persons, places and things: Pirates and justice

Barb Arland-Fye

By Barb Arland-Fye

When my 14-year-old son Patrick learned three pirates were killed during the rescue of a ship’s captain they were holding hostage, his immediate reaction was “Good.”

He thought the pirates deserved to die for their evil actions, even though he knows his mother adamantly opposes the taking of life.

Like many families, we had been following the drama about the piracy with rapt attention as it unfolded in the Indian Ocean April 7-12. We thought U.S. Captain Richard Phillips was a hero for offering himself as a hostage to protect his crew. We were thrilled with his rescue on Easter Sunday and grateful he had not been harmed.

News reports indicate that Phillips’ life was in imminent danger; one of the pirates was said to have been pointing an AK-47 at the back of Phillips, who was bound and unable to defend himself.


Still, some of the rejoicing I feel over Phillips’ rescue mingles with sadness that anyone — — evil or not — had to die in this human tragedy.

For Patrick, who recently has been studying the story of Anne Frank and the Holocaust, evil people get what they deserve. Shades of gray haven’t emerged yet in his social consciousness.

But as I told him Easter Sunday, we shouldn’t ever rejoice in the taking of anyone’s life.

These pirates were no angels, just human beings who may have taken desperate measures because of the widespread poverty, unemployment, government chaos and the fighting their country of Somalia has endured for two decades.

Catholic News Service (CNS) archives contain numerous stories about the misery of life in Somalia, a country in the Horn of Africa with about 10 million people.

“People are desperate, and so they do unthinkable things,” a Catholic Church official said in a Sept. 25, 2006, CNS article.

In December 2006, Bishop Thomas Wenski of Orlando, Fla., wrote in a letter to the U.S. national security advisor, “The Somali people deserve international support in their search for a resolution to a worsening crisis that has already taken a devastating human toll in the last 15 years.” But Bishop Wenski noted that an aggressive military strategy would not resolve the situation.

Pope Benedict XVI spoke in November 2007 of hearing “the painful news about the precarious humanitarian situation in Somalia, especially in Mogadishu, increasingly stricken by social insecurity and poverty.”

Social injustice doesn’t give anyone the right to turn to violence to solve their problems, but it makes me understand better what might compel people to resort to it.

I don’t think military power will stop piracy, if hopeless people believe they have nothing to lose.

What’s especially sad to me is that food aid for Catholic Relief Services in Rwanda was part of the cargo aboard the Maersk Alabama, the ship the pirates tried to hijack. Suffering seems to have a domino effect in Africa.

My son is not without compassion towards others who are suffering. But I need to encourage him to explore the underlying motivation of people in any given set of circumstances so that he can do as Pope Paul VI asked us to do, work for justice.


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