Islam Under Scrutiny by Ex-Muslims

Britain’s Ignorant & Dangerous Policy toward Somalian Pirates: Don’t Do a Medina!

Somalian Islamic pirates have, in recent years, steadily increased their attacks on merchant-ships in the busy Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean, which has reached critical level in recent months, making the smooth operation of international trades difficult.

Although American cargo-ships spared until recently, the pirates, increasingly emboldened as they have become, dared raiding an American cargo-ship, capturing its captain, Richard Phillips, on Wednesday (April 8, 2009). He was, however, freed on Sunday in a dramatic rescue operation by the U.S. navy, in which three pirates, holding him hostage at gun-point, were shot dead in precision-targeting. While this news has roused relief and joy in the U.S., the pirates have vowed revenge, declaring: “In the Future, America Will Be the One Mourning”. Indeed, they have already made good of their promise by capturing six more ships over the next two days and also unsuccessfully trying to capture an American ship.

A similar rescue bid of a captured yacht by French navy commandos, however, turned fatal as one hostage, the owner, also died alongside two pirates.

Meanwhile, the U.K. Foreign Office, according to Times, has instructed the Royal Navy “not to detain pirates because doing so may breach their human rights.” The U.K. government fears that “pirates sent back to Somalia could have their human rights breached because, under Islamic law, they face beheading for murder or having a hand chopped off for theft.” It also pointed out that “the captured pirates could claim asylum in Britain.”

Firstly, it is utterly ignorant for the U.K. Foreign Office to say that that the captured pirates, under Islamic law, face beheading or amputation for engaging in piracy.

In fact, piracy is not at all a punishable, instead a divinely sanctioned, profession for earning livelihood in Islam. Prophet Muhammad himself—after becoming powerful and secure upon relocating to Medina from Mecca in 622—responding to Allah’s commands for Jihad, started raiding trade-caravans and taking hostages for extracting ransom. In December 623, Muhammad’s brigands made the first successful raid of a Meccan caravan at Nakhla, killing an attendant, taking two captive, and acquiring the caravan as “sacred” booty. The captives were ransomed to generate further revenue. Later on, Muhammad expanded this mode of Jihad to raiding non-Muslim communities around Arabia—for capturing their homes, properties and livestock, capturing their women and children as slaves often for ransoming and selling, and imposing extortional taxes—which sometimes involved mass-slaughter of the attacked victims.

This ideal model of Jihad, including the Prophet’s attack of trade-caravans and taking hostages—ideally, in Islamic doctrines, to be emulated by Muslims at all time—continued throughout the ages of Islamic domination until Western powers put an end to it in the 19th century. And the British, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italians and even American merchant-ships suffered horrible depredations between 1530s and 1820s by Islamic pirates in Barbary North Africa. Thousands of trade-ships were captured and plundered, and their crews—up to 1.5 million in all (including those taken from European coastal villages and islands)—were taken captives and sold as highly-priced white slaves. These captives, who generally suffered harrowing treatment and brutalities, were sometimes released by European governments by paying exorbitant ransoms, detail in my book, Islamic Jihad: A Legacy of Forced Conversion, Imperialism and Slavery).

These attacks were never considered unlawful in Islam. Instead, they were carried out on the ground of their Jihadi right, and were patronized by Islamic regimes of Tripoli, Algiers and Morocco. These attacks were also fully supported, and generally led, by Islamic clerics or Sufi masters. In explaining the Islamic pirates’ right to raid foreign ships and to enslave their crews, Tripoli’s ambassador to London, Abd al-Rahman, told Thomas Jefferson and John Adams in 1785 that,

“…it was written in the Quran that all Nations who should not have acknowledged their (Islamic) authority were sinners; that it was their right and duty to make war upon whoever they could find 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.”

Most importantly, all Schools of Islamic law are unanimous to Muslims’ divine right to aggressive attack of non-Muslim territories or establishments to kill the men, confiscate all the assets and properties as sacred booty and subject the women and children into slavery, including sex-slavery. The Quran explicitly sanctions these acts [Quran 33:26-27 etc.] and Prophet Muhammad himself had engaged in them. Islamic armies from Arabia traveled thousands of miles across the continents to attack foreign lands in order to fulfill their divine right with full support and inspiration of Islamic authorities. When this is lawful, attacking foreign caravans or merchant-ships, passing through/by Muslim territories, obviously become even more lawful.

It is, therefore, utterly ignorant—nay a perversion of Islamic law—to say that the Jihadi pirates of Somalia face punishment at all, let alone beheading or amputation, under Islamic law for doing a divinely sanctioned duty. Instead, saying so amount to blasphemy: for, such statement spells an indictment of Prophet Muhammad’s actions, Quranic commands, and sacred Islamic laws.

Secondly, it is dangerous to advise the Royal Navy not to capture the pirates for whatsoever human rights concern and to egg the pirates on by offering possibilities of asylum in the U.K. The fact is that the payment of ransom regularly by various governments in recent years has obviously emboldening these illegal marauders, rendering operation of trade through this important sea-route increasing impossible. Moreover, hostage taking for ransom by Jihadi groups is also increasing around the world. The latest British policy will only embolden pirates and aggravate the situation.

A review of the U.S. experience of dealing with piracy in North Africa between 1780s and 1810s may be instructive as to how British policy may encourage the piracy in Somalia as well as how the crisis might be solved.

U.S. ships started falling victim to Barbary corsair depredations in the 1640s. Until 1776, American victims were negotiated by the British. After the independence, America had to negotiate the problem by itself.

After meeting with the Tripolian ambassador (cited above), shocked and enraged Thomas Jefferson, sought to put an end to this barbaric practice through military actions. As early as in 1784, he had told Congressman James Monroe (later U.S. President, 1817–25): “Would it not be better to offer then an equal treaty? If they refuse, why not go to war with them… We ought to begin a naval power if we mean to carry on our own commerce.

He unsuccessfully tried to build a coalition of Euro-American naval powers for military actions against Barbary States. But most politicians at home, even John Adams, opposed his idea. Adams, worried of losing a military confrontation with a doggedly warrior people, wrote in response to Jefferson’s “bold and wholly honorable” proposal that “We ought not to fight them at all unless we determine to fight them forever.

Through the subsequent period, including John Adams’ presidency (17947–1801), America continued paying humiliating tribute to North African Islamic regimes, which gradually reached as high as 10 percent of the national budget.

When Jefferson became the President in 1801, the Pasha of Tripoli, Yusuf Qaramanli, citing late payment of tribute, declared war on the United States, seized two American brigs and demanded additional tributes. This followed demands for larger tributes from other Barbary States.

Jefferson—always against the humiliating exercise of paying tribute and, undoubtedly, not forgotten his encounter with the Tripolian ambassador—sent forth a naval fleet to North Africa for military actions without informing the Congress. In retaliation, Tripoli declared war on the United States in May 1801 and Morocco the next year. America soon suffered a setback when Tripoli captured the U.S. frigate Philadelphia, but Edward Preble and Stephen Decatur soon mounted a heroic raid on the Tripolian harbor, destroying the captured ship and inflicting heavy damage on the city’s defence. A new power had arrived on the world-stage to stand up to the savage terror in North Africa!

Nonetheless, the problem continued. Meanwhile, American consul in Tunis, William Eaton, defying disapproval at home, allied with Hamid—the exiled brother Tripolian pasha, offering him to make the American nominee for Tripoli’s crown—for land-attack on Tripoli. In 1805, he made a daring journey with a small detachment of marines and a force of irregulars across the desert from Egypt to Tripoli and made a surprise attack on the garrison-city of Darna, which surrendered. While Eaton was engaging pasha’s forces, Jefferson and Karamanli reached a truce for ending the war. The terms of truce included the release of the Philadelphia crew upon payment of a tribute, but America would pay no more tributes in future. In this, stressed Jefferson, Eaton’s derring-do had played a part. Daring and uncompromising, Eaton denounced the deal as a sellout.

When America got distracted as new Anglo-American hostility broke out in 1812, Algiers’ new pasha, Hajji Ali, demanding larger tribute, let the corsairs resumed attack on American ships. Once the Anglo-American war ended, President James Madison, with approval of the Congress, declared war on Algiers on 3 March 1815 and dispatched the battle-hardened naval force under Decatur to North Africa again, to put a complete end to the piracy problem.

The U.S. navy destroyed the fleets of reigning Dey Omar Pasha, filled his grand harbor with heavily armed American ships and took hundreds prisoner. The Dey capitulated and reluctantly accepted the treaty dictated by Decatur, pledging never to capture trade-ships and demand tribute. Decatur sailed to Tunis and Tripoli forcing the rulers to signing of similar treaties.

President Madison’s words on this occasion, which inaugurated a new U.S. foreign policy paradigm, were: “It is a settled policy of America, that as peace is better than war, war is better than tribute; the United States, while they wish for war with no nation, will buy peace with none.” The rescue of Captain Phillips without paying ransom shows that the U.S. foreign policy, declared by President Madison two centuries ago, still holds.

The U.S. policy of appeasement, namely payment of tribute, clearly shows that demands would continue to rise and the pirates would be embolden, which has been the case of dealing with Somalian piracy in recent years.

Therefore, Britain’s soft-approach policy by advising the Royal Navy not to capture the pirates, and rather its encouragement by offering possibilities of asylum to pirates would only aggravate this unacceptable, inhuman and uncivilized activity. Only a decisive, strong measure can solve the problem. History is there to learn from. The Royal Navy, which played a crucial role, acting as terror of the pirates in the 19th century, to put an end to piracy and slave-trade, can learn even more from its own history.

Moreover, Britain has her hands full with thousands of silent Jihadis roaming her streets ready to strike to cause mayhem and chaos at any given opportunity. Inviting these battle-hardened Jihadi pirates from Somalia may spell disaster for her.

Britain should study what happened to Medina that had invited and let Muhammad’s Jihadi brigands settle down. Those, refused to submit to Islam, were exterminated by Muhammad one tribe after another. Britain, a beacon of freedom, liberty and humanity, should try not to be the Medina of the 620s, which will be great loss for civilized humanity.

MA Khan is the editor of and the author of  Islamic Jihad: A Legacy of Forced Conversion, Imperialism and Slavery.

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