The analogies started within twenty-four hours. Given one minute to address his colleagues on 12 September 2001, Representative Nick Smith of Michigan invoked the Barbary pirates. Then, just as Congress had done during the era of Thomas Jefferson, he proclaimed, “We must declare war on these new terrorists.”1 In the weeks that followed, radio, television, newspaper, and Internet commentators all seized on the apparent historical parallel between the Republic’s first foreign conflict, which occurred from 1801 to 1805 with the polity that became modern Libya, and the battle against Al Qa’ida that now lay before the United States.2
To media analysts of various political stripes, the nineteenth-century experience combating sea bandits harbored by the Ottoman regencies of Tripoli, Tunis, and Algiers and the independent kingdom of Morocco provided a valuable object lesson for fighting Islamic militants in the new millennium, offering a strategic tutorial on the failure of appeasement and showcasing an elemental and enduring clash of civilizations.3 Ironically, most modern observers credited the French—soon to be shunned for their refusal to join “coalition forces” in Iraq—for striking out alone and obliterating the North African criminals through invasion. Conservative pundit Paul Johnson was notably prescriptive. “It was France that took the logical next step, in 1830, not only of storming Algiers but of conquering the entire country,” he wrote in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece titled “21st-Century Piracy.” His piece was subtitled “The Answer to Terrorism? Colonialism.”4
In fact, by the time France’s army disembarked on Algerian soil, the mutual practice of Mediterranean abduction had already ended. For three hundred years before, however, just as French privateers had hunted Muslim quarry, North African corsairs of mixed background had preyed on French ships and shores, stealing away tens of thousands
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Publication information: Book title: Captives and Corsairs: France and Slavery in the Early Modern Mediterranean. Contributors: Gillian Weiss - Author. Publisher: Stanford University Press. Place of publication: Stanford, CA. Publication year: 2011. Page number: 1.
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