Melanie Phillips discusses the 17-19th century jihad against Britain, which also touched the U.S. in the wars against the Barbary pirates of the early 19th century. Like the British raids, the Barbary conflicts have not been generally understood in the West as constituting jihad warfare; only recently have historians begun to realize that those warriors had the same ideology that motivates jihadists today.
From Melanie Phillips’ diary, with thanks to Alan:
On my travels for the past few days, I have been reading a book which tells the story of a quite astonishing part of British history of which I was previously unaware. In ‘White Gold’, Giles Milton records the appalling details — gleaned,it appears, from a wealth of historical documents including diaries and letters — of a seaborne Islamic jihad against Britain which lasted for no less than two centuries.
From the early seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, thousands of British men women and children were kidnapped by Arab corsairs and sold into slavery in Morocco where they were kept in conditions of unspeakable barbarism. The astounding thing is that these British victims were not merely seized at sea where they ran the gauntlet of such pirates in places such as the Straits of Gibraltar. They were actually abducted from Britain itself.
Corsairs from a place in Morocco called Sale — who became known in Britain as the ‘Sally Rovers’ — sailed up the Cornish coast in July 1625, for example, came ashore dressed in djellabas and wielding damascene scimitars, burst into the parish church at Mount’s Bay and dragged out 60 men women and children whom they shipped off to Morocco. Thousands more Britons were seized from their villages or their ships and dispatched to the hell-holes of the Moroccan slave pens, from where they were forced to work all hours in appalling conditions building the vast palace of the monstrous and psychopathic Sultan, Moulay Ismail, who tortured and butchered them at whim. Most of them perished, but the book records the survival of a tenacious Cornish boy Thomas Pellow, who survived 23 years of this ordeal and whose descendant, Lord Exmouth, finally ended the white slave trade when he destroyed Algiers in 1816.
The book makes clear that this assault upon the British people (and upon Europeans and Americans who were similarly seized) was a jihad. The Sally Rovers, writes Milton, were called ‘al-ghuzat’– the term once used for the soldiers who fought with the Prophet — and were hailed as religious warriors engaged in a holy war against the infidel Christians who were pressurised to convert to Islam under threat of hideous punishment. What is even more striking was the response of the British crown. For almost two centuries, it made only the most ineffectual attempts to rescue its enslaved subjects. Those who had succumbed to the torture and inhumanity of the Sultan and converted to Islam were deemed to be no longer British and therefore outside the scope of any rescue. The pleas of Pellow’s parents were simply brushed aside. Popular outrage forced successive Kings to dispatch a series of feeble emissaries to try to get the Sultan to end this vile traffic and release the slaves, all to no avail.
But this went on for virtually two centuries. For almost 200 years the British state either sat on its hands or wrung them impotently while the Islamic jihad seized, enslaved and butchered its people. And then it appears, this staggering onslaught was all but airbrushed out of our history.
Food for disquieting thought.
Even suicide terrorism was a factor in those days. John Paul Jones encountered suicide attacks by Muslim Turks in 1788. Jones described a naval encounter between the Turks and the Russians that took place when Jones served in the Russian Navy:
“…for it was the intention of the Turks to attack us and board us, and if we had been only three versts further the attempt would have been made on the 16th [June 1788] (before the vessel of the Captain Pacha ran aground in advancing before the wind with all his forces to attack us,), God only knows what would have been the result…The Turks had a very large force, and we have been informed by our prisoners that they were resolved to destroy us, even by burning themselves, (in setting fire to their own vessels after having grappled with ours.) [note added by Jones: Before their departure from Constantinople, they swore by the beard of the Sultan to execute this horrible plan…if Providence had not caused its failure from two circumstances which no man could forsee.”]
That’s from John Paul Jones’ Letter to Prince Potemkin, June 20, 1788, from Life and Character of John Paul Jones-A Captain in the Navy of the United States, John H. Sherburne, 1825, p. 308.