Sunday, September 28, 2008

Somali Pirates, Barbary Pirates, Ransom, and the War on Terror

We can learn so much from Egypt.

Here's One View

The owners of the Egyptian MV Al-Monsourah paid a little over a million American dollars, and in exchange got their ship and its 25 crew members back, safe and sound.

Meanwhile, America is endangering the lives of the people on a Ukrainian ship off the Somali coast. The presence of an American destroyer, with its implied threat of violence, threatens an escalation of tension.

Why can't America learn to talk to people? Violence never solves anything.

Here's My View

The USS Howard is keeping an eye on pirates and the Ukrainian cargo ship Faina they're holding. Besides the crew, the ship is carrying 33 Russian-built T-72 tanks and a substantial quantity of ammunition and spare parts.

The military hardware was bound for Kenya, and America would just as soon see that it got there.

So would Russia. The Howard is standing in for the Russian missile frigate Neustrashimy, or Intrepid, that's steaming toward Somalia.

I'll grant that the presence of all those big, rough sailors is a risk. The Somali pirates "warned of dire consequences if any military action was taken to try to free the ship," as the Associated Press put it.

On the other hand, I don't think that paying someone to do something you don't want them to do makes sense. Rewarding behavior enforces that behavior. Rewarding undesirable behavior is nuts.

Which is why America has had a policy of not negotiating with terrorists for decades. This country hasn't always followed that policy to the letter, but American leaders tend to be more practical than ideologically pure. Which I see as sensible.

Some kinds of "practical" are more practical than others in the long run, though. An example:
  • About 1550: Pirates control the Barbary Coast, routinely plunder shipping in that area
  • 1662: England applies practical diplomacy, starts paying ransom
    • Barbary pirates stop hitting British ships
    • Other countries trading in the Mediterranean begin paying tribute
  • About 1776: England stops paying tribute for rebellious North American colonies
  • 1785: The Dey of Algiers seized an American ship
    • America didn't pay tribute
    • The Dey jailed the crew, waited for America to anted up
  • 1794: The Dey has plundered eleven American ships, and is waiting for ransom in exchange for hundred and nineteen survivors
  • 1797: Adams administration follows European wisdom, pays tribute to Barbary pirates
  • 1801: Jefferson administration inherits budget in which one out of every five dollars goes to the Barbary pirates
    • America starts military action against pirates
    • 1812: War of 1812 begins, lasts until 1814
      • Anti-piracy campaigns go on the back burner
      • Size of the American Navy is drastically reduced
    • 1815: America formally declared hostilities against Algiers
      • Algiers fell
      • 1816: Anglo-Dutch bombardment of Algiers marks end of Barbary Coast piracy
Repeating what I wrote in an earlier post, what I see as a lesson from the Barbary pirates situation is:
  • Diplomacy and concession work, for a while
  • Using military force doesn't always result in disaster
  • Things take time

What Not to Learn From the Barbary Coast Issue

Researching this post, I found out that piracy, at least in the Mediterranean, is supposed to be something that Islam made up.

I've read stranger ideas.

Even though it's not on a par with 'Nero was a Christian agent,' I think that Joshua E. London's Heritage Foundation lecture is off base. True, the land that Americans called the Barbary Coast was the Maghrib: the Islamic lands west of Egypt. And, the Barbary pirates were Muslims: many of them, anyway. But I'm really dubious about the idea that the idea of jihad led to piracy.

You could use that sort of logic to prove that Blackbeard was a missionary for the Church of England. Which is nonsense, by the way.

Besides, there's been piracy in the Mediterranean at least since the time of Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. That's a long time before Mohammed was born. My guess is that piracy started pretty soon after someone got the idea of moving material on logs or rafts.

In the news:


Anonymous said...

Being Muslims, they must be peaceful pirates at least. These Somali Buccaneer monkeys are out of control. They go out for weeks in little rickety boats with just weapons and water and eat raw fish they catch and keep hijacking bigger then bigger, then bigger boats.

These terrorist monkeys must be exterminated with extreme prejudice. Sending several drones into their camps when they're fat and happy celebrating their new money should do the trick.

Lots of great Pirate coverage over at Dinah Lord:
Somalian Gov't Charges Pirate Negotiator Andrew Mwangura
absurd thought -
God of the Universe says
don't exterminate pirates

seizing ships for ransom
everybody gets rich

absurd thought -
God of the Universe says
let pirates operate

you will get cut of ransom
and maybe some weapons too

All real freedom starts with freedom of speech. Without freedom of speech there can be no real freedom.
Philosophy of Liberty Cartoon
Help Halt Terrorism Today!


Brian H. Gill said...


Okay: "monkey" in this context, as you use it, isn't racist.

I did a little research: and referring to people as "monkeys" is recognized as a racist remark. The link in my earlier comment cites an example of a fan barred for using the term.

Perhaps you did not intend the remark to be interpreted in that way: but in compensatory American English, that's how the word works - particularly when used to describe people whose ancestors come from Africa.

You explained what you really meant, but that is how the language and culture work.

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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.