Wednesday, September 22, 2010

History: "...All The Ills Of The World"

It is a fact beyond both comprehension and reason that man’s religion has brought on all the ills of the World.

According to Alexander Exquemelin, our old friend the memoirist and Triple P’s official physician (bet you didn’t know that), these were the words of Laurens de Graff. The Dutch buccaneer muttered them, ostensibly to himself, while watching the parade of unfortunates he and his mates had released from the Inquisitorial prison at Veracruz in 1683. While Exquemelin tells us very little about the actual condition of the Inquisition’s inmates, even a passing knowledge of history will allow the imagination to run wild with one grim picture after another. The buccaneers, by the way, left these men and women completely unmolested in their sack of Veracruz. De Graff was not the only one who saw them as unjustly wronged.

It was that passing knowledge of this history which brought me to realize that the more things change, the more they stay the same as I read this
article from the New York Times. Entitled In Somali Civil War, Both Sides Embrace Pirates, the article tells of the new politics of Somalia where warlords and religious leaders at odds with one another seek the help and protection of local pirates.

The pirates, who are frequently portrayed in western media as money-hungry thugs, are surprisingly cagey as it turns out. Many of the powerful pirate leaders have turned their ill-gotten gains from the purchase of little skiffs and AK-47s to more impressive and all together land-based weapons. It appears, as the article implies but does not say, that some at least are setting themselves up as strong men for hire and to the highest bidder goes the muscle. Or does it?

Another interesting if sadly unexplained point is that the pirates seem to have a distinct suspicion of, if not down right hatred for, the local arm of Al Qaeda known as the Shabab. Evidently after two decades of Islamic elders, as the article says, “…turning against pirates because of their un-Islamic ways”, the elders were beginning to turn a blind eye on these “un-Islamic ways” no doubt due to the economic benefits of piracy.

Enter the Shabab who will not be swayed by petty points like people dying of hunger. The article calls them “…the most fearsome insurgents in Somalia” and states that in areas of the country ruled by Shabab leaders music, soccer, bras and one imagines a laundry list of other seemingly harmless items are banned. People unclear on the concept lose limbs or have their heads caved in with rocks.

The pirates along Somali’s coast see the Shabab as a threat. A quote in the article from one of their number states: “Sometimes you commit crimes to defend your freedom.” It’s a telling comment in an area that is ripe for fundamentalist takeover.

Over 300 years ago the buccaneers of the New World, be they Dutch or English, French or Portuguese, saw The Roman Church and her hated Inquisition as a threat to their freedoms almost to a man. Spain, as the international standard bearer for the Church, was perceived as killing free trade and imposing Her religious views on pain of death. It is fascinating, to me at least, that many a Somali pirate seems to have a similar perception of a completely different world power known as Al Qaeda. What will happen in the region is anyone’s guess. But questionable anti-heroes are not unheard of in history, particularly when pirates are involved.


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! Wow, I think that this may be the first time I have actually found myself rooting for the Somali pirates...

Well, except for maybe on that episode of the "Deadliest Warrior" show on Spike TV, Pirate Queen.

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy! I found it to be quite a surprising twist. But I'll always back a pirate against ignorance. Just me.

Charles L. Wallace said...

al Shabab is a gang of extremists and terrorists (incidentally, and I don't have a reference handy, I've heard some rumblings about fundamentalist pirates in the south, rivals to the more secular pirate-types in the north)....

On the other hand, the Somali pirates hijack unwary merchantmen and hold in captivity innocent mariners (and occasionally, run afoul of Powers That Be)....


The Enemy of My Enemy is
My Enemy?

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Charles! Excellent and decidedly accurate points all around. For me personally the issue is why the pirates do what they do in the first place - poverty and lack of a central government - and the fact that the Shabab is now on the scene to take advantage of an already bad situation.

There are atrocities being committed by both sides even as we speak, no doubt. Where that will lead remains to be seen. I found the similarities between historical and modern piracy - something I haven't really noticed before - particularly fascinating.

Charles L. Wallace said...

Thank you for the kind words, ma'am.

Partly a sense of abandonment, as well, on the part of the pirates: the central government fizzled, which left no coastal regulatory enforcement, which allowed foreign fishermen to come in and over-fish Somali waters. Many of the now-downtrodden fishermen, having a certain level of maritime proficiency, used that proficiency to overwhelm undefended (unwary) merchant crews for ransom.

Others saw how easy and relatively risk-free this new pirating was and decided to get some for themselves.

Strange results - poor fellows lacking shirts and shoes; pirate vessels making their way nearly to India and Sri Lanka; pirates attacking Western naval vessels in their skiffs; daring at-sea transfers from speeding skiff to underway merchantman.... Quite a blend of extraordinary accomplishment and astonishing incompetence.

Where it will lead? Pirates may be countered from the sea, but to have lasting effect, one must address the pirate havens. We're not yet bankrupt, and we're getting pretty experienced in Nation-building, I fear....

Oh, and al Shabab taking advantage of a bad situation? That's what al Qaeda does: they were in the Sudan until that got too hot for them. Then, Afghanistan until that became a less-enviable option. Anywere that is or is on the verge of becoming a failed nation-state [Wilds of western Pakistan, northern Yemen, Somalia - Somaliland - Puntland all present themselves] is ripe for extremists moving in.

Well, I have certainly rambled enough for one sitting... time to Splice the Mainbrace, aye! Fair winds and following seas to ye, my friend [but no leaving port on Friday - 'tis bad fortune!!] :-)

Pauline said...

Good points again. A lot of these themes and issues are frequently discussed over at Mike Burleson's now unfortunately shelved website "New Wars":

And in his book by the same name. You might enjoy one or both.

Fair winds to ya!

Charles L. Wallace said...

Och! Mikey has a book out?
Indeed, I knew about New Wars, the Blog [that's how I learned about you, fair Queen o' Pirates!] and have enjoyed it much - good material.
I shall have to investigate the book. Thank you, kind ma'am :-)