Fix Bahyonets! by Mustang
It is hard to imagine how the Barbary States (Morocco, Tunisia, Tripoli, and Algiers) might have competed with European nations at the end of the 18th Century, and at the beginning of the next. What did they have to trade that anyone wanted? Well, the Berbers did have the sea and what might be caught in it, and they also had sleek corsairs capable to running across the waves at a fast clip, overtaking merchantmen whose holds were filled with vast riches, and/or whose passengers may be important to someone back home. In the Berber countries, wealth was never something evenly distributed among the inhabitants of those lands. Rather than piracy being done in order to achieve national wealth, it had more to do with making an already prosperous Islamic leader even wealthier.
Thus, piracy became a state-sanctioned enterprise in the same way that terrorism has; barbarity has its purpose. To understand it, one has to understand the Mohammedan mindset—which is an enterprise that interests me little. Neither do I have the band width. It may be suffice to say Islamic parents have long sent their sons out to perform a jihad after someone has deposited a large sum of money into their pockets (large sum being entirely relative). In more recent times, Saddam Hussein paid $2,500.00 to the families of young men and women who blew themselves to hell, taking dozens of innocents along with them.
One simple fact is that it was profitable to seize European and American merchant vessels; were this not so, then the pirates would have found another line of work. From the perspective of the nations who lost these vessels, heads of state may have reasoned that it was cheaper to pay tribute than to go to war with the Barbary States. As for paying ransoms —only someone likely to bring a hefty price would escape the depredations of white slavery.
Featured Image: Algerian Corsair off a barbary port (C17) by Andries Van Eertvelt (Wikimedia Commons)