Wednesday, January 10, 2007

What Jefferson really thought about Islam

Recently, Muslim and newly elected Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) was sworn into office using a Koran (or Qu'ran, whatever your preference may be). While many on the right were infuriated, I was not. If he's not a Christian, he should not swear on a Bible. His oath of office is not dependent on whatever book his hand touches.

Anyway, Ellison and lefties everywhere attempted to diffuse the situation by pointing out that it was Thomas Jefferson's copy of the Koran, so as to innoculate him from criticism and to bestow legitimacy upon Ellison that he felt he needed. Well, Christopher Hitches points out that ol' Tommy J. didn't exactly keep the Koran out of reverence for it. Via LGF:
But Christopher Hitchens points out that we still have not heard an unambivalent repudiation from Ellison of his long association with the Nation of Islam hate cult—and the ultimate irony of the Koran stunt is at Ellison’s expense: What Jefferson really thought about Islam.
In 1786, the new United States found that it was having to deal very directly with the tenets of the Muslim religion. The Barbary states of North Africa (or, if you prefer, the North African provinces of the Ottoman Empire, plus Morocco) were using the ports of today’s Algeria, Libya, and Tunisia to wage a war of piracy and enslavement against all shipping that passed through the Strait of Gibraltar. Thousands of vessels were taken, and more than a million Europeans and Americans sold into slavery.

The fledgling United States of America was in an especially difficult position, having forfeited the protection of the British Royal Navy. Under this pressure, Congress gave assent to the Treaty of Tripoli, negotiated by Jefferson’s friend Joel Barlow, which stated roundly that “the government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion, as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen.”

This has often been taken as a secular affirmation, which it probably was, but the difficulty for secularists is that it also attempted to buy off the Muslim pirates by the payment of tribute. That this might not be so easy was discovered by Jefferson and John Adams when they went to call on Tripoli’s envoy to London, Ambassador Sidi Haji Abdrahaman. They asked him by what right he extorted money and took slaves in this way. As Jefferson later reported to Secretary of State John Jay, and to the Congress:

The ambassador answered us that [the right] was founded on the Laws of the Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have answered 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 Mussulman who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise.
Medieval as it is, this has a modern ring to it. Abdrahaman did not fail to add that a commission paid directly to Tripoli—and another paid to himself—would secure some temporary lenience. I believe on the evidence that it was at this moment that Jefferson decided to make war on the Muslim states of North Africa as soon as the opportunity presented itself. And, even if I am wrong, we can be sure that the dispatch of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps to the Barbary shore was the first and most important act of his presidency. It took several years of bombardment before the practice of kidnap and piracy and slavery was put down, but put down it was, Quranic justification or not.
To the left, as long as Ellison gets to "stick it" to those Christian folks, then who cares if his rationale for using Jefferson's Bible has as many holes as Saddam's dead b#stard sons?