What Piracy? This Is the Same Old Jihad

During the recent Somali pirate standoff with U.S. forces, when American sea captain Richard Phillips was being held hostage, Fox News analyst Charles Krauthammer confidently concluded that "the good news is that these [pirates] are not jihadists. If it's a jihadist holding a hostage, there is going to be a lot of death. These guys are interested not in martyrdom but in money."

In fact, the only good news is that Richard Phillips has been rescued. The bad news is that what appears to have been a bunch of lawless, plunder-seeking Somalis "yo-hoing" on the high seas is, in fact, a manifestation of the jihad -- as attested to by both Islamic history and doctrine.

Indeed, the first jihad a newborn U.S. encountered was of a pirate nature: the Barbary Wars off the coast of North Africa (beginning 1801, exactly 200 years before September 11, 2001). Writing in the Middle East Quarterly a year before Somali piracy made headlines, U.S. sea captain Melvin E. Lee -- who knows in theory what Captain Phillips may have learned in practice -- writes:

What Americans and Europeans saw as piracy, Barbary leaders justified as legitimate jihad. [President Thomas] Jefferson related a conversation he had in Paris with Ambassador Abdrahaman of Tripoli, who told him that all Christians are sinners in the context of the Koran and that it was a Muslim's "right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to enslave as many as they could take as prisoners."

Lee goes on to reflect: "One of the greatest challenges facing strategic leaders today is objectively examining the centuries-old roots of Islamic jihadism and developing a strategy that will lead to a lasting solution to the Western conflict with it. ... This inability to grasp the root of Islamic jihadism is the result of a moral relativism prominent in modern Western liberal thought."

This last point is especially poignant. While U.S. leadership is capable of mouthing history, so too is it in the habit of distorting history through such "moral relativism." Hillary Clinton, for example, in a press conference about the Somali kidnapping crisis, put an interesting spin on the Barbary Wars when she said -- in between fits of hysterical and inexplicable laughter -- that America and Morocco worked "together to end piracy off the coast of Morocco all those years ago, and, uh, we're going to work together to end, uh, this kind of, uh, criminal activity anywhere on the high seas."

Historical anecdotes aside, it need be acknowledged that, doctrinally speaking, the jihad has various manifestations; it is not limited to bearded, "Allah Akbar"-screaming mujahidin fighting in Afghanistan and lurking in caves. Along with jihad al-lissan and jihad al-qalam (jihad of the tongue and pen, respectively, i.e., propaganda jihad), one of the most important forms of jihad is known as jihad al-mal -- or "money jihad."

The money jihad is fulfilled whenever a Muslim financially supports the more familiar violent jihad. The Koran itself declares: "Go forth, light-armed and heavy-armed, and strive with your wealth and your lives in the way of Allah! That is best for you if you but knew" (9:41).

Several other verses (see 9:20, 9:60, 49:15, and 61:10-11) make the same assertion and, more importantly, in the same order: striving with one's wealth almost always precedes striving with one's life, thereby prioritizing the former over the latter, at least according to a number of jurists and mufasirin.