From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Sun Apr 19 2009 - 07:45:05 EDT
Who are the real 'pirates' in Africa?
Saturday, April 19, 2009
By: Matt Murray
Capitalists demonize Somalis, hide their own blood-soaked history
Recent news coverage has been dominated by sensationalized stories of Somali
pirates hijacking ships and taking hostages in order to secure large
Most recently, the Maersk Alabama, a U.S.-based container ship, was hijacked
and its captain, Richard Phillips, was taken hostage. After a five-day
standoff, Navy SEAL snipers shot and killed three pirates while freeing him.
The U.S. mass media has portrayed the killings as a heroic military action.
In fact, the teenage Somali hijackers were out of fuel and ammunition, and
had been frantically pleading to give up Phillips to save their own lives.
The United States refused to negotiate.
Two days earlier, French navy commandos stormed a hijacked sailboat and
killed two pirates while freeing four French hostages.
Prior to the killings by the U.S. and French navies, there had been no
fatalities in any of the hijackings. Somali pirates had never harmed any
captives, and in fact, many former hostages have said they were treated
Yet the Western media has relentlessly demonized Somalis involved without
making any attempt at understanding the larger political context behind
these actions. Rather, the Somalis have been accused of looting and
plundering and have been falsely accused of being terrorists. They have been
purposely associated with al-Qaeda to justify their inclusion as targets in
the criminal "Global War on Terrorism." The United States is attempting to
use the situation to further justify their bloody imperialist intervention
in Somalia and the region.
There is deep irony in the accusations of barbarity and brutality being
hurled at Somali pirates: The world's largest banks and corporations, whose
interests are faithfully protected by the media, also have a history of
piracy. A gruesome and bloody history that is little known to the modern
world because it has been so carefully hidden, but it is in fact the
fundamental basis for the original accumulation of the vast sums of wealth
responsible for the dominant position held by imperialist countries.
Primitive accumulation: the roots of capitalism
In his landmark work "Capital," Karl Marx attacks the
mythology-presented-as-fact concerning the origins of the capitalist system.
We are led to believe that it was the hard work, diligence and frugality of
the capitalists that enabled them to amass vast sums of wealth. Marx,
however, exposes the lie of this narrative. He demonstrates that the
capitalist mode of production only began to develop after centuries of
enormous "accumulation," the brutal result of piracy, raids, pillage, rape
and massacres of whole peoples.
Marx writes: "The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation,
enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the
beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of
Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalized
the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. . If money 'comes into
the world with a congenital blood-stain on one cheek,' capital comes
dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt."
Dutch colonialism, according to the lieutenant governor of the island of
Java, was "one of the most extraordinary relations of treachery, bribery,
massacre and meanness."
In acquiring slaves, Dutch colonizers rounded up entire populations and
locked them in secret dungeons before sending them off in slave ships. In
1750, the Javan province of Banjuwangi had a population of 80,000. But by
1811 the murderous Dutch occupation had left only 18,000 inhabitants, a
reduction of over 75 percent of the population.
As a result of such genocidal atrocities, Holland by the mid-17th century
had fully developed the colonial system and was at the peak of its
commercial supremacy. It dominated the trade between East India and Europe,
and its fishing, marine and manufacturing industries were far ahead of any
of its competitors. Yet the masses of the Dutch people were, according to
Marx, "more over-worked, poorer and more brutally oppressed than those of
all the rest of Europe put together."
In the early 17th century, the English wrested control of the Spanish slave
trade to the Americas. As a result, their share in the sordid industry grew
enormously. In Liverpool in 1730, 15 slave ships were active, but by 1792
the city's slaving fleet had ballooned to include 132 vessels.
The English East India Company dominated Indian and Chinese commerce. Its
monopoly of unparalleled sources of wealth, including salt, opium and
countless other commodities were the result of wholesale theft and
slaughter. In India between the years 1769 and 1770, the company bought up
all supplies of rice to artificially create a shortage. The result was a
devastating famine that caused massive suffering and death.
In the Americas, the British colonial settlers were no different. They
participated in the annihilation of entire populations. In 1744, when
Puritans in Massachusetts declared the indigenous population "rebels," they
set prices for their scalps and capture: 100 pounds for the scalps of males
12 and over; 105 pounds for male captives; and 50 pounds for the capture or
scalping of women and children. Marx writes: "The British Parliament
proclaimed . scalping as 'means that God and Nature had given into its
To transform the English manufacturing industry into factory production,
mass enslavement of children became commonplace. Starting as young as
seven-years-old, children were snatched from their homes and forced to work
grueling hours under dismal conditions.
"They were harassed to the brink of death by excess of labor ... were
flogged, fettered and tortured in the most exquisite refinement of cruelty;
... they were in many cases starved to the bone while flogged to their work
and ... even in some instances ... were driven to commit suicide. ..."
("Capital," volume I, chapter 31)
Plunder, slavery, genocide, forced labor and piracy: these are the true
origins of capitalism.
The roots of Somali piracy
While the Western media focuses on isolated incidences of piracy off the
coast of Somalia, it deliberately ignores the political and historical
background of the situation.
Today, Somalia is completely surrounded by U.S. forces and its many proxies
in the region. To the east, the U.S. Navy's fifth fleet patrols the
country's coastline. On its northern, western and southern borders lie
Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya, all of which are U.S. client states.
In the aftermath of a total governmental collapse in 1991 and a criminal
U.S. invasion in 1992, Somalia was left with no central government. Lacking
forces to patrol its shoreline, Somalia's territorial waters were soon
plundered by commercial fishing fleets from around the world. The country's
coastline, the largest in the African continent, became an easy target for
commercial vessels carrying nuclear waste to unload their toxic cargos with
In response to these flagrant violations of Somalia's national sovereignty,
fishermen stepped in to fulfill the role of naval and coast guard forces,
arming themselves and protecting their territory by confronting illegal
"We don't consider ourselves sea bandits," said Sugule Ali, a spokesman for
the "so-called" pirates. "We consider sea bandits those who illegally fish
in our seas and dump waste in our seas and carry weapons in our seas. We are
simply patrolling our seas. Think of us like a coast guard."
To the United States, Somalia-one of the poorest countries in the world-is
of key geopolitical importance. It lies at a commercial crossroads between
the Middle East and Asia. A large portion of the world's oil tankers,
particularly European and Chinese, pass along its coast.
The Union of Islamic Courts, a coalition of Somali judges and courts, began
to emerge as Somalia's functional government, especially in the southern
parts of the country. By 2006, the UIC, with overwhelming popular support,
was able to effectively unify the country for the first time since 1991.
However, the UIC did not sufficiently bow down to U.S. dictates, opening it
up to being targeted for regime change.
In coordinated actions by the United States and Ethiopia in late 2006 and
early 2007, Somalia was bombarded, invaded and occupied. The aim was to
overthrow the UIC and replace it with the Transitional Federal Government, a
U.S. proxy regime lacking any popular support. As a direct result of
U.S.-Ethiopian aggression, over 400,000 Somalis had been displaced without
access to food, clean water, shelter or medicine by November 2007.
Without any form of state structure to defend Somalia's territory, its
national sovereignty has been violated time and time again. Foreign vessels,
including U.S. ships, illegally fish, dump toxic waste and even mount
full-scale invasions of the country from Somalia's coastal waters. Somalia
is roughly 8,000 nautical miles distant from the United States.
In this context, what the Somali pirates have done is completely
understandable. The U.S. response to the Somali pirates is saturated with
racism with the aim of thoroughly demonizing a targeted people.
The Somali "pirates" have killed zero sailors.
Somali groups like the Central Regional Coast Guard
patrol coastal waters and charge a "ransom" on
foreign shipping for using the coastal waters of the
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