Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Community Voices: We Are All Somali Pirates Now

We are all Somali pirates now

Everywhere you turn these days, people are talking about Somali pirates. Day in and day out, this prejudice-fostering phrase is used by journalists, NGO representatives, government officials, and even by some of my friends in the arts community. It's as if we've collectively forgotten, or are supposed to forget, or choose to ignore, that not all Somalis are pirates, and not all pirates are Somali. Never do the neoliberal media display any curiosity about the root causes of "piracy", of the real motives and views of these men and women, or the loving families they leave behind on their dangerous journeys out of poverty.

Leaving aside the old adage that "one man's pirate is another man's shipmate", have we so quickly forgotten about Sir Henry Morgan? Blackbeard? Calico Jack? Captain Kidd? Entire towns such as Granada and Panama were sacked by these pirates -- and yes, they were pirates, and to a man, none ever even set foot in Somalia. Who are we to label Somalis as bloodthirsty pirates when we romanticize our own civilisation's sordid history of piracy with Disney rides and films?

When you participated in Talk Like A Pirate Day on September 19, did you speak in English, or in Somali? Who exactly is trying to shift the narrative, and why? Why are we discouraged from asking these questions, and why does it require so much bravery to do so? Ignoring the complexities may make simplistic minds feel good,but it doesn't help solve the situation. Nor does the unreflecting application of the kinds of labels that got us into this situation in the first place.

The coverage is having an effect and it isn't a pretty one. I doubt that most of the armchair pirate hunters so eager to "crack down hard" on this complicated phenomenon would even be able to locate Somalia on a map. Maybe their idol Sarah Palin could help them -- if she knew that there is more than one country on that continent.

We need to demand that our news media get a lesson in sensitivity, and put a stop to their unfair and ahistorical association of piracy with the Somali community, with whom we all stand in solidarity in the last days of this, the most corrupt White House in my lifetime.

Aloysius Krane is a visual artist specializing in transgressive pottery.

A moment for reflection
I tremble for everyone affected by the recent outbreak of piracy in the Gulf of Aden, and pray for the safety of all who have found themselves involved.

It is at moments such as these that we all are thankful for the small mercies the Lord of this World has shown us in our lives, and the good fortune each of us has in not being involved directly in such terrible situations. Although none of us is an island and all are diminished by this crisis, we cannot help but be touched by the situation. The fear and terror of every person on the unlucky oil tanker must be tremendous.It calls out to every person of faith like a sea-borne beacon.

Imagine being on that ship, miles from shore, waiting for the reaction of the world community; a community whose usual American-styled response to such events is to meet violence with more pointless violence.

I myself was once prone to that way of thinking, until I realized in my heart that it is only by God's lenience that I myself was not drawn in by the lure of plunder and murder. Granted, I could never have become a Somali pirate, but that is no reason to deny that any one of us might one day find ourselves launching grappling hooks onto a boat, or firing warning shots from a perilously unsteady dinghy to warn a tanker's crew of the danger that awaits them, or anxiously patrolling our assigned portion of the ship, trembling at the sound of every approaching helicopter.

If we are to be fishers of men, and to fulfil our sacred mission to turn the stones to bread and feed the impoverished, we need to think of how difficult and confusing it must be for the people on that ship even to sleep -- crew and visitors alike -- fearing that at any moment foreign troops might storm aboard and end the dream forever.

The legacy of poverty and racism has left us all washed up on strange shores indeed.

Hilda Reich is pastor of Supine Road United Church.

1 Comment:

MapMaster said...

I actually wept as I read this to think that the authors might not be receiving adequate grants or gratuitous publishing opportunities. More, please.