Sunday, December 7, 2008

Piracy & terrorism & the New York Times

John S. Burnett, another journalist who has written about modern-day piracy, penned a piece in Friday's New York Times that's worth a look. Like myself, Burnett has sailed the waters off East Africa and knows what it's like to be in pirate seas. As I've written here before, and will expand upon in my upcoming book, the western reaches of the Indian Ocean are both beautiful and dangerous to mariners.

Burnett adds his voice to mine and many others who feel that unless the situation on shore is addressed, Somali pirates will never be suppressed. His op-ed was followed by a piece by Douglas R. Burgess, Jr., entitled "Piracy is Terrorism". It provides his perspectives on how we should label pirates today, working from the old 'hostis humani generis definition': enemies of all mankind.

I do take small exceptions to some of what Burgess writes: Somalia does have a recognized government (the Transitional Federal Government), and maritime fiends are codified in law as either pirates (on the high seas) or maritime criminals (within sovereign waters). But his overall perspectives are otherwise spot on.

Piracy is a form of terrorism. But it is also something worse: It is the longest running, low-level armed conflict in human history. It has been carried out for thousands of years against a unique community with its own codes of conduct, language, mores and customs.


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