WASHINGTON, August 1, 2014 – President Obama recently issued a statement congratulating Muslims on their traditions on the occasion of Eid-al-Fitr, the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
Muslims join in prayer during Eid, chanting “Allahu Akbar.”
Among his comments this year were:
This is similar to previous comments Obama has made, alleging that Muslims have a profound history and role in the development of America. They do not. Obama’s meme is fiction. But there is a clue to Obama’s premise. It is in his comments at an Iftar dinner in 2012:
As I’ve noted before, Thomas Jefferson once held a sunset dinner here with an envoy from Tunisia – perhaps the first Iftar at the White House, more than 200 years ago. And some of you, as you arrived tonight, may have seen our special display, courtesy of our friends at the Library of Congress – the Qur’an that belonged to Thomas Jefferson. And that’s a reminder, along with the generations of patriotic Muslims in America, that Islam – like so many faiths – is part of our national story.
At this point whenever Barack Obama makes any kind of an assertion on any topic – even if just pandering, a lot of antennae are raised. If Obama says it is night, we instinctively get up and walk over to the window to verify it. That was true regarding the above quote as well. Did Jefferson own a Koran? Yes, a number of them and distributed perhaps hundreds of them. Why? Was Jefferson a Muslim? No, but the answer is interesting in that, if anything, it destroys the portrait Obama is trying to paint.
Why was Jefferson reading the Koran? During the years following the Declaration of Independence, the Revolutionary War and subsequently, the Treaty of Paris (formal confimation of independence from Britain), 1778 to 1783, American shipping vessels were under the umbrella of the “Alliance with France” and France’s agreements with the small principalities of the Ottoman Empire in the Western Mediterranean. These were Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli and the independent Sultanate of Morocco under the Alaouite Dynasty. Each of these principalities had a fleet of ships called Corsairs, manned by pirates that habitually attacked European shipping fleets, took the crews as slaves and commandeered the ships and cargo.
Europe paid these states, referred to as the ‘Barbary Coast’, protection money. Once American ships were no longer under the aegis of France, the seizure of American merchant ships ensued, notably the attack and capture of the brigantine, ‘Betsy’ on October 11, 1784. Spain stepped in to assist us by negotiating with Morocco the release of our sailors, but advised then Foreign Minister Jefferson to send envoys to forge an arrangement with the Barbary Coast along the lines of the European nations. Attempts were made, but the eventual cost was too steep. Even though an agreement was concluded with Morocco – Algiers and Tripoli made monetary demands impossible for the young nation to fulfill. For several years, America paid a million dollars and more, estimated as close to 20 percent of our federal revenues in 1800.
Diplomat Jefferson discovered in his dealings with the Ambassador of Tripoli – and recorded in his journals (Papers 9:358), the religious underpinnings of the violence and piracy of the Barbary Coast. In March of 1785 Jefferson and John Adams asked Sidi Haji Abdrahaman “concerning the ground of the pretensions to make war upon nations who had done them no injury”. He replied that the ordinances of the Muslim states and the conduct of the pirates they commissioned, were:
” founded on the Laws of their Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have acknowledged 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 Musselman who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise”
Abdrahaman also noted that the man first to board a vessel held a dagger in each hand and a third in his mouth; which usually struck such terror into the foe that they cried out for quarter at once.
John Adams as President, at the persistent urging of Vice President Jefferson and the approval of Congress, commissioned in 1794 the build up of a formal United States Navy. By this time, the atrocities of the Barbary Coast had become intolerable. Congress, over the course of the first three years of Jefferson’s administration, authorized the deployment of “such of the armed vessels of the United States as may be judged requisite… for protecting effectually the commerce and seamen thereof on the Atlantic ocean, the Mediterranean and adjoining seas.”
This act, pivoted the American Navy from a defensive posture to an engagement with Tripoli, whose Sultan had declared war on the U.S. The outcome is a matter of history worthy of its own dedicated narrative, but what Jefferson learned about the Koran troubled him.
Be advised that some modern apologists for Islam, spin Jefferson’s interest in the Koran as merely a facet of Jefferson’s boundless intellectual curiosity and interest in Islamic legal codes. While there is an aspect of that, the academic references which Jefferson used as research, were not in admiration of the Prophet, his legitimacy or the violence that the Koran inspires and sanctions.
Jefferson’s arguments for religious toleration for other faiths and religions aside from Christianity should not be stretched into an endorsement of Islam itself. Then, as now, when an adversary pops up on the radar, the policy makers endeavor to take stock of the worldview of the antagonist. Just as we did after 9/11, Jefferson and other leaders resorted to a critical study of Islam and its precepts as a means of gaining a better grasp of the thinking, attitudes and likely behavior of its adherents.
Simply because someone embarks on a study of the Koran and Islam, it does not logically follow that they honor, respect or venerate its teachings, laws and customs. Were that the case, countless academicians and counter-terrorism experts would be practicing Muslims. Jefferson was a proponent of liberty as regarded religious belief and observances and a fierce opponent of theocracy. Jefferson’s sensibilities were deeply troubled by the coercion, vindictiveness and violence of the Koran as exemplified by such verses as these:
“Prophet, make war on the unbelievers and the hypocrites and deal rigorously with them. Hell shall be their home: an evil fate.” -Qur’an 9:73
“Believers, make war on the infidels who dwell around you. Deal firmly with them. Know that God is with the righteous.” -Qur’an 9:123
“Muhammad is God’s apostle. Those who follow him are ruthless to the unbelievers but merciful to one another.” -Qur’an 48:29
“When you meet the unbelievers in the battlefield strike off their heads and, when you have laid them low, bind your captives firmly.” -Qur’an 47:4
“Believers, take neither the Jews nor the Christians for your friends. They are friends with one another. Whoever of you seeks their friendship shall become one of their number. God does not guide the wrong-doers.” -Qur’an 5:51
What about the rest of Obama’s meme about the profound impact and influence of Islam and Muslims from the foundation of America until now? The facts are pretty straightforward and also do not serve Obama’s narrative. The only ‘Muslims’ that inhabited the colonies were African slaves and only nominally so. It’s estimated that only 15 percent were from areas of Islamic slave trade in Africa and upon whom the religion of Islam was imposed by threat of violence. After settling here, the religion of Christianity was imposed on them.
The next wave of immigration involving Muslims was between 1878 and 1924, when immigrants from the Middle East, particularly from Syria and Lebanon, arrived in large numbers, many settling in Ohio, Michigan, Iowa and even the Dakotas. Not all were Muslims, and the majority assimilated to our culture. These were immigration success stories, in contrast to more recent arrivals, which have constituted both a conflict with Western cultural values and a persistent security threat.
Just looking at the numbers themselves though, it’s difficult to make the case that Muslims are much more than a few strands of thread in the ‘fabric’ of America. A Pew research study estimates that our population includes only 2.6 million Muslims. That’s .08 percent of the entire nation! The divided allegiances and the cultural incompatibility of today’s Muslim immigrant argues strongly against bringing in more of the same, merely to suit the objective of diversity and multi-culturalism.
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