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April 16, 2009

Pirates as bandits

Ben MacIntyre argues that the term "pirate" is a misnomer. He thinks the more accurate label is "shifta," the traditional name for maritime bandits on the horn of Africa:

The term shifta may be unfamiliar, yet it is a key to understanding what is happening off the coast of Somalia, and how it might possibly be resolved. Shifta, derived from the Somali word shúfto, can be translated as bandit or rebel, outlaw or revolutionary, depending on which end of the gun you are on.

In the roiling chaos that is Somalia, the killers and criminals are variously pirates, warlords, kidnappers, fanatics or Islamic insurgents. Most are young, angry men with no prospects, no education and a great deal of heavy weaponry. But all are historically descended from the shiftas who have plundered the Horn of Africa for decades. [Independent]

Interestingly, like today's boat hijackers, the original shiftas originated as militias and later crossed over into lives of crime.

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So MacIntyre seems to have read Eric Hobsbawn?

"In the roiling chaos that is Somalia, the killers and criminals are variously pirates, warlords, kidnappers, fanatics or Islamic insurgents. Most are young, angry men with no prospects, no education and a great deal of heavy weaponry. But all are historically descended from the shiftas who have plundered the Horn of Africa for decades."

Isn't that essentially arguing that we ought to use an opaque, unfamiliar term to conflate a lot of different people and groups into one vaguely defined entity?

He's saying that different people have used different terms to highlight different facets of the same phenomenon.

If there are ideological, nationalist, religious, political, and military dynamics here we should be mindful of all of them.

This seems to me to be where policing is the issue not military scale actions. If they are called bandits in the press that's ok with me. What is a problem is the extra territorial police actions that up the ante for violence against rebellions. So-called pirates (bandits seems more apt description to me) have been functioning for a long time across the Indian Ocean into the Pacific. In the context of desperate conditions in the areas that foster such activities. The bad economy foments more of the same. What is the rule of law in this case? The U.S. tends to see the rule of 'law' as it's practices rather than say China, or the U.N. Rivals for global power trade support and encouragements in various areas. Not that I am saying China supports the Somali pirates. All I'm saying is the break down of economic order brings out friction and banditry in which all sides take advantage. For the U.S. the threat is not the bandits, but loss of influence due to growing threats to it's economic power everywhere.

Well, the solution seems easy enough... (Don't go near the coast) 600miles exclusion zone. lol. Who needs navy to protect your coast if little pirates can gain area 3 times than normal country.

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=aBbi54jlPATY&refer=home

April 16 (Bloomberg) -- A group representing half the world’s merchant-ship operators backed a plan to exclude vessels from an area 600 miles (965 kilometers) wide off Somalia’s coast because of an escalation in attacks by pirates.

Ships shouldn’t sail within the zone extending from the east coast of Somalia down to the Seychelles, Peter Hinchcliffe, London-based marine director at the International Chamber of Shipping, said by phone today. He confirmed the contents of a circular sent to the group’s members yesterday.

600 miles? The Gulf of Aden ranges from 15 to 150 miles wide.

Not translating words increases rather than decreases misunderstanding. If we insisted on translating the words Alah and Jihad to God and crusade, the closest english equivelents, it would reduce the misunderstanding between the West and Islam. Calling pirates by their local name would ad confusion simmilar to the confusion created by our refusal to translate the name of God.

So shifta means 'bandit' - while 'seagoing bandit' equally well sums up the good old English word 'pirate.' What's the gain? In spite of all the nervous jokes, no one is really mistaking these guys for Sir Henry Morgan or Blackbeard. Nor would using a borrowed word give us any of the shades of connotation and background has for Somalis.

For that matter, a background echo of 'rebel' is coded into our familiar image of piracy - Captain Jack Sparrow is not exactly portrayed as the bad guy, after all. But in the end anyone who pays attention understands that Somali piracy has developed out of a complex situation. Anyone not paying attention isn't going to understand it any better by replacing a familiar word with an exotic one having the same overall meaning.

600 miles? The Gulf of Aden ranges from 15 to 150 miles wide.
Posted by: Alon Levy | April 16, 2009 at 02:53 PM "

just the east coast I think. The northern part (Puntaland) is controlled by US friendly arm gangs. (a lot of US oild fields in there. Exxon, Chevron, etc.)

oil field map here
http://www.biyokulule.com/Puntla2.jpg

http://www.africanoiljournal.com/05-01-2008_africa_oil_corp.htm


(Amazing right? with that much gas and oil, somalia is still so poor. There goes world justice.)

Another thing: Somalia has Uranium and tantalum. (so expect black diamond situation to arise.)

Actually, natural resources tend to decrease economic growth. Saudi Arabia is one of the better run natural resource states around; Angola is a more typical case.

Of course, you can call them Adorable Bunnies, but if they point guns
at people to take what isn't theirs and won't surrender, it's still morally permissible to kill them.

I'm not sure if the distinction between pirates and bandits is meant to discredit the notion that there's some automatic legal permission to kill pirates.

In real terms, the US military is not checked by any foreign authority, only by US courts. "International law" has no interpreting court we defer to, and treaties the US enters are codified in US law, to be interpreted by US federal courts.

The main pressure foreign interests can impose on the US in relation to the use of force is diplomatic. That's why British and Australian detainees at Guantanamo were released quickly to the custody of their home countries, while Afghan prisoners languished for years.

Somalia has no state to demand any accountability for the pirate shootings, and the US government response and popular opinion has been favorable to the Navy's response.

So there's not going to be any investigation, and there shouldn't be.

The situations the military faces are not analogous to those police deal with, and the military shouldn't necessarily be constrained in the same way police are in resorting to deadly force.

Killing the pirates in a widely publicized manner is ideal for deterring future acts of piracy against American flagged ships. The pirates should know that we will not pay ransom and will kill them. Paying them off will only encourage more piracy.

Mitchforth, did you really need that long a comment to just assert the point that paying ransom encourages more piracy?

Alon Levy writes;
Actually, natural resources tend to decrease economic growth. Saudi Arabia is one of the better run natural resource states around; Angola is a more typical case.

Doyle;
Whoa, this is pretty unsupported stuff to assert. Africa has not been supported in economic development. Angola fought a long civil war sponsored by the U.S. over control over their country against a military opponent who could not on his own have put up a sustained fight.

Angola and other African states are now being pulled by global competition between the U.S. and it's potential power rivals. In a situation where particularly violent wars have gone on over resources I wonder what poorly run really means as you use the phrase. Please elaborate.

Calling maritime bandits and kidnappers "pirates" dilutes the meaning of the word, and lessens the anger and horror people should feel towards the miscreants who copy and share music files.

This is precious. Can I quote you?

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