What do Somalia, Long John Silver and the U.N. have in common? The answer, unfortunately, is confusion.
Somalia is a regime without a central government. The country would be an Abbott and Costello routine, little more than a vaudeville act in uniforms and machetes, were it not for those machetes. Who’s on first? Better: Who’s in Mogadishu?
Let’s move on to Long John Silver, the character that Robert Louis Stevenson cobbled from “Chronicles Of Pirate Life” by Defoe, and muddled with his own hobbled editor, William Ernest Henley, to form a man by turns brave and cowardly, almost good and at times evil. In other words, Silver is a paradigm for modern moral relativity. He is neither very fine nor very foul. I would say that this character is confused. Put him in the Twentieth Century, sic Sartre on him and he would be, nearly, existential.
Which leaves the U.N.: a quasigovernmental body that says much and means little or means much and says little. (These are the mixed-up minds that not only put Syria on its Security Council, but also appointed Syria as the capo de capo of the Council in the Presidium. Syria, for those who care about such matters, has been linked to assassinations, the development of nuclear weapons and the aiding and abetting of terrorists. It is a country that should be developing pistachio nuts rather than plutonium. The market, I imagine, is so much better for pistachio nuts these days, as just about every country can do plutonium. I mean if the North Koreans can assemble a nuclear warhead, plutonium must be so last month. You have to be really advanced to grow perfectly green little pistachio nuts. But, I digress. …Just like the U.N.)
Almost every family has a demented aunt or uncle. We invite them over for Thanksgiving dinner and can’t wait for them to leave. That’s the U.N. It is forever having senior moments and slipping the silverware into its pockets. (See oil for food scandal for example.) It hardly knows whom to condemn and whom to commend. The U.N. has no difficulty condemning and commending the same countries, sometimes in the same week, sometimes on the same day, sometimes in joint resolutions in which the ambassadors don’t agree why they are agreeing to it.
These three befuddled parties are, unfortunately, collectively and cumulatively contributing to piracy along the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean.
Somalia has no functioning government and is run by competing warlords, militias and terrorist groups. It cannot provide basic services to its citizens, who are poor, starving and lacking in any education except robbery and murder, and that they have learned through experience.
So why blame Long John Silver for this African nation’s calumny? Long John Silver’s confusion of character is our own confusion about his character. He is a pirate, and therefore a romantic character, a swashbuckler, a corsair, mythic by means of movies and literature. Close your eyes and say the word “pirate”, and I guaranty that you do not conjure a ragged starving Somali at sea.
The Somalis that attack innocents are not adventurers, and there is nothing admirable about their cruelty.
There was little to nothing admirable about pirates a couple of centuries ago. They were killers too. Francis Drake got knighted and became a “sir”. He wasn’t a pirate at the time, but in the service of the Royal Navy, which needed his skill in fighting Spaniards; but there is no need to be overly technical is such matters. Pirates became privateers and privateers became pirates when the mood and the money were right. We are entitled to our myths. They help get us through an otherwise boring day, but we should not mistake myths for reality. Long John Silver and his pirate progeny may be devilish rogues, but the Somali pirates are merely devils. There is no romance in a beheading or a ransom. These are acts of cruelty and cowardice.
The U.N. Security Council, in a unanimous vote, passed a resolution allowing foreign navies to combat Somali pirates along the 1,800 mile-long coast of the country. Unanimous? Warships? The U.N. did this?
Where then is the confusion?
The resolution is limited to Somalia, and a slam-dunk for the U.N. because piracy is a violation of international law. The combating of piracy does not require a permit. Somalia need only invite other countries to enter its territorial waters and the navies can come. The controversy is what did not pass, which countries were left out of the resolution—like, for example, all of the countries on the rest of the African continent. China, Vietnam and Libya, according to the BBC, only voted for the resolution because it will not affect the sovereignty of other countries. Why risk the good will of dictatorships by expanding the resolution to apply to—let us say—West Africa, which is also beset by pirates? And which, as coincidence would have it, has untapped natural resources….
Here is where all three parties meet at the crossroads. They, thoroughly confused, cannot determine the difference between what is right and what is in their best interests.
By way of coda, the Somali government—such as it is (or isn’t)—is fighting Islamic terrorists. The Ethiopians are fighting al-Qaeda in Somalia and helping to prop up the current rulers. The terrorists won’t talk to the U.N. or meet with representatives of the Somali government until the Ethiopians leave. The Somalis are, of late, willing to try this bargain. Of course there may be no need for talks if the Ethiopians leave, because terrorists tend to shy away from talking after they take over a country. They prefer to toss true believers strapped with bombs at dissidents.
Terrorists are not confused. They want Somalia, have no romantic notions about pirates and no fear of the U.N.
It appears, then, that the only condition worse than confusion is a lack of confusion. Doubloons anyone?
Edward Chupack is an attorney for a major law firm. He lives near Chicago. This is his first novel.
To learn more about Long John Silver, please visit www.silverpirate.com