Monday, April 13, 2009

You are being lied to about pirates

Probably one of the most interesting articles I've seen in the past 24 hours, although this commentary originally appeared on January 5. Given all the news we've seen about pirates this past week, I thought this was rather timely.

From The Independent's Johann Hari, "You are being lied to about pirates", makes the case that while "some are clearly just gangsters", many Somali pirates are simply members of a failed state who are trying to survive and protect their waters from toxic waste dumping and illegal fishing trawlers.

Here's an excerpt from the lead-in:

"Who imagined that in 2009, the world's governments would be declaring a new War on Pirates? As you read this, the British Royal Navy – backed by the ships of more than two dozen nations, from the US to China – is sailing into Somalian waters to take on men we still picture as parrot-on-the-shoulder pantomime villains. They will soon be fighting Somalian ships and even chasing the pirates onto land, into one of the most broken countries on earth. But behind the arrr-me-hearties oddness of this tale, there is an untold scandal. The people our governments are labelling as "one of the great menaces of our times" have an extraordinary story to tell – and some justice on their side.

Pirates have never been quite who we think they are. In the "golden age of piracy" – from 1650 to 1730 – the idea of the pirate as the senseless, savage Bluebeard that lingers today was created by the British government in a great propaganda heave. Many ordinary people believed it was false: pirates were often saved from the gallows by supportive crowds. Why? What did they see that we can't? In his book Villains Of All Nations, the historian Marcus Rediker pores through the evidence..."

Judging from the comments on this editorial, I'd say the author has stirred up quite a debate over the assertion that pirates have been, historically and presently, unjustly villified.

What do you say? Is there enough evidence to support either side's argument (pirates as villians vs. egalitarian thieves/survivors) in this this debate, or is the bulk of what we've heard about pirates just a total fantasy?