Thursday, April 09, 2009

Them and us

I was having dinner with a couple of friends last night when we inevitably broached on the topic of the hostage crisis occurring off the coast of Somalia, where a U.S Citizen was held hostage by four pirates. So what inevitably happen was that a US Destroyer was deployed to the area and negotiations began to free the captive.

So we began like mocking what was obviously a mismatch - four Somali Pirates against a US Destroyer the size of a football field armed to the teeth against AK-47 wielding former fishermen. But the humor slowly began to evaporate, as we began talking about how we should deal with the situation. One of my friends, an American (he doesn't know I have a blog so I'm at liberty to quote him) thought that " we ought to teach this people a lesson, they just wouldn't learn". In reply, my other friend added to the litany of disdain for 'this people' - " we should just blast down right out of the water!" Well, given that I was in a social situation which required me to go with the flow, I simply just nodded my head and somewhat agreed with them. But, I felt disturbed.

Then I got off and began surfing the net and my regular trawling through the HuffingtonPost and I came across an article about the hostage crisis, and since we were just talking about it,I wanted to find out what were the latest developments. Like most major news sites, the Huffpost side also encourages readers comments on the various issues, and so with every article, you would usually see a whole diversity of views. But it being the HuffingtonPost, there is a certain left-wing bias in the commentary. Which made it even more surprising when I went through the comments to realize an avalanche of views of the 'nuke them' and 'kill them all' variety.

So I turned on the news and LIVE on CNN it was Breaking NEWS coverage of the hostage drama. They were doing interviews with various 'piracy experts', former hostage negotiators, the usual fare u get on 24 hour network television. But most striking was the personalization of the hostage victim - his picture was flashed on the screen and every few moments the anchor reminded us who he was and where he came from. I'm not American, but I did identify with him and I can imagine Americans or people in the Western world seeing him as the atypical everyday guy who works an honest living, just like many of us. For me, he reminded me of my dad.

Then the reality, that this individual who is one of us, is now taken captive by savage pirates. These pirates who have no morals, no ethics, who are greedy money grabbing crooks, who totally deserve to face the full force of the American Navy for their intolerable actions of barbarity.

But who exactly are these pirates? I wonder.

I recalled what my friend said earlier at the pub, " They just never learn." I guess for he, like many others, these pirates have been arbitrarily categorized as part of 'the other' - a club which includes Jihadist, Terrorist, Gun wielding psychopaths.

But consider this, Pirates were not made overnight. Unlike Al Qaeda, they don't plan to put an end to 'Western Civilization'. They don't fly planes into buildings or plant IEDs along the streets of Baghdad. They have no nuclear ambitions and unlike the ever-lovable Kim Jung IL, they sure don't have the means to launch missiles to threaten their neighbors.

They are individuals who just seek a means of survival, albeit adhering to a means which we deem to be unlawful and unethical. But we should begin by asking ourselves, why aren't they adhering to the basic universal principles which you and I here in the 'civilized world' adhere to?

Firstly, Somalia has not much of a government in place. The last time a government was in place, it was an Islamic government, so the Ethiopians with the urging of the 'Civilized World' decided to run them out. Without a semblance of any authority, there isn't any judiciary, much less a system of justice which form the basis for law enforcement. Without a semblance of law and order, we have ourselves a situation where people just simply take the law into their own hands.

Secondly, Greed. Well, Greed's bad, just look at all those Wall Street Bankers our governments are bailing out, from which comes debt which you and I, the younger generation would have to bear in future, mind you! So yes, these Somali Pirates are greedy - for using brute force to comissorate what does not belong to them, as such they deserve their fate along with the rest of their kind. How I love the masculinity expressed in those words.

But beneath all this rhetoric is another side of the story, which I do not claim to be the truth, rather something we should consider before we 'nuke those bastards'. Many of these pirates were former fishermen, their livelihoods depressed because of the insurgence of international trawling companies into their traditional waters. Because of the absence of the means of their traditional mode of making a living, coupled with the non-existence of law enforcement, we have ourselves the creation of a sub-culture where piracy is seen to be an honorable means of making a living.

This is not to say what they are doing is right, or my denial of their actions to be wrong. But I think the last decade - the futility of the Wars in Iraq, the unprecedented violation of human rights by governments of 'civilized nations' utilizing the scourge of terrorism to push for unfetted powers over their citizens have taught us between right and wrong, there are always shades of grey.

Everyone Im sure, hopes for a peaceful end to this crisis, and that the victim would be safely reunited with his family and his loved ones. For him, we pray.

But at the same time, we have to be aware that if we allow the specter of the moment to drive our actions and press for retaliation that doesn't merit the situation, those arbitrary categorizations that were enacted in the pub would not just be arbitrary categorization. We might just, as we did in the past, spawn new coastal communities of jihadis bound on destruction.

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