Tuesday, January 09, 2007
If there's a hell below, we're all going to go:
Is Christopher Hitchens arguing that Thomas Jefferson prosecuted a war against Islam on the Barbary Coast?
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.
What? It would seem the pressing issue for Jefferson in this instance was how deeply committed Tripoli was to piracy and slavery, which clarified the danger to U.S. ships, rather than the idea that Islam is a gutter religion that the U.S. needed to confront. Lest we forget, slavetraders took refuge in the Bible as well. Why this should in any way present ironic discomfort to Keith Ellison is ... obscure. Indeed, if, as Hitchens writes, Congress used to distribute copies of a Jefferson-edited Bible, Jefferson's intellectual distaste for Christianity should embarrass his Christian political descendants far more.
--Spencer Ackerman
It should also be pointed out that Ellison did repudiate the anti-Semitism of Farrakhan et al., and in very strong terms. (For more on this, see the almost comically comprehensive Wikipedia article on Ellison.)
Blogger BG | 3:15 PM