Mar. 27, 2019
Exactly 233 years ago this week, two of America’s founding fathers documented their first exposure to Islamic jihad in a letter to Congress; like many Americans today, they too were shocked at what they learned.
Context: in 1785, Muslim pirates from North Africa, or “Barbary,” had captured two American ships, the Maria and Dauphin, and enslaved their crews. In an effort to ransom the enslaved Americans and establish peaceful relations, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams — then ambassadors to France and England respectively — met with Tripoli’s ambassador to Britain, Abdul Rahman Adja. Following this diplomatic exchange, they laid out the source of the Barbary States’ hitherto inexplicable animosity to American vessels in a letter to Congress dated March 28, 1786:
We took the liberty to make some inquiries concerning the grounds of their [Barbary’s] pretentions to make war upon nations who had done them no injury, and observed that we considered all mankind as our friends who had done us no wrong, nor had given us any provocation. The ambassador answered us that it was founded on the laws of their Prophet, 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 who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise
One need not conjecture what the American ambassadors — who years earlier had asserted that all men were “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights” — thought of their Muslim counterpart’s answer. Suffice to say, because the ransom demanded was over fifteen times greater than what Congress had approved, little came of the meeting.