Did anyone see the pictures of the captured Somali pirate in the news recently, as he was being brought to New York for prosecution? It is quite revealing and shows clearly that the problems that we are facing in this world are not as clear cut and easy to parse as all that.
To begin with, he is a teenager...a minor. He will be tried as an adult, and I would agree that the crimes of priracy would normally hold such a stipulation.
But, did you see him smile? He looked genuinely happy to be there. His smiles were not cynical or mocking...he was not laughing at us as if his actions will live beyond him. Nope. He is happy to be there. And why not?
Let's see...he lived in a country where getting a meal is not taken for granted. In a country where warlords have used access to food and water as weapons to control the population. A country where hundreds die each day of malnutrition and starvation. That is the country he came from.
The people whom he surrounded himself with were worse. The Somali Pirates may appear to be made up of a bunch of teenagers, but they are not running things, they are merely footsoldiers, recruited with a promise of money. Now, again, this is not as if these kids were sitting home playing with their X-Boxes and eating Funyons and then just decided they wanted more. No, these kids most likely had very few options when it came to money making...and most likely no option that had the allure of wealth like piracy. Add a couple of charismatic recruiters, and toss in the fact that America along with other nations can be made to look really bad to a young third world muslim and what choice do these young boys have...if they even had that much.
His smile was genuine. He just made an airplane trip and was taken accross New York City on his way to the courtroom. His efforts...criminal to us...have actually paid off for him. He is in America. He got to travel and see sights few like him get to see firsthand. He will now go to jail and await his trial...where he will be fed and cared for more reliably than he has ever been. We see the notion of giving up freedom as a huge loss...but to this young man, I am betting that he would take incarceration in an American prison over most of what passed for freedom in his financially strapped, largely lawless nation.
I am not going soft on pirates at all. Piracy should be condemned as one of those too bad to allow crimes along with murder, kidnapping, rape and treason (though Bush and Cheney are still free). But, maybe the next time we hear about pirates in the Somali oceans we can adjust our mind's vision of them. Rather than seeing big brutish men with agendas and bloodlust...we should see the puppets of those men...teenage boys doing what they can do to survive. When facing federal charges makes a person smile about his condition...we should take notice.
When we see our president opening up dialogue with nations that we have previously ignored...when we see our president shaking hands with other world leaders...not to agree with them, but to open up discussions...when we hear our president talk about sweeping changes as to how we treat the rest of the world...then we are seeing the real way to combat this kind of piracy. Sure, gunships and comandos will do the trick for the pirates at sea today...but diplomacy and building a genuine world community where even the outcast nations of today can one day belong is the way to defeat the pirates who have yet to take to the sea.