12 May, 2009

Want to fight pirates? Go to London!

Educational humor from the Hong Kong Standard:

"Q: Daddy, what's a pirate?
A: Pirates are strong people who attack weaker people and steal their things.
Q: You mean like the way big international trawlers have been stealing fish from Somali waters, putting local fisherman out of business?
A: Exactly.
Q: Like the European companies that commandeered the Somalia coastal shelf and dumped toxic nuclear waste there?
A: Yes, all these people can be defined as pirates.
Q: So, the people on the international ships entering Somali waters are actually the bad guys?
A: Exactly. Somalis have been complaining for years about the way the international community has cheated and poisoned them, but no one paid attention except charities and church groups.
Q: Why do the TV news channels describe the Somalis as pirates, when they're the victims?
A: Somalis are small brown people who don't wear the right labels."

Of course, reality is slightly more nuanced. For example, some of the illegal fishing in Somalia is apparently done by poor Egyptian fishermen, not rich and powerful international companies, and far from all foreign ships hi-jacked outside Somalia was involved in plundering the country's resources. But I think particularly the last lines of the dialouge above captures one of the main issues involved here: The double standards of the Western Great Powers that seem to reach new heights every day.

I recently wrote an article in Swedish about the background to the pirate phenomenon outside Somalia: How the uncontrolled and illegal plundering of valuable fish species in Somalian waters by Asian and European fishing fleets forced local communities to form a form of self-organized "coast guard" to scare the pirate fishers away or collect "taxes" from them. With time some of these turned to piracy, and today it seems most of the attacks that draw international attention are carried out by well-organized and well-armed gangs, often controlled and financed from cities in the West - including London as The Guardian reported yesterday. If sending NATO warships to battling pirates was questionable to start with, it looks even more like an excuse to gain a military foothold in the Indian Ocean if the real base of many of those piracy operations - just like the illegal fishing industry - is London and other western cities.

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