Profit, The Prophet and Pirates!


When the twin towers fell in New York on 9/11, an historian friend, who watched with me in horror, said, “This isn’t Pearl Harbor, it’s the Barbary Wars.” Since then many commentators have been quick to compare militant jihadists to the Barbary pirates. The comparison has some merit, but is woefully simplistic. It turns out a better contemporary example of Barbary piracy may be what goes on off the coast of Somalia. History rarely settles comfortably into slogans, simple comparisons, or even clear outcomes. Barbary piracy was more diverse, longer-lived, and more complex than it seems at first blush. The American part of it on “the shores of Tripoli” came late in the day and, while it may have helped American commerce, had little to do with religion and was not entirely effective. When I began to research 19th century piracy in the Mediterranean for my novel, two questions kept reappearing: who were the pirates, and how much of their activity was motivated by religion versus how much by commerce?

Read the entire article in the October 2015 issue of InD'Tale magazine.

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