January 22, 2005

Beyond the Pale

Deep in all of us is a revulsion at certain behavior - torture,  beheadings and the physical abuse of the weak and powerless, for example.  Whether it's in our DNA or our souls, revulsion, I believe, makes us more human.  By turning away with a feeling of violent disgust at certain acts, we shun the perpetrators.  They are not recognizably part of anything with which we can identify.  They are beyond the pale, outside the bounds of acceptable and civilized behavior. 

Revulsion I think is an important instinct that's been honed by centuries of evolution.  Beyond the pale,  life is nasty, brutish and short. 

Whatever one's political inclinations, when graves are desecrated and the remains dumped on the street like so much trash, we feel revulsion.    The BBC reporter Mohammed Olad Hassan was horrified to see a large number of abandoned human skulls on the streets of  Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. Young boys were playing with one skull, like a toy.   

Militias from some Islamic courts in the Somali capital dug up hundreds of graves at a colonial Italian cemetery and dumped the skeletal remains near the airport.    Some 3000 people were buried In the Italian cemetery - soldiers, traders and missionaries. 

The profanation of a silent and historical place, sacred to all civilisations, is a vile and particularly hateful act which can have no justification whatsoever," the Italian government said in a statement.

Italy controlled parts of Somalia from 1889 until it's independence in 1960. There has been no real government of any sort in the country since 1991 and  the transitional government is afraid to return from Kenya.  Without a government in place, roving gangs of militias rule the city and, as Thomas Hobbes predicted,  life indeed is nasty, brutish and short and so it seems is burial.

Posted by Jill Fallon at January 22, 2005 5:12 PM | Permalink

As part of the military contingent of "Restore Hope I" in Dec 1992, I was responsible for going out into the streets of Mogadishu with a security team and my Somali American translator and collecting counterintelligence information.

One of the officers at our HQ was an Italian American Lt. Col. who had relative buried in the cemetery under question and kept bugging me to take him to the cemetery.

I finally took him there and I thought he was going to cry. He had a pre-1969 photo of his relative grave and was using it as a guide to find it, to no avail.

All the head stones had been looted or smashed and desecration of above ground vaults was obvious while holes in the ground gave evidence that some burial graves had been looted as well.

Personally, I don't see how much worse could have been done in the intervening 14 years.

I'll see if I have some photos from my visit and send them to you, if you’re interested.

Posted by: Jim in Texas at January 23, 2005 1:15 PM

You don't have to go to Somalia. Some graves in Mexico City are only yours for 4-6 years. After that, they can pile others into your grave. Your coffin is just a sham, and doesn't accompany you into the ground.

Children at funerals on the Cerro play with jawbones and skulls left in the dirt that was set aside for the day's burial. Kind of disconcerting, yet you can understand why the Mexicans mock death...

Posted by: Joan of Argghh! at January 23, 2005 1:57 PM

Like beheading, grave desecration is a Saudi/Wahhabi tradition. They’ve done this for hundreds of years.

"Thus, the Saudis followed their conquest of Mecca and Medina in the mid-1920s with an orgy of destruction. They leveled the "Jannat al-Baqi" or "Heavenly Orchard" at Medina that included graves of the Prophet Muhammad's son Ibrahim, as well as numerous of the Prophet's relatives and original companions. They also looted the Prophet's Shrine in Medina and demolished the cemetery in Mecca that included the graves of Muhammad's mother and grandfather. They completely destroyed mausoleums, mosques, and other honored sites, including Muhammad's own house. It was even said that they wished to uproot the grave of Muhammad himself and tear down the Kaaba, the stone temple at the center of Mecca. They were prevented from this last act by pressure from Muslims in India."

"WAHHABI VANDALISM continues today, and its appearance is typically the first sign of aggressive Saudi penetration of Muslim lands. Saudi agents uprooted graveyards in Kosovo even before the war began there in the late 1990s, and Wahhabi missionaries have
sought to demolish Sufi tombs in Kurdistan. Late in 2002, the Saudi government tore down the historic Ottoman fortress of Ajyad in Mecca, causing outrage in many Muslim countries."



It’s a tradition that they’re spreading throughout the Muslim world, through Saudi funded mosques and madrassas. If they continue to spread their faith and their laws, we can expect to see more of this.

Posted by: mary at January 23, 2005 3:04 PM

Hobbess probably was nasty, brutish, and short. Somalia is not quite the Hobbesian jungle you imply. The lack of a centralized government has allowed businesses to flourish to the point where phone service is cheaper than some place in the US:


Companies are comping together to solve collective action problems without interference from bureaucrats:


Somalia has flourished as much as any other African country since the end of government approximately ten years ago whereas other African countries such as Zimbabwe suffer from Hobbes's solution to the state of nature: dictatorial monarchy.

Posted by: Jonathan Wilde at January 23, 2005 6:33 PM

Jonathan, you're kidding...right?

Your logic is fatally flawed. So what if the phone service is cheaper than some places in the US? That's hardly indicitive of the entire economy. Here in Laos (just for one example), the phone service is vastly cheaper than in the US, as is almost every other product. However, the population is so poor that it's still out of the reach of vastly many more people than in the US. You can't cherry pick one segment of the economy and state that things are sunny because that one thing compares favorably.

IF you want to compare, why don't you compare the number of households that actually have telephone service? Or how about comparing the average monthly income for a family in Somalia compared to the US, then how cost of telephone service compares to that level of income? For example, here in Laos you can talk for hours and hours on a cellphone for just a few dollars...but the monthly income for many families is only about $20-$30.

As for companies coming together to solve problems, how many are problems that must be solved due to lack of governance? How just are the solutions arrived at? Arbitrary justice is no justice at all, Jonathan.

It seems you'd trade the risk of monomaniacal dictatorship for the tyrrany of the mob.

Posted by: Seth at January 23, 2005 9:58 PM

Kidding about what? That Somalia has prospered to a greater degree than most African countries since its government dissolved? No.

I'm not comparing Somalia to the US. I'm comparing it to other African countries.

------------As for companies coming together to solve problems, how many are problems that must be solved due to lack of governance? How just are the solutions arrived at? Arbitrary justice is no justice at all, Jonathan.---------

No, justice in Somalia is based primarily on arbitration between clans - a system of private law called "kritarchy".


Posted by: Jonathan Wilde at January 23, 2005 10:46 PM

Jonathan, you wrote:
"I'm not comparing Somalia to the US. I'm comparing it to other African countries."

Quite to the contrary, you did when you said:
"The lack of a centralized government has allowed businesses to flourish to the point where phone service is cheaper than some place in the US"

"[C]heaper than some place[s] in the US" is a comparison, it's fairly hard to debate that unless you're the sort who has trouble finding what the meaning of 'is' is. Besides that, my basic point stands no matter who you are making the comparison to. As I said before, you cannot take just one segment of an economy and say that the economy as a whole compares favorably.

So, I've done the work for you and done a (very) quick search for some stats on Somalia:
*The GDP growth rate has slowed down --- from 3% in 2001 to 2.1% in 2004.
*The GDP per capita (that's a mesure of earning power per person/per year) has gone down also --- from $550 in 2001 to $500 in 2004.
*Electricity production is trending down --- from 250 million kWh in 2000 to 245.1 million kWh in 2001.
*They are selling less to the world (exports are down --- from $186 million in 199 to $79 million in 2002), while at the same time they are having to buy more from outside the country (imports are up --- $314 million in 1999, $344 million in 2002).
*Inflation is hard to track...businesses print their own money.

So while it is true that Somalia has the lowest international phone rates in Africa, a privledge for just 135,000 of the population who actually have a phone, it's really tough to argue that Somalia is prospering to any great degree, by any standard.

As far as the quaint notion of 'kritarchy', that's just a fancy name a Dutch lawyer gave to the utter breakdown of civil society which has resulted in the deaths of over 300,000 people (by the most conservative of estimates) over the last 14 years (and continuing today).

You say that kritarchy isn't arbitrary. Yet it's a system that:
*Varies from clan to clan.
*Is not voted into effect by the consent of the governed.
*Penalties depend on the whim of the court at a particular time and place.

How do YOU define arbitrary?

By the way, in Somalia, "arbitration between clans" usually involves heavy artillery. So while you sit by the warm glow of your monitor in Boston, MA., try to understand that in the wide world, beyond the pale, real people really die when all notions of civil society go by the way.

Posted by: Seth at January 24, 2005 3:03 AM

"Somalia has flourished"

Are you serious? Have you been there? no police, no centralized government, no postal service, no public utilities, no public schools, and I could go on ad nauseum.

Just take everything you value in your life and put the word "no" in front of it and that would be an accurate description of Somalia.

If there were a definition for a "4th World Country" (complete anarchy) Somalia would be the poster child for it.

Posted by: Jim in Texas at January 24, 2005 10:32 AM