Somalis: A misrepresented people

Somali piracy in the Gulf of Aden has become a prominent topic in the national conscience as a result of the film Captain Phillips. Before that, when someone thought of Somalia, all they could think of was Black Hawk Down and the 18 Americans that were killed in that incident.

If you’ve been paying strict attention, you might remember that Somalia harbors pesky pirates, as well as a burgeoning terrorist threat in the form of Al-Shaabab. Al-Shabaab was linked to the bombing of a mall in Nairobi, Kenya, in September of last year. Over 60 people were killed in this attack.

The events of 1993, portrayed in the film Black Hawk Down, are what caused America to quit on Somalia. Since then, it has become a largely lawless country that is globally renowned for images of poor and starving children.

Why hasn’t the mighty U.S. stepped up to help this poor nation onto its feet? Some say that dead American soldiers are evidence enough that our presence is not wanted. To them, I say the thousands of soldiers left dead from the Iraq War must have been some indication that our presence in Iraq was not wanted. This did not stop America from invading Iraq to remove an evil dictator, and subsequently occupying it for the next decade. Perhaps it is because Somalia, unlike Iraq, does not have massive oil reserves—the stability of which the world has come to rely on.

Whatever the reason, America had turned its back on Somalia until now.

In October 2013, the same month as the release of Captain Phillips, the U.S. sent military advisers (troops in uniform) to help Somalia combat Al-Shabaab. With Osama Bin Laden dead and Al-Qaeda on the ropes, America needs a new boogieman to justify our tax dollars flowing to the companies that compose the military industrial complex. Al-Shabaab fits the bill.

I have begun to notice that Somalia appears to be one of the topics that inhabit the national echo chamber. The media have kept it at the periphery of our national conscience for years by maintaining steady reports regarding cargo ships successfully hijacked and ransomed by Somali pirates.

Next, to coincide with the release of a popular movie about the subject and reports of increasing terrorist activity, the U.S. sends troops to help fight the terrorists.

The U.S. has been bombing and conducting raids unilaterally inside Somalia for years, and it now appears the U.S. might be trying to play up fighting, as Bush would put it, the “evildoers.” This imagery could be aimed at stirring up our inner patriots to legitimize an extended occupation of this land. Could this small seed of military advisers blossom into a full-blown U.S. occupation of Somalia?

Is this really the correct action that the world should be taking in regards to this troubled land?

I have not seen the movie, but the first thing I noticed from the trailer was that the pirates probably made quite an impression on an American public who is largely unaware of Somalia and its people. I wonder how many people in America have even known a person from Somalia? If a person in a foreign land had never seen an American before, this would be the equivalent of showing them Joe Dirt and implying he is indicative of your average American.

This movie does not accurately reflect your average Somali, just like Joe Dirt does not reflect your average American. Only a miniscule amount of people in Somalia are terrorists or pirates. The projection of this negative image of Somalia to a naïve American public could help to subtly justify in their eyes any future American troops to be installed there indefinitely.

Captain Phillips cost $55 million to produce. How many Somali children could this feed? Rather than sending in troops, and bombing steadily, why have we not been trying to help these people? Whatever aid the U.S. has been rendering clearly has not been enough.

When I first brought up the issue of Somali piracy, and that I could not help but support their activity, my co-worker was appalled. I told her that when you are starving, there are no jobs and the world has turned its back on you, then you have to do something. I reminded her that if her children were starving she would probably take whatever action was necessary to feed them, and since there are not any banks around to rob, any of the more than 20,000 ships passing through the Gulf of Aden every year is the next best target.

This is a cry for help, yet all the U.S. can do is send troops and make a movie which exploits the situation as well as shapes the public’s thoughts regarding it. Again, pirates and terrorists are not indicative of your average Somali. Perhaps, in between Hollywood and bombings, some people will stop and help create a much needed national dialogue about the plight of the citizens of Somalia, as well as putting a halt to the warmongering and profiteering that permeates American foreign policy.