Thursday, December 11, 2008

Pirate chronicles

An archived piece from '03 on marine piracy in the London Review of Books... as relevant today as it was relevant when piracy was rampant off the Malacca Straits five years back. Only this time it has shifted westwards to the Horn of Africa. The article squarely puts the onus on the U.S. to curb the pirates. One might ask why does the United States need to step up so much when none of its vessels are hijacked. The answer might be found in one of those Spiderman movie quotes "with great power comes great responsibility - it is both a gift and a curse". Of course, the other factor being that we seem to have unconsciously anointed ourselves as the world police force with rhetoric that includes phrases like Bush Doctrine and exporting democracy.
Although the shipping world is demanding protection, neither the United Nations nor the United States sees piracy as a priority. The American Government’s concern for seafarers’ security is no greater than its attention to the health and safety of industrial and mining workers in the United States, where protective regulations are vanishing in the quest for easier profits. The only way to make Washington, and thus the rest of the maritime world, take notice is to project a connection between the pirate enemy and global terrorism. The connection is not far fetched.

Military adventures further American business interests. Halliburton becomes an East India Company running portions of Iraq. Bechtel disburses contracts to be paid from Iraqi oil revenues. Third World economies and former state services become the preserves of Securicor, American Medical International and Monsanto. The subjugated watch their masters to see how it is done. The American way of life is dividing people into two ‘communities’ – those on the inside and those on the outside. Afghanistan, Iraq, Colombia, the city ghettos of the Western world and the frontier badlands of Russia are more restive than ever. So are the oceans. America constructs nuclear shields in space, fortifies its borders and patrols its coasts. The barbarians are at the gates, and shortly they will be at the harbour walls, but they are inside, too – washing the dishes, shoplifting and, occasionally, beating someone to death to pay for a fix. If Washington’s war on terror does for Islamic extremism what its war on drugs did for the drug barons, we may all end up praying towards Mecca.

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