The Wilson Center Wednesday hosted a conversation entitled Pirates, Islam, and US Hostage Policy with Michael Scott Moore, a freelance journalist for Spiegel Online and a former hostage of Somali pirates. Haleh Esfandiari, Director of the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center, moderated. Moore related his experiences as a hostage of Somali pirates for 2½ years. He also discussed the recent change in US hostage policy.
In 2012, Moore, a dual American and German citizen, was covering a trial of Somali pirates in Hamburg. German public defenders argued that the alleged pirates were merely fishermen made desperate by overfishing from illegal trawling. Moore met Somalis at the trial who arranged for him to travel there to learn more.
Moore flew to Somalia, where he interviewed a pirate boss who framed his actions in terms of a struggle against Europeans. He cited legitimate complaints, like illegal tuna trawling, but his main motivation was greed, not ideology.
A few days later, Moore was ambushed by a truck with a mounted cannon. A dozen gunmen jumped out, pulled him from his vehicle and beat him. The kidnapping was well planned. His kidnappers knew he was American. His captors had been looking at a picture of him on a cellphone before his capture. A fellow captive was taken 50 miles offshore of the Seychelles, 700 miles from Somalia. Both Moore and the Seychellois were originally held on a $20 million ransom demand by pirates pretending to be disgruntled fishermen. But qat addiction, not overfishing, is the main cause of desperation among young Somalis. Qat is an expensive habit and Moore never met a Somali pirate who was not addicted.
Moore’s guards were unaware that the US does not pay ransom. If the pirate bosses knew of the policy, they cynically believed they would receive money anyway. The kidnappers were opportunistic and asked for money from all sources: the US and German governments as well as Der Spiegel. They updated him on supposed negotiations with the US. It took them a year and a half to realize that they would not get money from that source. Moore thinks that President Obama’s clarification that families will not be prosecuted for paying ransoms is positive. The past practice of telling families they could be prosecuted caused confusion and limited their efforts to help their loved ones.
Deterrence could reduce hostage taking, Moore suggested. A consistent rescue policy would be one way to accomplish this. A few days after his capture, a Navy Seal team rescued two other American hostages and shot their captors dead. If this happened consistently, pirates might think twice about taking hostages. However, the wishes of families must be honored, since hostages sometimes die in rescue attempts. Policymakers must allow families to choose whether they would like the US to attempt a rescue. Consistent punishment, such as the death penalty, could also be an effective deterrent. The pirates tried in Hamburg in 2012 were jailed for several years, which is not enough.
Moore had previously assumed that pirates could not be devout Muslims because theft is forbidden in Islam. However, his guards prayed five times per day. Moore asked whether they saw a contradiction. At first, they explained that they were just guards and their bosses were un-Islamic thieves. However, pirate bosses do not hire guards who are not fully on board with the work. The guards also claimed that they were protecting Moore from the Somali terrorist group al-Shabab, but received a salary from the pirate bosses.
The guards later claimed that piracy and hostage taking are not haram (forbidden), provided that the victims are infidels. The guards would point out wild pigs and ask Moore if he wanted ham. Moore believes the bosses used a dehumanizing narrative of captives as pig-eaters to convince the guards that what they were doing was all right. Like ISIS, whose leaders are often former Ba’athists, Islam is not the motive for the leaders of pirate gangs. They spread ideas in Islamic terms to motivate their foot soldiers.
Ultimately released for $1.5 million, Moore views the outcome as a miracle. Straying from the political into the deeply personal, he related how his belief that his death was imminent made him reflect on how he had lived his life. He felt that he had fallen short in caring for others. He urged the audience to think each day about how they can do better for their loved ones.
1. A New Climate for Peace: Taking Action on Climate and Fragility Risks (Report Launch) | Monday, June 22nd | 3:00-5:00 | Wilson Center | REGISTER TO ATTEND | The ultimate “threat multiplier,” climate change is increasing the challenges facing the U.S. development, diplomatic, and security communities. “A New Climate for Peace: Taking Action on Climate and Fragility Risks,” an independent report commissioned by the members of the G7, identifies seven compound climate-fragility risks that pose serious threats to stability in the decades ahead. Join leaders from the development, diplomatic, and security communities and the report’s coauthors for the U.S. launch of a “New Climate for Peace.” The high-level interagency panel will explore how these climate-fragility challenges are changing the way the United States and its partners work, and will also identify opportunities for joint action to address them. Speakers include: Alexander Carius, Co-Founder and Managing Director, adelphi, Geoffrey D. Dabelko, Senior Advisor, Environmental Change and Security Program, Professor and Director of Environmental Studies, Ohio University; Former ECSP Director, Roger-Mark De Souza, Director of Population, Environmental Security, and Resilience, Wilson Center, Alice Hill, Senior Director for Resilience Policy, National Security Council, White House, Christian Holmes, Deputy Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Economic Growth, Education and Environment, and Global Water Coordinator, U.S. Agency for International Development, Melanie Nakagawa, Policy Planning Staff, Office of the U.S. Secretary of State, Andrew Selee, Executive Vice President and Senior Advisor to the Mexico Institute, Jonathan White, Rear Admiral, Oceanographer and Navigator of the Navy, Director of Task Force Climate Change, U.S. Navy, and David Yang, Deputy Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance, U.S. Agency for International Development.
2. Turkey, the Kurds, and the Middle East: What the Turkish Elections Portend for the Region’s Future | Tuesday, June 23rd | 10:00-11:30 | The Hudson Institute | REGISTER TO ATTEND | The recent Turkish elections indicated the strength of Turkish democracy. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s bid for unrivaled executive power was rejected by Turkey’s voters, demonstrating the growing political power of the country’s largest minority group, the Kurds. Commentary on Turkish politics typically focuses on Islamism, Erdogan’s ambition, the nature of the Justice and Development party, and the various political scandals of the last few years. The reality is that more significant changes in the country are going relatively unnoticed. Turkey’s shifting demographics—rising Kurdish birth rates and lower Turkish birth rates—suggest that this key NATO ally is undergoing a fundamental transformation. What does this mean for Turkey and the rest of the Middle East, particularly countries that have large Kurdish populations including Iraq, Syria, and Iran? What challenges and opportunities will this present to American policymakers in the coming years? Speakers include: former U.S. ambassador to Turkey James Jeffrey; Tolga Tanis, the Washington correspondent for the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet; Gonul Tol, founding director of the Middle East Institute’s Center for Turkish Studies; and Eric B. Brown, Hudson Institute senior fellow and co-editor of Current Trends in Islamist Ideology. Hudson Institute Senior Fellow Lee Smith will moderate the discussion.
3. Envisioning the Future of Urban Warfare | Tuesday, June 23rd | 3:00-4:30 | Atlantic Council | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Approximately sixty percent of humanity will live in urban areas in the near future. These billions of people will not just inhabit cities, but megacities that will be economic, cultural, and political centers – and potential conflict zones. Conventional discussions about the future of warfare often fail to capture the epic challenge of preparing for – and preventing – urban warfare in megacities. With that in mind, the Art of Future Warfare project will host a discussion on Envisioning the Future of Urban Warfare. It will be the capstone to a war-art challenge calling for graphic novel, or comic book, illustrations revealing what urban warfare might look like in the 2040s and 2050s. To address this important topic, Max Brooks, New York Times bestselling author of World War Z, will join Jon Chang, the writer of the Black Powder Red Earth series, along with the winner of the contest. The best illustrations will be on display for all to see and the panelists will discuss the battleground that is expected to encompass sixty percent of all people in the near future. Most importantly, they will tell us what we should worry about, and what is merely conjecture.
4. The Challenges of Democratization and Economic Recovery in Zimbabwe | Wednesday, June 24th | 10:00-12:00 | National Endowment for Democracy | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Nearly two years after the new constitution was signed into law, Zimbabwe’s democratic progress remains stalled and the economy is again in crisis. Please join us for a panel discussion to identify the challenges that must be overcome in order to reverse Zimbabwe’s current trajectory as well as explore opportunities for local and international actors to encourage political reform and economic recovery. Panelists include: Ambassador Bruce Wharton, United States Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Ibbo Mandaza, Executive Chairperson, SAPES Trust, Tawanda Mutasah, International human rights lawyer, Charles Msipa, Former President, Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries. Moderated by Imani Countess, Regional Director for Africa, Solidarity Center. Introductory remarks by Dave Peterson, Senior Director for Africa, National Endowment for Democracy.
5. Pirates, Islam, and U.S. Hostage Policy | Wednesday, June 24th | 12:00-1:00 | The Wilson Center | REGISTER TO ATTEND | The Middle East Program and the Africa Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center present a conversation with Michael Scott Moore, freelance journalist, Spiegel Online and author. Moore will discuss his two and a half year ordeal as a captive of Somali pirates, with a focus on certain myths about hostage-taking.
6. Eradicating Boko Haram Sustainably: An Integrated Regional Approach | Wednesday, June 24th | 2:00-3:30 | The Wilson Center | REGISTER TO ATTEND | In recent months, Boko Haram has expanded its raids from Northern Nigeria across the border into Northern Cameroon. The attacks, including attacks in March and April which killed numerous Cameroonian villagers, have mainly been attempts to obtain more supplies for the group. The spread of Boko Haram across borders highlights the need for regional cooperation to halt the group. This week, President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria announced plans to conduct talks with Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Benin to form a regional military force to combat Boko Haram. Join the Wilson Center for a meaningful discussion on ways to combat Boko Haram, both from the perspective of a U.S. official and a prominent Cameroonian activist who has traveled to the Far North of Cameroon, where Boko Haram attacks have been taking place. Speakers include: Kah Walla, President of Cameroon People’s Party, U.S. Official (to be confirmed).
7. Annual Global Missile Defense Conference | Thursday, June 25th | 8:30-5:00 | Atlantic Council | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Missile Defense is a critical element for the United States’ strategy to defend its homeland and its collaborative efforts to secure the territories of its allies and partners in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. In each of these regions, the combination of increased volatility, if not conflict, and new deployments by potential adversaries of increasingly capable ballistic missiles has made missile defense collaboration all the more challenging and urgent. The Atlantic Council’s annual missile defense conference convenes leading missile defense and regional security experts to analyze the future trajectory of global missile defense issues. The conference focuses on how current and prospective geopolitical developments are shaping the requirements and opportunities for missile defense collaboration in Europe, the Middle East, and the Asia Pacific and will include a panel addressing the programmatic and technological challenges that define success and failure in missile defense programs. The conference will also feature an opening address by former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General James E. Cartwright.
8. Rouhani at Two Years: An Assessment on the Cusp of a Nuclear Deal | Thursday, June 25th | 12:00-1:00 | Wilson Center | REGISTER TO ATTEND | During President Rouhani’s first two years in office, attention has understandably been focused on Iran’s nuclear negotiations with the P5+1. Yet these two years have also witnessed important developments—and conflicts—in the sphere of politics, the economy, human rights and social policy. Our panel will examine this broad spectrum of issues. Speakers include: Robin Wright, USIP-Wilson Center Distinguished Scholar, Suzanne Maloney, Interim Deputy Director and Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Saban Center for Middle East Policy, Brookings Institution and Karim Sadjadpour, Senior Associate, Middle East Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
9. Beyond Centrifuges: The Geopolitical Implications of an Iran Deal | Thursday, June 25th | 2:00-3:30 | Stimson Center | REGISTER TO ATTEND |As negotiators work towards a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran by the June 30th deadline, there is much more at stake for the U.S. than just centrifuges and sanctions. While a deal has been contested by U.S. allies in Israel and Saudi Arabia, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen says a deal could “rebalance American influence” and that “detente with Iran might better balance our efforts across the sectarian divide.” How can a deal provide new options for the U.S. to resolve some of the most important challenges in the region? Join the National Iranian American Council at Stimson Center for a timely discussion with Peter Beinart, contributing editor for The Atlantic and National Journal; Fred Kaplan, War Stories columnist for Slate; Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council; and moderator Barbara Slavin, South Asia Center Senior Fellow for the Atlantic Council.
10. One Year Since Caliphate Declared: Combating ISIL | Thursday, June 25th | 6:30-8:00 | World Affairs Council | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Nearly a full year after it declared itself a caliphate, ISIL has greatly expanded its territory in Iraq and Syria, in addition to gaining the allegiance of terror networks around the globe. In the territory under their control they have effectively implemented a strict form of Sharia law, heavily utilizing corporal punishment as a means of enforcement, and they have been accused of committing genocide against ethnic and religious groups. The question remains of how the United States’ and Coalition allies’ strategy will change to more effectively address the spread of ISIL’s ideology and their expansion of territory. Our speaker panel includes the knowledgeable and versed voices of Dr. Shadi Hamid; a current fellow at the Brookings Institution – Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World in the Center for Middle East Policy. Thomas Sanderson is the co-director and senior fellow in the Center for Strategic International Studies Transnational Threats Project. Bryan Bender, defense editor for Politico, will moderate the discussion.