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The Pirate State: Post-Colonial Τrajectories of an Imperial Concept from the First to the Third Barbary War (1801-2011)

Amedeo Policante - Assistant Professor, Department of Politics, History and International Relations, University of Nottingham

 

Abstract

As Fernand Braudel once summarized, “in the Mediterranean, still in the 17th century, the concepts of ‘piracy’ and of ‘pirates’ were not normally used; people spoke of course and of corsairs and the distinction, clear on a juridical level, is of the utmost importance”.

Following Braudel, I would like to expound the importance of this conceptual and historical distinction focusing on the particular political conjuncture that led to its irreversible crisis. In fact, it is only between the 18th and the 19th century that the pirate concept invested the Mediterranean Sea as part of European and American discourse, particularly against the Barbary cities of Northern Africa. I argue that this rhetorical turn played an important part in the erasure of a long, regional history of diplomatic exchange and international equality, preparing the ground for European colonization. In particular, the introduction of the paradoxical concept of the ‘pirate state’ included in the international community only in the form of an always-already excluded Other legitimized new forms of military interventionism suspended in a grey zone between war and peace. Today, the image of ‘terrorist and rogue states’ opens up a space for similar rhetorical and strategic moves. In this sense, thus, the history of the corsa – and the way in which it was transformed into a univocal confrontation between civilization and barbarism – is really the history of our global Imperial present.

 

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