Magazine article USA TODAY

Befuddled and Confused

Magazine article USA TODAY

Befuddled and Confused

Article excerpt

IN Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates: The Forgotten War that Changed American History, Brian Kilmeade and Don Yeager identify the challenge to the new nation and its president--the U.S. was a "collection of Muslim nations." The authors recognize the element of Islam in every connection--whether negotiation or battle. In a letter the book quotes from John Adams to Jefferson in February 1786, and other communications between the former and current president, the Tripoli ambassador to London, Sidi Haji Abdrahaman, is reported to have said that "'all nations which had not acknowledged the prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave.' Christian sailors were, plain and simple, fair game." Adams went on to say that, "In his culture, the takers of ships, the enslavers of men, the Barbarians who extorted bribes for safe passage were all justified by the teaching of the prophet Muhammad. It was 'written in our Quran,' he said simply,"' and "'every musselman [Muslim] who was slain in this warfare was sure to go to Paradise.'"

Throughout their portrayal of Jefferson's war against the four Muslim nations--Tripoli (today's Libya), Tunis (Tunisia), Algiers (Algeria), and Morocco, there arc echoes of what we hear today about the motivations and state of mind of terrorists who come to the fight with the expectations of blowing themselves up or being killed by police. It was true in Mumbai; with the famous shoe and underwear bombers; and in the recent attacks in Paris and in Bamako. In 225 years, the basic element of warfare between Islamic radicals and the West hardly has changed. The profound belief in Paradise and the legitimacy of suicide have given Muslims a distinct advantage. This advantage is not founded in radicalism, but in Islam. In fact, it has been an element of the fight for 900 years.

Thomas Friedman, three-time Pulitzer Prize winner and author of The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, summed up the problem of the Middle East in a September 2015 New York Times column: "Nothing has been more corrosive to the stability and modernization of the Arab world, and the Muslim world at large, than the billions and billions of dollars the Saudis have invested since the 1970s into wiping out the pluralism of Islam--the Sufi, moderate Sunni, and Shiite versions--and imposing in its place the puritanical, anti-modern, anti-women, anti-Western, anti-pluralistic Wahhabi Salafist brand of Islam promoted by the Saudi religious establishment." If we have an enemy in this fight, he implies, it is Saudi Arabia.

Author and commentator Glenn Beck--although from the other side of the political spectrum--wholeheartedly agrees. In It Is About Islam, he details the linkages between fundamentalist Islam--Saudi Wahhabism in particular--and the suicidal warriors who attacked the Twin Towers [15 of the 19 suicide bombers on 9/11 were from Saudi Arabia] and innocent civilians along the sides of Boulevard Voltaire in Paris. Beck, in fact, references Jefferson's attention to the expectations laid out in the Koran--a two-volume copy of which he purchased for his personal library--for fighters to make their way to Paradise by dying while waning against the infidels, who are anyone not adhering to the strict Wahhabi interpretation of the Koran or to any of its tenets. …

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