Thursday, September 19, 2019

Raymond Ibrahim, Middle East Quarterly: Piracy and Law in the Ottoman Mediterranean

Piracy and Law in the Ottoman Mediterranean

British captain witnessing the abuse of Christian slaves abducted by pirates to Algiers, 1815

Piracy and Law in the Ottoman Mediterranean
by Joshua M. White
Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2017. 376 pp.

Reviewed by Raymond Ibrahim
Author of Sword and Scimitar
Middle East Quarterly, Summer 2019
In the late sixteenth century, the Ottoman Empire and its European opponents increasingly withdrew from the Mediterranean, their primary theater of war, leaving it to privateer allies. As a result, “incidents of piracy increased dramatically, as both Mediterranean corsair proxies and Atlantic entrepreneurs filled the power vacuum at sea, undisturbed by the once dominant Mediterranean superpowers.” 
White’s book aims to present “the Ottoman perspective” on piracy and law in the Mediterranean since most of this history is told from the “viewpoint of Europeans and on the basis of European sources.” He argues that the “Ottomans were not simply perpetrators or enthusiastic supporters of piratical violence as they have usually been portrayed, but rather its most prominent victims.”
The more the Ottomans withdrew, “opportunities for [Muslim] raiders to conflate ‘enemy infidels’ with protected [dhimmi] subjects increased exponentially.” Non-Muslim Ottoman subjects—religious minorities who paid tribute and were meant to be protected by their Ottoman overlords—became free game for pirates who did not split hairs over their enemy or protected status. This phenomenon where rogue Muslim groups victimize infidels in the name of jihad irrespective of their protected status continues to this day, for instance, the Islamist jihad on Egypt’s Copts, despite President al-Sisi’s “protection.”
The primary weakness of White’s book is a side-effect of its strength. By heavily relying on Ottoman sources, the book is one-sided, only from the Ottoman point of view. As a result, European and Christian corsairs, particularly Malta’s Knights of St. John, appear as “a serious, recurring, incurable menace that was extremely disruptive to Ottoman state and society and affected lives and livelihoods throughout the empire.” In reality the entire phenomenon of Christian corsairs preying on Muslims was retaliatory. As Robert Davis explains in Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters, slaving around the Mediterranean was “a prevalently Muslim phenomenon.”[1]
To demonstrate that Christian pirates “wreaked havoc,” White offers numbers: “Over the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, at least thirty-five thousand to forty thousand [Muslim] slaves passed through Malta.” Compare this with Davis’s statistics: “between 1530 and 1780 there were almost certainly a million and quite possibly as many as a million and a quarter white European Christians enslaved by the Muslims of the Barbary Coast.”[2]
White’s heavy reliance on Ottoman archives offers a more nuanced and detailed picture concerning the role of piracy in the premodern Mediterranean. Unfortunately this sometimes comes at the cost of losing sight of the bigger picture provided by European perspectives.

[1]  Robert Davis, Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast and Italy, 1500-1800 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003 ed.), p. 9.]
[2] Ibid., p. 23.


RAYMOND IBRAHIM is a widely published author, public speaker, and Middle East and Islam specialist.  His books include Sword and Scimitar: Fourteen Centuries of War between Islam and the West (Da Capo, 2018), Crucified Again: Exposing Islam’s New War on Christians (Regnery, 2013), and The Al Qaeda Reader (Doubleday, 2007).
Ibrahim’s writings, translations, and observations have appeared in a variety of publications, including the New York Times Syndicate, CNN, LA Times, Fox News, Financial Times, Jerusalem Post, United Press International, USA Today, Washington Post, Washington Times, and Weekly Standard; scholarly journals, including the Almanac of Islamism, Chronicle of Higher Education, Hoover Institution’s Strategika, Jane’s Islamic Affairs Analyst, Middle East Quarterly, and Middle East Review of International Affairs; and popular websites, including American Thinker, Bloomberg, Breitbart, Christian Post, Daily Caller, FrontPage Magazine, NewsMax, National Review Online, PJ Media, and World Magazine. He has contributed chapters to several anthologies and has been translated into dozens of languages.
Among other media, he has appeared on MSNBC, Fox News, C-SPAN, PBS, Reuters, Al-Jazeera, and NPR; he has done hundreds of radio interviews and some of his YouTube videos (here and here for example) have received over a million views each.
Ibrahim guest lectures at universities, including the National Defense Intelligence College, has briefed governmental agencies, such as U.S. Strategic Command and the Defense Intelligence Agency, provides expert testimony for Islam-related lawsuits, and has testified before Congress regarding the conceptual failures that dominate American discourse concerning Islam and the worsening plight of Egypt’s Christian Copts.
Ibrahim’s dual-background—born and raised in the U.S. by Egyptian parents born and raised in the Middle East—has provided him with unique advantages, from equal fluency in English and Arabic, to an equal understanding of the Western and Middle Eastern mindsets, positioning him to explain the latter to the former. His interest in Islamic civilization was first piqued when he began visiting the Middle East as a child in the 1970s. Interacting and conversing with the locals throughout the decades has provided him with an intimate appreciation for that part of the world, complementing his academic training.
After a brief athletic career—including winning the 1993 NPC Los Angeles Bodybuilding Championship as a teenager—Raymond went on to receive his B.A. and M.A. (both in History, focusing on the ancient and medieval Near East, with dual-minors in Philosophy and Literature) from California State University, Fresno. There he studied closely with noted military-historian Victor Davis Hanson. He also took graduate courses at Georgetown University’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies—including classes on the history, politics, and economics of the Arab world—and studied Medieval Islam and Semitic languages at Catholic University of America. His M.A. thesis examined an early military encounter between Islam and Byzantium based on arcane Arabic and Greek texts.
Ibrahim’s resume includes serving as an Arabic language and regional specialist at the Near East Section of the Library of Congress, where he was often contacted by and provided information to defense and intelligence personnel involved in the fields of counterterrorism and area studies, as well as the Congressional Research Service; and serving as associate director of the Middle East Forum, a Philadelphia think tank.
He also often functions as a journalist and has been a Media Fellow at the Hoover Institution and news analyst for a variety of media.  His knowledge of Arabic and familiarity with Middle Eastern sources have enabled him to offer breaking news.  Days before the Obama administration blamed an anti-Islamic movie for Muslim uprisings against a U.S. consul and an embassy in Libya and Egypt respectively, Ibrahim showed that the demonstrations were pre-planned and unrelated to the movie.  Similarly, he was first to expose an Arabic-language Saudi fatwa that called for the destruction of any Christian church found on the Arabian Peninsula.
Raymond Ibrahim is currently Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center; Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute; and Judith Friedman Rosen Fellow at the Middle East Forum.