In his book Pirate Utopias: Moorish Corsairs & European Renegadoes (1995) Peter Lamborn Wilson presents the history of the Republic of Salé, a city-state in Morocco that flourished in the early 17th century. Salé was a cosmopolitan city inhabited by Moorish refugees from Spain, Sufi and Marabout jihadists, Jewish traders and other exiles from different parts of Europe fleeing from religious or political persecution. It served as the last refuge of the Iberian Moorish culture against the expanding imperialism of Spain and Portugal.
A large part of the city’s population was engaged in piracy, and many of these were so-called Renegadoes, Europeans that had converted to Islam. The pirate captains were high in the political hierarchy of the city, and piracy was its main source of wealth. Pirate expeditions from Salé extended as far as Iceland and the New World. The city was a safe haven for pirates coming from all over Europe, Maghreb and the Levant.
During its brief period of independence Salé developed a unique political system based on popular elections of the administrative bodies, their terms limited to one year. The distribution of wealth was relatively egalitarian with the crew on a pirate ship receiving almost half of the booty (compare this with, for example, the British Navy of the time where the conscripts were treated basically as slaves). The class structure of the city allowed for more fluidity than contemporary European kingdoms and the inhabitants enjoyed a higher level of laxity in sexual and religious matters as well.
Lamborn Wilson exhibits the Salé Renegadoes as sort of freedom fighters, suggesting even that they may have served as an example for the English revolution of the 1640s. The pirates were of course mainly interested in personal liberation, but to ensure this, they had to engage in collective action to establish an enclave outside the rule of the European kingdoms and the Ottoman empire. Only in such an enclave were they protected from persecution and slavery, and could enjoy their personal freedom. In this sense, the pirates were true utopians.
Today’s Internet pirates can also be seen as kind of freedom fighters. These pirates are also carving enclaves within the cyberspace in the shape of the various file-sharing networks where they can experience a freedom to exchange information and cultural goods outside the jurisdiction of the copyright empire. Internet pirates are utopians too. They share a dream of a world where information and culture flow freely and can be enjoyed and created by everyone equally, regardless of nationality, status or wealth.
Utopians are always dangerous from the perspective of the ruling classes. The Renegadoes certainly knew this, and so do the Internet pirates whose enclaves are under constant attack from the warships of the copyright empire. But as long as the desire for freedom exists in the hearts of the oppressed, new enclaves will rise to replace the fallen ones and the war will continue until the empire is eventually forced to concede defeat.