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It is the same with the Babi pirates. They say they still live as sword-wielding buccaneers in desert island lairs in the 21st century partly out of tradition. "Our culture is a water culture," says the pirate king. "There have been pirates here since the 12th or 13th century." But piracy is also about survival. The Indonesian economy has never matched its Asian neighbors. Economic growth in the Philippines, where the captain comes from, is also concentrated in the cities and among the ruling elite. "The salaries for sailors have got lower and lower," says the captain. "It’s just getting more and more difficult to find legitimate work." Their choice is a life of subsistence poverty or a life of crime, ripping off the fat riches that pass daily through the Singapore Strait.

This isn’t quite a war. There aren’t enough deaths or battles in the cat-and-mouse games the world’s pirates play with security forces in Asia and Africa, and the pirates are criminals, not revolutionaries. But pirates are also rebels. They are rivals to the state and society, as Cicero recognized two millennia ago when he defined pirates in Roman law as hostis humani generis—"enemies of the human race."

They also share many traits with antiglobalization insurgents, such as the Maoists in Nepal or the Naxals in India. They target big business. They kill if they have to. They reject the place they’ve been given in the world and decide to live beyond society as outlaws, stealing from the global economy that shuts them out.

This is worrying for advocates of globalization. With all the riches that the rising traffic of world trade flashes before the pirates, as globalization accelerates, so will the criminals that feed off it. The multinational antipiracy fleet now bearing down on Somalia is proof of how seriously the world has taken the threat. In addition, the pirates’ actions fit a pattern of rising violent opposition to globalization around the world. The Maoists, the Naxals, even al Qaeda, all take the perceived inequalities that result from globalization as a righteous grievance, and one to be addressed through violence. Pirates will never take their fight to the world as al Qaeda has done—they prefer to cut and run. But piracy will continue.

The deadly seriousness of that analysis doesn’t cloud the pirate life. Far from it: Like their Chinese brothers waiting to be executed, the Babi pirates revel in their existence. As they see it, rebellion might be necessary, but it’s a lot of fun too. The pirate king admits to "throwing a lot around" on women and booze. "We never count our money. We just take it out of our pockets and give it out." And he loves outwitting authority. Except for 1992, when a raid on a tanker belonging to former President Suharto’s wife prompted mass arrests, he boasts of successfully evading his pursuers for 25 years. Affecting a serious tone for a moment, he declares that being a pirate requires "courage and spiritual strength." And discipline, I venture? The pirate king almost chokes laughing.

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