Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

Blowback Amnesia

Posted in politics by allisonkilkenny on April 15, 2009

It seems like only yesterday when Ron Paul was nearly guillotined on live television for suggesting that 9/11 was caused by this thing called “blowback.” It was 2007, and the Republicans were jockeying for the position of frontrunner during the national debate season. Rudy “9/11″ Guliani, never one to pass up reminding everyone of a national tragedy so we’ll forget what a horrible, little human being he really is, lept for Paul’s jugular. 

Some pirates operating off Somalia's coast claim to act as coastguards [GALLO/GETTY]Salivating, Rudy made a series of unchallenging commonplace remarks: “That’s really an extraordinary statement, as someone who lived through the attacks of September 11th…” (Pause for awed silence…two…three…four) “..that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq.”

Of course, Paul was right. The attacks on September 11, 2001 were carried out by a group of 19 hijackers (15 of whom were Saudi Arabian), and Al-Qaeda clearly cited their principal grievances as:

1. America’s unwavering support of Israel.

2. America’s military presence in the Middle East, particularly near holy landmarks.

Instead of learning a valuable lesson from 9/11, America (led by its mainstream media, political hawks, and overinflated military) seems hellbent on inviting more cases of blowback. As Paul mentioned way back in 2007, America has built an embassy in Iraq that is bigger than the Vatican. But that probably won’t pissed anyone off. …Right?

Now, certain hawks, led by the ever vivacious John Bolton, are discussing a ground invasion into Somalia as retaliation for the kidnapping of Richard Phillips. Bolton wants to do this with – I shit you not – “a coalition of the willing.”

Can I pay someone to beat John Bolton with the 9/11 Commission Report?

“We need to look at what we do from the perspective if someone did it to us,” Ron Paul said that fateful night. This simplistically beautiful sentiment called the principle of universality often invites the sneering rebuttal: “So you’re saying we (or the victims) deserved this?” That was the question the moderator posed to Paul during the debate. 

Paul’s response: “I’m suggesting we listen to the people who attacked us.”

Surely, this is the only way to break the cycle of violence. If we refuse to listen to our enemies, then we don’t know their grievances, and we can never make amends. We’ve learned that bombing and bullying alone cannot build bridges between us. Iraq taught us this, and Afghanistan will teach us the same lesson.

Somalia waits to offer us the same lesson (yet again.) As anyone with even a basic understanding of history could have predicted, the killing of the three pirates may set off a domino effect of retaliations.Waiting to reenforce the message are a slew of angry Somali pirates, who vowed to avenge their fallen comrades. “This could escalate violence in this part of the world, no question about it,” said Vice Admiral Bill Gortney, the commander of United States Naval Forces Central Command. The New Zealand Herald reports

Abdullahi Lami, one of the pirates holding a Greek ship anchored in the Somali town of Gaan, said: “Every country will be treated the way it treats us. In the future, America will be the one mourning and crying. We will retaliate [for] the killings of our men.” 

To put it another way: Blowback.

On Tuesday, armed pirates attacked an American cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden. The Times article concludes with a quote from John Wick, the director of International Security Solutions, a maritime security firm in London: “Somali pirates have typically not mistreated their captives.” Of course, now we’ve killed three of their guys. That may change their policy toward American hostages. Such is the danger of letting men eager to make war make our policy decisions.

My last piece, in which I sought to explain the causes of Somali piracy, inspired some colorful hate mail. Americans seem comfortable with the mainstream media’s cartoonish depiction of villainous pirates, and they aren’t interested in humanizing the three men who were just executed by Navy snipers. 

The media certainly isn’t helping to explain the Somali situation. Apart from Democracy Now, most newscasters and journalists seem comfortable with recycling the old explanation for these acts of aggression: terrorists hate out freedom, brown people are incapable of running a functioning state, etc.

Determined to repeat the same sick exercise that led the American citizenry, blind, into an illegal war, the mainstream media spent the day after the pirate executions drooling over the awesome awesomeness of the US military. Aren’t they great, everyone? Those bullets just pierce flesh so wonderfully!

Even the progressive messiah, Rachel Maddow, called the spectacle of the US Navy shakily standing-off against four poorly armed pirates “riveting.” Maddow further commented that the Navy-Somali standoff had Americans brushing up on their, “How freaking impressive are Navy Seals-ology?”  

(Really glad that 9PM slot on “liberal” MSNBC went to someone aggressively challenging America’s bloated military. Oh well, what can one expect when Ms. Maddow operates on a network owned by G.E., which manufactures some of the very weapons used by the navy?)

I explained in my original article that Somali pirates claim their motives stem from the West overfishing in their seas, and then dumping nuclear waste in their waters. Unable to sustain themselves with traditional modes of employment, they have turned to acts of piracy out of desperation. The nuclear waste dumping charges have been confirmed by the United Nations envoy for Somalia.

Though the mainstream newspapers have documented the Somali’s qualms with western powers, they have not gone the extra step to link these grievances with acts of piracy. Furthermore, most of the major network conversations about Somalia are worryingly moving toward a place of militarism. I always grow concerned when news networks break out their extra spiffy graphics during War Game time: showing Navy snipers shooting faceless bad guys, troop deployments in a “theoretic” ground invasion of Somalia, etc.

It reminds me of the lead-up to Iraq. The chatters starts to sound like war drums.

Everyone needs to take a deep breath. If Americans can collectively act like adults and think past the next thirty seconds, they’ll see that a ground invasion into Somalia is an awful idea. Another awful idea would be bombing Somalia’s coastline, which is roughly as long as the eastern seaboard of the United States. Imagine blanketing such a huge swath of land with bombs. Imagine how many innocent women, children, and young men will die. Yet another terrible, terrible idea would be to harass innocent fisherman and profile all citizens because of the acts of a minority of young men.

All of the above terrible, terrible, terrible ideas breed blowback. The opposite of these mind-numbingly stupid plans comes from addressing the Somalis’ grievances and offering them aid and support as they try to rebuild their country. Western states need to end their overfishing and the dumping of hazardous waste.

If America fails to understand the world’s grievances with its militaristic, imperialist agenda, then it is destined for decades (maybe centuries) of blowback. America must break this endless cycle of blowback if only to finally (please God) stop the pirate puns.

In Defense of Pirates

Posted in Citizen Radio, media, politics, terrorism by allisonkilkenny on April 10, 2009
Hazardous waste on Somalian shore (scidev.net)

Hazardous waste on Somalian shore (scidev.net)

If I’m to believe the mainstream press and pundits (most disappointingly, Rachel Maddow,) there are bands of inexplicably evil men sailing around the Horn of Africa, pillaging ships and terrorizing sailors simply because they are pirates. And pirates are evil. End of story.

Except, that’s a rather shallow interpretation of what’s happening in the Somalian waters. Acts of piracy are acts of desperation, and not the acts of evil men. Of course, terrorizing civilians is never acceptable, though I would like to point out my own government is guilty of crimes against humanity that far exceed any acts of Somalian piracy.

In his excellent article, Johann Hari writes of a fascinating exchange between Alexander the Great and a pirate. The pirate was captured and brought before Alexander.

[Alexander] demanded to know “what he meant by keeping possession of the sea.” The pirate smiled, and responded: “What you mean by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, while you, who do it with a great fleet, are called emperor.” Once again, our great imperial fleets sail in today – but who is the robber?

Hari went into further detail about Somalian pirates when I interviewed him for my show Citizen Radio. During the interview, he explained that Somalian pirates are actually poor fishermen. It was only after Somalian waters were poisoned by western nations, and the livelihoods of Somalian fisherman were destroyed, that civilians turned to acts of piracy as means of survival.

What happened in Somalia is that in 1991, the Somalian government collapsed and the country imploded. Two processes began in different parts of Somalia; bearing in mind it has a 3000 km coastline. A European shipping fleet, mostly Spanish, Italian and some British came along and basically started industrially fishing Somalian fish, which is one of the main sources of food in a starving country. Suddenly these tiny little fishermen with nets were being out fished by these industrial trawlers and the fish started just disappearing, so there was a massive increase in hunger in Somalia.

In another part of Somalia, industrial waste from Europe begun to being dumped just off the coast, because it’s expensive to get rid of waste in Europe [whilst] it costs nothing to take it in a boat and dump it outside Somalia. The most incredible thing that was dumped was literally nuclear waste. So after the tsunami, barrels of all sorts of random shit started to wash up on the coast of Somalia, including nuclear waste that we now know [as a result] radiation sickness killed around 300 people but no ones bothering to count or check. That’s [what] the UN special envoys estimate to me was, 300 died, could be far more, no one’s looking, cleaning or doing anything.

Imagine if this happened in Florida, imagine if the government of Florida didn’t have any resources and suddenly Italians came, stole all the fish and everyone was going bust in Florida, and they started dumping nuclear waste. People of Florida would be calling for the nuking of Italy.

The Somalians with very limited resources sent what they called the ‘National Volunteer Coast Guard’ to try and stop these people, and the people we call pirates call themselves the coast guard. This is not that implausible when you bear in mind the context. It’s absolutely true that the some pirates have committed unacceptable acts, I don’t believe it’s ever right to take a hostage, [but] they haven’t killed anyone, harmed anyone, but they have taken hostages. That’s not right, they do it to get money but they then in some cases give it back to [their] communities, which have been desecrated in several instances. So it’s a good example of how something is presented as mindless insanity when actually it’s actually completely different.

Pundits (even our beloved Progressive pundits) adore simplicity, and the pirate coverage off the coast of Somalia presented to them an orgasmic, cartoonish stand-off between “noble seamen,” and “evil pirates.”

The truth is more complicated than that.

Somalians live in  a shockingly volatile environment complete with stark poverty and religious fundamentalism. Their environment has been poisoned by the west, their source of food and income destroyed, and now desperate men are resorting to desperate acts.

To stress again: it’s never acceptable to harm civilians, and hostage-taking is never a valid means of negotiation. Still, when considering the stress placed upon Somalia’s civilians, it’s actually pretty surprising that there hasn’t been more violence, and that most nautical conflicts with pirates have been resolved peacefully. (Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, even admitted that “in most of these cases to date, [the] crews have ultimately been released unharmed.”)

It’s important not to demonize Somalians, even the Somalian pirates. When we demonize our enemies, they become less than human, and it becomes easy to apply such blanket rhetoric as “terrorists.” Demonization (particularly by our media) allows hawkish figures an excuse to say that Somalia “must be invaded,” that poor fisherman AKA pirates “must be destroyed,” and that the “axis of evil” has a new peg.

Johann Hari’s official website: http://www.johannhari.com/

Allison Kilkenny’s official website is here: allisonkilkenny.com. Also available on Facebook and Twitter.

You Are Being Lied to About Pirates

Posted in environment, politics by allisonkilkenny on January 5, 2009

Johann Hari

pirate-somalia-general-bgWho 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 labeling as “one of the great menace 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 thief that lingers today was created by the British government in a great propaganda-heave. Many ordinary people believed it was false: pirates were often rescued 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 to find out. If you became a merchant or navy sailor then – plucked from the docks of London’s East End, young and hungry – you ended up in a floating wooden Hell. You worked all hours on a cramped, half-starved ship, and if you slacked off for a second, the all-powerful captain would whip you with the Cat O’ Nine Tails. If you slacked consistently, you could be thrown overboard. And at the end of months or years of this, you were often cheated of your wages.

Pirates were the first people to rebel against this world. They mutinied against their tyrannical captains – and created a different way of working on the seas. Once they had a ship, the pirates elected their captains, and made all their decisions collectively. They shared their bounty out in what Rediker calls “one of the most egalitarian plans for the disposition of resources to be found anywhere in the eighteenth century.” They even took in escaped African slaves and lived with them as equals. The pirates showed “quite clearly – and subversively – that ships did not have to be run in the brutal and oppressive ways of the merchant service and the Royal navy.” This is why they were popular, despite being unproductive thieves.

The words of one pirate from that lost age – a young British man called William Scott – should echo into this new age of piracy. Just before he was hanged in Charleston, South Carolina, he said: “What I did was to keep me from perishing. I was forced to go a-pirating to live.” In 1991, the government of Somalia – in the Horn of Africa – collapsed. Its nine million people have been teetering on starvation ever since – and many of the ugliest forces in the Western world have seen this as a great opportunity to steal the country’s food supply and dump our nuclear waste in their seas.

Yes: nuclear waste. As soon as the government was gone, mysterious European ships started appearing off the coast of Somalia, dumping vast barrels into the ocean. The coastal population began to sicken. At first they suffered strange rashes, nausea and malformed babies. Then, after the 2005 tsunami, hundreds of the dumped and leaking barrels washed up on shore. People began to suffer from radiation sickness, and more than 300 died. Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the UN envoy to Somalia, tells me: “Somebody is dumping nuclear material here. There is also lead, and heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury – you name it.” Much of it can be traced back to European hospitals and factories, who seem to be passing it on to the Italian mafia to “dispose” of cheaply. When I asked Ould-Abdallah what European governments were doing about it, he said with a sigh: “Nothing. There has been no clean-up, no compensation, and no prevention.”

At the same time, other European ships have been looting Somalia’s seas of their greatest resource: seafood. We have destroyed our own fish-stocks by over-exploitation – and now we have moved on to theirs. More than $300m worth of tuna, shrimp, lobster and other sea-life is being stolen every year by vast trawlers illegally sailing into Somalia’s unprotected seas. The local fishermen have suddenly lost their livelihoods, and they are starving. Mohammed Hussein, a fisherman in the town of Marka 100km south of Mogadishu, told Reuters: “If nothing is done, there soon won’t be much fish left in our coastal waters.”

This is the context in which the men we are calling “pirates” have emerged. Everyone agrees they were ordinary Somalian fishermen who at first took speedboats to try to dissuade the dumpers and trawlers, or at least wage a ‘tax’ on them. They call themselves the Volunteer Coastguard of Somalia – and it’s not hard to see why. In a surreal telephone interview, one of the pirate leaders, Sugule Ali, said their motive was “to stop illegal fishing and dumping in our waters… We don’t consider ourselves sea bandits. We consider sea bandits [to be] those who illegally fish and dump in our seas and dump waste in our seas and carry weapons in our seas.” William Scott would understand those words.

No, this doesn’t make hostage-taking justifiable, and yes, some are clearly just gangsters – especially those who have held up World Food Programme supplies. But the “pirates” have the overwhelming support of the local population for a reason. The independent Somalian news-site WardherNews conducted the best research we have into what ordinary Somalis are thinking – and it found 70 percent “strongly supported the piracy as a form of national defence of the country’s territorial waters.” During the revolutionary war in America, George Washington and America’s founding fathers paid pirates to protect America’s territorial waters, because they had no navy or coastguard of their own. Most Americans supported them. Is this so different?

Did we expect starving Somalians to stand passively on their beaches, paddling in our nuclear waste, and watch us snatch their fish to eat in restaurants in London and Paris and Rome? We didn’t act on those crimes – but when some of the fishermen responded by disrupting the transit-corridor for 20 percent of the world’s oil supply, we begin to shriek about “evil.” If we really want to deal with piracy, we need to stop its root cause – our crimes – before we send in the gun-boats to root out Somalia’s criminals.

The story of the 2009 war on piracy was best summarised by another pirate, who lived and died in the fourth century BC. He was captured and brought to Alexander the Great, who demanded to know “what he meant by keeping possession of the sea.” The pirate smiled, and responded: “What you mean by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, while you, who do it with a great fleet, are called emperor.” Once again, our great imperial fleets sail in today – but who is the robber?

Johann Hari is a writer for the Independent newspaper. To read more of his articles, click here.

Top Ten Humanitarian Crises

Posted in human rights by allisonkilkenny on December 22, 2008

MSF

Massive forced civilian displacements, violence, and unmet medical needs in the Democratic Republic of CongoSomaliaIraq,Sudan, and Pakistan, along with neglected medical emergencies in Myanmar and Zimbabwe, are some of the worst humanitarian and medical emergencies in the world, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) reports in its annual list of the “Top Ten” humanitarian crises.

The report underscores major difficulties in bringing assistance to people affected by conflict. The lack of global attention to the growing prevalence of HIV-tuberculosis co-infection and the critical need for increased global efforts to prevent and treat childhood malnutrition—the underlying cause of death for up to five million children per year—are also included in the list.