Thursday, November 20, 2008

Piracy, Terrorism, and a Changing World

Piracy makes for rousing adventure stories: like the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies.

When the pirates are real, and part of today's news, they're not so much fun.

Piracy: Not Exactly Terrorism, but Related

I know: this is the "Another War-on-Terror Blog," not the "Piracy Blog." I think that pirates and terrorists are related, though.

Not so much because many of the pirates are Muslim. Somalis are almost all Sunni Muslims. It should be no surprise that many Somali pirates are Muslim. Think about it this way: if a criminal operation were to get started in northern Minnesota, a lot of the people involved would be Lutherans. That wouldn't make it a Lutheran crime league.

I think piracy, and terrorism, are part of a set of issues being sorted out now: and that the War on Terror is part of the process.

Like the more familiar (so far) terrorists, pirates operate outside the law, and rely in part on fear to reach their goals.

Unlike your usual Islamic terrorist, the pirates aren't particularly interested in blowing themselves up, establishing a world-wide pirate kingdom, or getting rewarded with eternal membership in a celestial whoopee club.

Today's pirates, like their historical counterparts, are in it for the booty. And, in Somalia, their booty has gotten pretty big. To the point where they're hiring caterers to provide western food to some of their hostages.
Piracy, Terrorism, and Transitional Times
I think that today's piracy and terrorism exist in large part because the world is going through a great deal of change - rather quickly.

A messy set of independence movements has left many countries with dubiously competent governments - which gives people who don't particularly want to obey the law an opportunity to express themselves.

People who were living in a culture that hadn't changed all that much since Abraham moved out or Ur suddenly had to deal with cell phones, television, movies, Coca-Cola, Mickey Mouse and Barbie. Some of them took it hard, and started killing people who didn't agree with them, or wore the wrong kind of clothes.

Pirates, India, Russia, and Korea: No More Mister Nice Guy

It looks like the Indian navy sank a pirate 'mother ship' this week. More Russian warships are headed for the Somali coast, and Korea is withdrawing troops from Iraq, to protect their own shipping.

A half-millennia ago, it took a couple centuries and a colonial uprising to deal with piracy. We may see a much faster transition between diplomacy and ransom, and practical action, this time around.

Piracy is spreading, though. Somali pirates are making so much from the ransoms, that ethically-challenged people in Asia are starting their own operations.

Pirates, Terrorists, and the Information Age

I see (nominally) Islamic terrorism and the rise of piracy as related.

I'm not blaming western civilization, but it's a fact that, starting about five centuries back, European powers started taking over huge tracts of land around the world. And, developed technologies that sparked the Industrial Revolution.

More recently, European colonial holdings became independent nations - often with borders determined more by European conquest than by regional cultures and languages. That resulted in people who didn't necessarily get along being forced into cooperation on a national level. In some cases, it worked out about as well as might have been expected.

Meanwhile, the Industrial Age had started, and petroleum became a valuable commodity. That brought oil-rich countries into direct contact with outsiders.

Then, western civilization developed the telegraph, the telephone, the Internet, and YouTube.

Between the Industrial Age's demand for petroleum, and the dawning Information Age's revolutionary communications technologies, there's been whole lot of change going on. More so for some people than for others.
Terrorism: Militant Nostalgia?
People whose ancestors had, for centuries, lived without noticing the rest of the world - and vice versa - had a world of Barbies and civil rights drop on their communities of burqas and honor killings.

They're experiencing these changes over a period of years, or decades. Most other cultures had centuries, or millennia, to adjust. Under stress like that, it's hardly surprising that some people want to bring back the 'good old days.'
Piracy: Taking Advantage of Chaos
One reason that pirates can use Somalia as a base of operations is the lack of an effective central government. Somalia is having a worse time than many new nations, making things work.

Somalia is the result of a British and an Italian colony being merged into an independent nation in 1960. With about 85% of the people being Somali, and speaking the same language, they're in a better position than some countries. And, Somalis seem to be mostly Sunni Muslim, which lends a sort of unity.

On the other hand, Somalia has had a rough time, with none-too-constitutional regime changes, border disputes with Puntland, a do-it-yourself autonomous state, and people who forced a United Nations humanitarian project to pull out.

Right now, Somalia has a temporary national government that almost has control of the capital city.

A place like that is almost perfect for piracy: desperately poor; no law enforcement to speak of; sitting on top of one of the world's busiest sea lanes.

It's possible that if Portuguese traders, the British East India Company, and Italy hadn't interfered, sultans would be arguing about who owned what part of Somalia, and maintaining some sort of order for their own convenience. Arguably, a better situation than we have now.

Unless the sultans were like the current leaders of Sudan.

Background: In the news:

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.