‘We have this strong bias toward individual action.” It was 1995, and Barack Obama was diagnosing the American character. His conclusion was not a happy one: too much self-reliance, too much self-determination, too much self-confidence.
“You know,” he continued, “we idolize the John Wayne hero who comes in to correct things with both guns blazing. But individual actions, individual dreams, are not sufficient.” The aspiring young Chicago politician insisted that we needed to temper the American spirit with a socialistic inclination: “We must unite in collective action, build collective institutions and organizations.”
On Easter Sunday 14 years later, Pres. Barack Obama called up John Wayne.
The latest episode in the ongoing saga of the Somali pirates had a happy ending for Americans because of the blazing guns of a John Wayne hero, the United States Navy. Sharpshooters from the Navy SEALs freed another American hero, Richard Phillips, the captain of the Maersk Alabama. Captain Phillips had been held for five days by four Somali pirates, a gang drawn from factions that have been terrorizing commercial ships along that wretched country’s coastline and in the nearby Gulf of Aden for years. Phillips risked his life by offering himself as a hostage in exchange for the safety of his 20-strong crew. Their American-flagged cargo carrier was besieged while attempting to deliver humanitarian aid for Muslims in East Africa. Three of the Muslim terrorists were killed, and one apprehended.
Though it’s not de rigueur to make such an observation, “Muslim terrorists” is the right way to put it. The “terrorist” part is easy enough. Piracy is conduct so heinous it has been regarded for centuries as a violation of civilized norms; pirates may be excluded from civilization’s legal carapace. The same is true of international terrorism. Because terrorists flout the laws and customs of civilized warfare, they may be denied both the privileges of honorable combatants and the legal sanctuary of criminal defendants. Leftist academics carped throughout the Bush years that denying terrorists defendant status was to create a “legal black hole,” betraying our commitment to the rule of law. It is the terrorist, however, who turns his back on civilization. The black hole is of his own making. It betrays the law’s humane goals to hold that the law, not the terrorist, must yield.
Pointing out that the pirates are Muslims also makes eminent sense. Our chief security challenge the past two decades has been radical Islam, and much of the problem threads through East Africa. Al-Qaeda was involved in training the Somali jihadists who battled U.S. forces in the bloody “Black Hawk Down” incident in 1993. Somalia remains a failed state, with such jihadist elements as the Islamic Courts Union fighting for control. In the wake of Somalia’s collapse, terror cells sprouted throughout the region, American embassies were bombed in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, and American naval vessels were targeted in the Gulf of Aden until, finally, the U.S.S. Cole was struck and nearly sunk in 2000.
This is the environment in which piracy has revived and grown to be more than a $100 million business. Information tying pirates to specific jihadist organizations is scarce, and some militants — such as the Islamic Courts Union — have purported to ban piracy as an offense against Islam. Still, there have been reports (like this one from the Voice of America’s Alisha Ryu) of an understanding between pirate bands and al-Qaeda–affiliated factions: an entente that permits and protects the piracy as long as a goodly chunk of the booty finds its way to the jihadists. It would be foolish to make policy on the assumption that piracy and terror are severable, or to ignore the fact that the pirates and terrorists are co-religionists. The Islamic Courts Union claimed credit for curbing piracy in 2006. Piracy is resurgent now, and that can only be because radical Islam is benefiting from it.