Tuesday, 7 November 2006
Pipes: In 1796, U.S. Vowed Friendliness With Islam

Daniel Pipes has some interesting information on America's official attitude toward Islam:

...Exactly 210 years ago this week, toward the end of George Washington's second presidential administration, a document was signed with the first of two Barbary Pirate states. Awkwardly titled the "Treaty of Peace and Friendship, signed at Tripoli November 4, 1796 (3 Ramada I, A. H. 1211), and at Algiers January 3, 1797 (4 Rajab, A. H. 1211)," it contains an extraordinary statement of peaceful intent toward Islam.

The agreement's 11th article (out of twelve) reads: As 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, - and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries."...

There are just two problems with it.

First, as noted by David Hunter Miller (1875-1961), an expert on American treaties, "the Barlow translation is at best a poor attempt at a paraphrase or summary of the sense of the Arabic." Second, the great Dutch orientalist Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje (1857-1936), reviewed the Arabic text in 1930, retranslated it, and found no 11th article. "The eleventh article of the Barlow translation has no equivalent whatever in the Arabic," he wrote. Rather, the Arabic text at this spot reprints a grandiloquent letter from the pasha of Algiers to the pasha of Tripoli...

But the textual anomaly does have symbolic significance. For 210 long years, the American government has bound itself to a friendly attitude toward Islam, without Muslims having signed on to reciprocate, or without their even being aware of this promise. The seeming agreement by both parties not to let any "pretext arising from religious opinions" to interrupt harmonious relations, it turns out, is a purely unilateral American commitment...

Posted on 11/07/2006 1:27 PM by Rebecca Bynum
7 Nov 2006
Robert Bove
Whatever the treaty said, however it was translated, the first instance of decisive exercise of America in the Mediterranean--and, with the British, later shutting down Arab maritime predation in the Med forever (one hopes)--came during the Jefferson presidency, James Madison serving as secretary of state. The shores of Tripoli and all that. (The U.S. Navy and the Marines chalked up a number of such successes before the U.S. Army under Old Hickory won the Battle of New Orleans, War of 1812, and, much later, in a contest followed avidly by the Duke of Wellington, the conquest of Mexico.) Islam qua Islam isn't even a blip on the screen, as they say, in any of the reflections of any of the Founders or subsequent generations. They just weren't interested. We are, in fact, the first generation of Americans to confront it. (Taking a cue from Hugh, though, we must accept that in the eyes of the True Believer, Robert E. Lee, his own glorious self, was a Muslim.)