Monday, November 24, 2008

On Piracy...

We've been hearing a lot of news recently about the Somali pirates and their disruption of trade through the Red Sea. Their recent capture of a massive oil tanker only boosted the level of attention that the world is taking in that part of the world. There are even rumours now of an "internationalisation" of that route, and potentially more drastic measures for Somalia itself. It is interesting here to note the parallels with a similar course of events which took place almost 400 years ago. The fall of Andalusia and the expulsion of the Arabs led to their eventual resettlement across the north of Africa. In retaliation, many took to the sea, raiding and pillaging the European shipping routes and coastal colonies. This was aided further by the Ottoman Turks, who would send admirals, men and ships to boost what were eventually known as The Barbary Pirates. These men made entire stretches of the European coast uninhabitable because of their activities, which eventually became motivated by slavery. They reached as far as Ireland and Iceland, capturing slaves, looting and pillaging and it was not until the French invaded Algiers in 1930 that this came to an end. Typically, the Dey cut a deal whereby he would surrender if he could not be harmed and would be allowed to retain his own wealth, then he set sail for Italy. It was the Sultan of Morroco who would support the insurgency against the French, led by the hero Abd al Qadir and many Algerian refugees were welcomed by Morrocans apparently, in stark contrast to what the present position between the two countries is today. It is interesting to see the attitude of the "liberal" Europeans towards the Arabs in two excerpts I found on Wikipedia:

Lieutenant-Colonel de Montagnac wrote on 15 March 1843, in a letter to a friend:
"All populations which do not accept our conditions must be despoiled. Everything must be seized, devastated, without age or sex distinction: grass must not grow any more where the French army has put the foot. Who wants the end wants the means, whatever may say our philanthropists. I personally warn all good militaries which I have the honour to lead that if they happen to bring me a living Arab, they will receive a beating with the flat of the saber... This is how, my dear friend, we must do war against Arabs: kill all men over the age of fifteen, take all their women and children, charged the buildings with them [i.e. probable allusion to military brothels], send them to the
Marquesas Islands or elsewhere. In one word, annihilate all that will not crawl beneath our feet like dogs."[3]

In the same way, Alexis de Tocqueville, deputy and famous representative of the liberal tradition in political philosophy, declared in 1841:

"war in Africa is a science. Everyone is familiar with its rules and everyone can apply those rules with almost complete certainty of success. One of the greatest services that Field Marshal Bugeaud has rendered his country is to have spread, perfected and made everyone aware of this new science... As far as I am concerned, I came back from Africa with the pathetic notion that at present in our way of waging war we are far more barbaric than the Arabs themselves. These days, they represent civilization, we do not. This way of waging war seems to me as stupid as it is cruel. It can only be found in the head of a coarse and brutal soldier. Indeed, it was pointless to replace the Turks only to reproduce what the world rightly found so hateful in them. This, even for the sake of interest is more noxious than useful; for, as another officer was telling me, if our sole aim is to equal the Turks, in fact we shall be in a far lower position than theirs: barbarians for barbarians, the Turks will always outdo us because they are Muslim barbarians. In France, I have often heard men I respect but do not approve of, deplore that crops should be burnt and granaries emptied and finally that unarmed men, women and children should be seized. In my view these are unfortunate circumstances that any people wishing to wage war against the Arabs must accept. I think that all the means available to wreck tribes must be used, barring those that the human kind and the right of nations condemn.I personally believe that the laws of war enable us to ravage the country and that we must do so either by destroying the crops at harvest time or any time by making fast forays also known as raids the aim of which it to get hold of men or flocks."

"Whatever the case", continued Tocqueville, "we may say in a general manner that all political freedoms must be suspended in Algeria.[6]

A very interesting article on the invasion and subsequent colonisation of Algeria is here.

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