The current War on Terror isn’t the first time that America has battled Islamic fighters overseas. During the Jefferson administration, the United States went to war with the so-called “Barbary states” – Morocco, Tripoli, Tunis, and Algiers. It was the first declared war on foreign soil in U.S. history.  These four Muslim states controlled much of the Mediterranean, engaging in piracy on the high seas against ships from “infidel” countries. They would demand large tributes from a nation in exchange for “protection” from the caliphate as their ships passed through. If the nation refused, state-sponsored corsairs (think: pirates) would capture the ships and enslave the sailors. This was a problem long before Jefferson became president. In 1786, Jefferson and John Adams met with the Tripoli’s ambassador to Great Britain to demand to know by what right the Muslim states could attack another nation’s ships and enslave the sailors. The response is revealing. Jefferson recorded the ambassador’s response, in which he said that Islam “was founded on the Laws of their Prophet, that it was written in their Qur’an, 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) who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise.” In other words, the Muslim ambassador openly proclaimed that the Qu’ran teaches that Muslims have a duty to wage war against those who have not accepted the authority of Islam (by paying the tribute), enslave the infidels, and if they were killed in the process they would go to heaven. Sound familiar? Doubtless his experience with the extremist ideology of militant Islam while a diplomat strongly influenced Jefferson’s later decision as president in 1801 to go to war with the Barbary pirates when the Pasha of Tripoli asked for a new, massive sum as tribute. Jefferson refused, and war ensued. Jefferson saw that negotiations weren’t going to work with these radical ideologues who found a divine right in the capture and enslavement of those who don’t follow their religion. The only thing these people do respect is brute force. Jefferson had formerly been against raising a navy, but this soon changed as he was determined to meet force with force.  A squadron of vessels was sent to the area and Congress authorized Jefferson to have the US ships seize all vessels and goods that belonged to the Pasha and anything else deemed necessary. As they saw the US was actually committed to the fight, Algiers and Tunis quickly abandoned the war and allegiance to Tripoli. Obviously, the US won the war. In fact, this was the reason why the line “to the shores of Tripoli” was added to the Marine Corps hymn.
As Barack Obama continues to sympathize with Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood, quote with admiration clerics who demand the death of U.S. soldiers, and go out of his way to make sure Muslims’ feelings aren’t hurt when one of their own attacks innocent Americans, Jefferson’s blunt admission about Islam and later actions in taking the country to war should serve as a lesson for our dealings with Islamic radicals today.