th and 18th centuries. One village in Ireland, Baltimore, was famously sacked and entirely depopulated by slavers.
Jefferson was well acquainted with this history. In Jefferson’s initial draft of the Declaration of Independence, he criticized the “Christian king of Great Britain” for engaging in slavery, which he termed “this piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers.” As the late Christopher Hitchens observed, “The allusion to Barbary practice seem[s] inescapable.”
But Jefferson also had firsthand experience with the motivations of Islamic slavers. While in London, Jefferson and John Adams spoke to the ambassador from Tripoli, Abd Al-Rahman, and questioned him on why the Barbary pirates thought they should war upon a nation that had never done them any harm.
The Muslim ambassador’s response was, “It was … written in their Quran, that all nations who should not have acknowledged Islam’s authority were sinners, that it was their … duty to make war upon them … and to make slaves of all they could take as prisoners.”
Barton argues it was this shocking response that drove both Adams and Jefferson to seek out their own copies of the Islamic holy book.
“They both individually wanted to know,” Barton said. “They were not placated by platitudes from one side or the other. They wanted to see for themselves. For them, it was a self-evident fact that when you read the Quran, you’ll see why they behave the way they do.”
However, Adams and Jefferson had a fundamental disagreement about how to respond to this problem of Islamic terrorism.
“John Adams, as president, refused to use the navy to fight the pirates because he knew if we got involved in a conflict with radical Islam, it would be on going for years,” Barton said. “He thought the American people had no stomach for it.”
In contrast, Barton said Jefferson’s long experience of dealing with the Barbary pirates as secretary of state under George Washington and as vice president under Adams led him to a different approach.
“Jefferson’s attitude is that he would put an end to this kind of terrorism because had seen the country dealing with it for many years,” Barton explained. “He had seen Americans dealing with it for 15 years.”
While Adams thought America simply could not afford a war, Jefferson demanded the United States cease paying the tribute demanded by the Barbary States.
When Jefferson became president in 1801, the ruler of Tripoli demanded tribute, which Jefferson refused. The result was the First Barbary War.
American forces suffered a setback when the U.S.S. Philadelphia ran aground and the crew was captured. However, Stephen Decatur became an American hero when he led an effort to burn the ship so the Mussulmen, as they were then called, couldn’t use it.
Eventually, American forces were able to capture territory in the area and force a peace treaty, which freed the captured crew. The victories of these early American armed forces are immortalized by a stanza of the “Marines’ Hymn” which refers to the “shores of Tripoli.”
However, as Barton noted, this conflict did not end the threat to the United States. Within only a few years of the treaty ending the war, the Barbary pirates were once again raiding American ships. It would ultimately fall to a different American president, Jefferson fellow Virginian James Madison, to preside over a Second Barbary War that would ultimately end the American payments to the Islamic corsairs of North Africa.
Barton said Adams was right about the expense and time required to confront Islamic piracy. However, ultimately the problem was stopped when the United States was able to inflict a high enough cost to force aggressive Muslims to back down. If the United States had followed the European practice of simply paying off the Islamic attackers, the problem could have continued indefinitely.
Today, Barton sees a similar pattern at work, especially when it comes to the aggressive behavior of Muslim migrants in Europe. Barton points to the mass sexual assault of German women by Muslim men in the shadow of the Cologne Cathedral as part of a Muslim penchant for desecration.
“I’ve been to Israel a number of times, and one thing I’ve noticed is that every time there is a biblical site, the Muslims have to mark it in some way,” Barton said. “Whether it is to put a mosque there or desecrate it in some way, it has been their nature to act like a dog marking territory. They’ve done it with Buddhist symbols. They’ve done it with Hindu symbols, and they are particularly eager to do it with Christian or Jewish symbols. On the holiest of holies, they’ve built a mosque. This is just part of the desecration of what they do.”
Barton argues this aggressive behavior needs to be confronted.
“They take places that are holy to everyone else and work very hard to create outrage and desecration on those sites,” he said. “The thinking that says that is a good thing to do is something that should never be welcomed in the world, for any religion.”
Barton said contemporary Europeans could learn a lesson from Thomas Jefferson. He equates current Western appeasement with efforts by Europeans of the 18th century to pay off the Barbary pirates instead of confronting them.
“The willingness to bend over backward and placate the enemy in the hopes they will bring peace is exactly what drove Europe in dealing with the Barbary pirates,” charged Barton.
Barton said efforts by German authorities to conceal crimes committed by Muslims is appeasement. He also believes there are similar efforts throughout Europe as well as the growth of “no-go zones,” where Islamic radicals hold sway.
“Across Europe, you find the desire to placate rather than confront,” Barton stated. “You find the desire to limit our own rights rather than secure our rights. And this is exactly what was happening in Europe 200 years ago. This is just the modern version, the round two, of what we saw in Jefferson’s first ‘War on Terrorism.'”
Barton believes there are potential political and military leaders ready to take up Jefferson’s challenge of confronting terrorism rather than placating it. He also thinks the United States has the capability to destroy Islamic radicalism.
Barton observed: “The willingness to use force and inflict casualties is the kind of attitude it will take to answer this challenge because historically, that’s the kind of attitude that will make the Muslims say, ‘The price for us is too high to pay. We’ll back off and leave you guys alone.’ Unfortunately, even if we do that, Muslims may not necessarily leave the others guys alone.”
However, as in Jefferson’s day, the real question is whether the United States has the moral and economic strength to confront Islamic radicalism. As John Adams argued so many years ago, it’s an open question whether the United States has the stomach for a long conflict.
Barton said in its essence, the problem is the same as that which faced Jefferson.
“It’s a question of will,” he said.