Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Dread Pirate Bin Laden

More on the subject of fear:

Dean Esmay, a fan of "The Princess Bride," points out that the Dread Pirate Roberts of that movie was an actual historical figure.

Pirates have become almost comical these days, good for a laugh in a children's movie, not to mention a classic costume for Halloween. That's about it.

But in their day they were much-feared, and rightly so. This piece (also reached through a post linked by Dean) offers a discussion of the history of piracy and of laws against it, and suggests applying the concept to terrorists.

Pirates were once state-sponsored, hidden agents for nations to wage war against each other. Then piracy degenerated still further, into free-form nihilism:

...[latter-day pirates] struck indiscriminately in ferocious revenge against the societies that they felt had condemned them. Often these disenchanted sailors cast their piratical careers in revolutionary terms. The 18th-century English legal scholar William Blackstone defined a pirate as someone who has "reduced himself afresh to the savage state of nature by declaring war against all mankind,"...Perhaps the most telling statement of the pirates' motives comes from a pirate named Black Sam Bellamy. To a captured merchant captain, he boasted, "I am a free prince, and have as much authority to make war on the whole world as he who has a 100 sail of ships and an army of 100,000 men in the field."

The laws against piracy rest on:

...the concept of universal jurisdiction. The crime of piracy is considered a breach of jus cogens, a conventional peremptory international norm from which states may not derogate. Those committing thefts on the high seas, inhibiting trade, and endangering maritime communication are considered by sovereign states to be hostis humani generis (enemies of humanity).

In the mid-19th century, the nations of Europe had finally stopped using piracy to further their own ends and got together to help weaken its hold on the world. A similar unity among the world's nations right now against the current enemies of humanity might relegate terrorists of the future to characters in children's movies, and to colorful costumes at Halloween. Unfortunately, that's not likely to happen: terrorists still serve the interests of many countries, who use them as convenient surrogates and hidden agents.

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