So we’ve got this group in the Middle East kidnapping and enslaving people, holding foreigners for ransom, and generally getting rich off the misery of others, all in the name of God. We’ve seen this before in history. We’ve seen it many times. And it is terrifying.
Perhaps not since the Assyrians has the world seen a gang of thugs so adept at spreading terror among its enemies. The old Assassins of 11th century fame have nothing on these guys. They make al-Qaeda seem Pikers in comparison.
There is an art to spreading terror: For the Assyrians it was impalement, a spike up the fundament. The Romans liked to crucify. The French revolutionaries spread terror with Madam Guillotine. But ISIL prefers messy beheadings with a combat knife. These are people who have seen twerking and found its exact opposite.
For centuries, the “Barbary Pirates,” so-called because they operated out of the area known to Europeans as the Barbary Coast after its indigenous Berbers, did the same, only on sea rather than on land.
The Islamic State (ISIL/ISIS) claims to have re-established the Caliphate, but the Barbary Pirates had as their nominal suzerain the Caliph in Constantinople himself. And they raided far and wide, even as far as Iceland.
We rightly lament the loss of the few Westerners killed or captured by the Islamic State, but Wikipedia informs us that, “Historian Robert C. Davis estimated that between 1530 and 1780 1-1.25 million Europeans were captured and taken as slaves to North Africa, principally Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli, but also Constantinople and Salé.”
Imagine that today, in the age of the world-wide media, where the loss of even one innocent Westerner creates outrage.
The long horror of the Barbary Pirates was not stilled without violence. When the West could take no more, it struck back. The United States struck back. It was the activities of the Barbary Pirates which led to the establishment of the U.S. Navy, six frigates funded to face down the “Algerian corsairs.”. But meanwhile, like everyone else, the new country paid ransom.
ISIL demands millions for the release of hostages and again, this is nothing new. Michael B. Orem tells us that,
[O]n September 5, 1795, America signed a Treaty of Amity and Friendship with Algiers. In return for releasing American prisoners, the Algerian ruler would receive a long list of gifts — “25 chests of tea of 4 different qualities…6 Quintal of loaf sugar refined…Some elegant penknives. Some small guilt thimbles, scissor cases…a few shawls, with roses curiously wrought in them….” worth more than $650,000. Worse than that, though, the U.S. also agreed to provide Algiers with cannons, gunpowder and a 36-gun made-in-America warship — in essence, the very tools of piracy.
The sums paid were staggering. He goes on to tell us that,
The other regencies caught on, and soon Tunis and Tripoli had extracted similar concessions — so many, in fact, that by 1800, the United States was paying out 20% of all its federal revenues to North Africa.
The European powers fought back, as America ultimately did. When, in the wake of the beheading of journalist James Foley, President Barack Obama said, “The United States of America will continue to do what we must to protect our people. We will be vigilant and we will be relentless,” he was only repeating what Americans had said about the Barbary Pirates two centuries before.
From Malta to Spain to France and England, Western fleets shelled Algiers in the old-fashioned equivalent to air strikes, forcing concessions and peace. Two actual wars were fought, the First Barbary War in 1801 and the Second in 1815. Finally, France conquered Algiers in 1830, rooting out the pirates at their source, as Pompey once did the Cilician pirates of Asia Minor.
The point of all this is the lesson learned by Rome and by other states since, that the bad guys do not simply go away. You have to make them go away. Paying them ransoms may save the few or even the many, may put off the inevitable for a time, but in the end, ransoms only encourages more kidnappings.
President Obama said, “People like this [ISIL] ultimately fail,” and he is right that “They fail, because the future is won by those who build and not destroy,” but they don’t fail without being destroyed themselves.
The Barbary Pirates persisted in their activities until destroyed by European powers unwilling any longer to put up with what we would today call their terroristic activities. The Islamic State, unless too firmly grounded in a cult of personality around Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his Rolex, will also likely persist until somebody gets weary enough of their terroristic activities to forcibly silence them.
President Obama has said groups like ISIL have “no place in the 21st century,” but they will have a place until somebody takes that place from them. Kind words will no more suffice than ransoms. There are some problems diplomacy cannot solve. It could not solve the Barbary Pirates and it will not solve the Islamic State.
Whether it is ultimately the United States itself, or a coalition of Western powers or perhaps the Islamic countries threatened by the so-called Caliphate, ISIL will be taken down by force.
As the example of the Assyrian Empire proves, a power subsisting on terror rather than on nation-building, will ultimately fall to the neighbors it has terrorized. ISIL has enemies aplenty. What it lacks is an enemy stronger than it, able and willing to shell them into submission, a task which, as history again proves, requires boots on the ground.
President George W. Bush’s misguided policy of plundering Iraq to make he and his Republican friends rich, is responsible for the creation of conditions in that country and the rise of ISIL. If America is too war-weary now to contemplate striking ISIL at its source, it is also thanks to Bush fighting a 10-year-war that need not have been fought. Now, when there is a need for war, the country has no will to fight it.
Obama gets the blame in the media, but it is not Obama who is to blame. He’s merely the guy who inherited the Middle East Bush destroyed. Bush gave us one war during his presidency and has condemned us to fight another in the echoes of his failure.
Now ISIL is the world’s problem. The United States will not, because it cannot, act alone. And ISIL will continue its campaign of terror until the rest of the world says “Enough” and, as it did with the Barbary Pirates, means it. And the American people will have to decide if they are more tired of war or of the terrorists of ISIL.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.