I posted the YouTube interview (actually Davey D interviewed him) with the Somali-born rapper K'naan below and on Facebook last Tuesday. I was disturbed by the sceptical response it elicited from my mostly educated, mostly liberal readers and Facebook friends, so I did a little more research into K'naan's claims, that I will report below (well, report on the reporting: I'm just a guy in his pajamas). Since then, the media has been devoting a great deal of attention to the tearful homecoming of the American hostages as well, of course, to the heroic conduct of the Navy SEALs who killed three Somali pirates (all aged between 17 and 19), presenting the story in the crowd-pleasing form of the heroic rescue after the terrible ordeal, without so much as a mention of the background of problems for Somalis that puts the piracy in context.
So I was interested this morning when I saw that the NYT had an editorial on the problem, and I turned to it immediately. The NYT is my basic newspaper, and I'm not the sort of cranky, correcter-than-thou lefty, like Noam Chomsky, say, or the late Harold Pinter, who indulge themselves in a blanket rejection of the motives or integrity of the NYT, not that I'm naive (Chomsky has done good work in the past on media coverage of Cambodia, Indonesia and other places). But this morning my old friend the NYT, I'm sorry to say, pushed me too far, and here I am, spending some time this beautiful Saturday morning giving you some background on the situation in Somalia.
Somalia, a failed state ruled mostly by local warlords for years, has the longest coastline of any African country. With no national government with any effective international influence, it has been the site of illegal dumping of waste, mostly from European nations, for many years, including nuclear waste. International organized criminal networks, long involved in the lucrative business of dumping toxic waste illegally, have colluded with private companies in this practice. There is some persuasive documentation that as a result of this abuse of the lawless situation along the Somali coast, local people have suffered various illnesses including birth defects that are associated with pathogens in the environment.
In addition to the illegal dumping, Somali waters are exploited without any compensation to Somalia by international fishing fleets that have not only taken fish that a country with a functioning international presence would be able to harvest with its own native fishing fleets, but have actually fished these waters out of large numbers of commercially desirable fish species through the use of banned equipment such as fine-mesh drag nets.
Another shocker is that the Islamic Courts Union government that was ousted with US support in 2006 had actually successfully curbed the pirates, who quickly got back into business (along with the international mafiosi no doubt) after those evil religious people were thrown out.
All of this needs attention from the media that it is not getting. One of my friends on Facebook, sceptical of K'naan's claims, actually made the argument that if these "pirates" were organized Somali nationalists trying to defend Somalia and to make a point, we would have heard about it in the media, wouldn't we? And that's the point I want to make today: not only are we not being given this essential background to the pirate situation in media coverage, but the media is actively cheerleading us on to forget about the human dimension of the pirates altogether. We hear about the terrible "ordeal" of the "hostages," as if they have been through hell; not one American as been so much as injured by these people. It is also not lost on the Somalis or on many other people that the US media got on this bandwagon only after Americans were seized. These seizures have been happening for years to crewmen from the Philippines, Egypt and other countries without any accompanying orgy of jingoism in the American media. It's really insidious and they're going to make a Chomsky out of me if we don't start getting some background.
And hurrah for K'naan, I've watched the interview twice now and he's getting lots of stuff right, he's really smart. I found out about this when a friend e-mailed me the interview after he found it on Rock Rap Confidential.