The Crescent Obscured: The United States and the Muslim
Topics for discussion, in no particular order
1.) What is the title of Chapter 4?
2.) "This book begins in a time of fear, in the years after the American Revolution, before the Constitution was established, before the United States had a government, an army, or a navy. It concludes in a time of triumph, after the United States had defeated not only Tripoli but England, the world's greatest military force. The Americans had overcome the fears of the 1780s and 1790s, the fears that they might fall into the traps of anarchy or despotism. The successful creation
and maintenance of constitutional government, and the military victories over Tripoli and England, ushered in a period of confidence and national assurance. But the Americans were left with the
unresolved dilemma of slavery, a constant reproach to their own sense of moral superiority. Slavery's legacy still haunts us, providing a more dangerous and resilient phantom than any genie, sultan, or ayatollah."
3.) Does the title refer to the United States' preoccupation with the European powers during the Barbary Wars, or its monolithic, myopic, and hypocritical view of Islam?
4.) How successful is Allison's argument that the "painful
soul searching" of the American people after the capture of 100 more hostages by
Algiers, marked the beginning of a struggle, over slavery in the United states,
between "complacency, or support for the status quo, and the benevolent zeal of
humanitarians more concerned with doing right?" I found him much more compelling
when referring to individual cases of soul searching, such as with American
5.) I think it would be important to at least mention the fact that Allison does not refer to a single North African source, or any "Islamic" source at all, for that matter. How important is this? If it
were a more traditional work of diplomatic history, this would be a problem. But, because Allison is dealing largely with America's (and Americans') view of the Muslim World, and the unique ideology born out of those views, does it matter?
6.) Can we apply Gilbert's notion of a "new" American policy to the United States' dealings with the Barbary States? How important a part was this idea of forging a new path, independent of the European powers? I am thinking about the Tripolitan War. Is there a tension between realism and idealism?
7.) America's conduct in the war with Algiers and the Tripolitan War was guided largely by its concern for maintaining neutrality with England and France. Not only did this prevent the United States from forming a consistent foreign policy towards the Barbary States, it also served as a contradiction of the "political testament" eventually laid out in Washington's Farewell Address. That is to say, the specter of war with either European country was a kind of "entanglement" in itself. Agree or disagree.
8.) We might also talk about the willingness on the part
of Jefferson to form a coalition with Portugal, Spain, Naples and, finally,
Russia in 1786 and how this not only stood in contrast to the plans of men like
Washington and Adams, but also how different such a proposed alliance was
compared to American foreign policy towards Europe.
9.) To borrow from Robert Allison, was America's policy towards the Barbary States driven more by its view of them as "tools of European powers," or was it more an expression of the young nation's ideological zeal towards a "symbol of corruption and lawlessness"?
10.) I found it fascinating that, through two successive administrations, the U.S. government took no trouble in paying tributes to the Barbary States little, more than a decade after going to war over taxes.
11.) Allison portrays the ideals of Revolutionary America as directly at odds with the tyranny of Islam (to most Americans, one and the same with the Ottoman Empire), and suggests that this played a direct part in the relations between the U.S. and the Barbary States. What do you make of this "Clash of Civilizations" take?