Monday, April 20, 2009



April 19 2009
ByMatt Murray

Recent news coverage has been dominated by sensationalized stories of Somali pirates hijacking ships and taking hostages in order to secure large ransoms.

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 extremely well.

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 hand.’"

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 impunity.

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 vessels.

"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.


Somaliweyn Media Center “SMC”