Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Abominable fellows

During my first voyage to Europe, in 1962, our Greek ship Bretagne dropped in at an exotic but desolate place named Aden.

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In those days, Aden (now known as Yemen) was still a British protectorate. As a naive young Australian, totally devoid of political intelligence (as is probably still the case for many of my fellow Australians), that short visit to Aden was akin to dropping in at DisneyLand on a day when there were general strikes and power cuts, and everything was topsy-turvy. I remember the archaic look of the dusty old town, and the presence of beggars and wounded people. Later, I talked about Aden with an imaginative Sydney friend, Richard O'Sullivan, who had developed the habit of referring to the township as "Limb Valley", meant to draw attention ironically to the striking presence of citizens who were missing an arm or a leg.

In those days, nobody imagined that scoundrels from that corner of the globe—from Somalia in particular, on the nearby shores of the isthmus—would soon decide to transform themselves, aboard flimsy vessels, into murderous pirates.

These days, in France, we're aware of this nasty form of terrorism, because French forces captured seven of these poor primitive bastards, who are now awaiting their sentencing in a Paris court of law.

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On 8 September 2011, in the Gulf of Aden, they attacked the pleasure craft of a French holiday-maker, Christian Colombo, skipper of the Tribal Kat, and murdered him savagely. I've always thought that it's hard to understand the presence of these seven stupid rogues, from far across the waters, in a great French law court in Paris. Later this afternoon, we shall inevitably learn that these seven fellows have been sentenced to many years in a French jail, where they'll stay until they rot. Now, that situation troubles me immensely. I have the impression that there's something wrong with the French legal system when it captures seven uncouth ruffians, out on the open seas, and brings them back here to the heart of France where they'll inevitably be thrown into chilly cells for the rest of their miserable lives. To my mind, there is little chance that these ruffians will truly grasp what has happened to them, and why. There's something perfectly normal in the idea of sentencing such criminals to harsh punishment, if only to prevent them from repeating their crimes. But I persist in believing that something has gone wrong, and that those idiots don't really deserve to be subjected to that kind of handling. They certainly needed to be captured, sentenced and punished. But maybe differently... whatever that might mean. (I'm deliberately vague, because I really don't know the answers to the questions I'm raising.)

In my previous blog post, I evoked a splendid human theme: the Sermon on the Mount. I'm curious to know how the author of that monumental message—human, too human—would have expected us to deal with Daesh terrorists and Somali pirates...

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