Free­doms fought for

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION -

Our ar­ti­cle last week on the city coun­cil’s pro­posal to ban of­fen­sive words or sym­bols from head­stones at Whenua Tapu drew some pas­sion­ate and volatile re­sponses from on­line readers.

It was not un­ex­pected. Vis­it­ing the graves of loved ones is an emo­tional ex­pe­ri­ence at the best of times. Like­wise, we Western­ers don’t take kindly to any talk of re­strict­ing our free­dom of ex­pres­sion – par­tic­u­larly when it may con­cern our final act of ex­pres­sion on this earth.

The in­ci­dent that sparked the coun­cil’s pro­posal was in 2008 when a woman asked for her hus­band’s grave at Whenua Tapu to be moved be­cause she found the neigh­bour­ing head­stone of­fen­sive.

It would be in­ter­est­ing to know how much trac­tion – and wider me­dia at­ten­tion – the is­sue would have re­ceived had the of­fend­ing mark­ing been a dirty nick­name or, say, porno­graphic car­toon.

Of course, it wasn’t, it was gang in­signia, and thus the de­bate be­came as much about gangs and the re­marks of lo­cal Mon­grel Mob mem­ber Den­nis Makalio as it did folks’ en­ti­tle­ment to have the head­stone of their choos­ing and what might be deemed of­fen­sive and what might not.

Still, it was great to see a lot of con­sid­ered and in­sight­ful view­points expressed among the pro­fan­ity and threats.

It’s a damn tricky is­sue – I know I can’t make up my mind. So long as no­body is phys­i­cally hurt, per­se­cuted or dis­crim­i­nated against, I’m loath to see any­one told what they can or can’t put on their head­stone.

I’ve al­ways con­sid­ered it healthy to be of­fended now and again, be it by a song, a piece of art or a T-shirt slo­gan. It makes you think about your val­ues, sen­si­bil­i­ties and prej­u­dices. It trig­gers dis­cus­sion and de­bate – which is rarely a bad thing.

Of course, ceme­ter­ies are more sa­cred than T-shirt and bumper sticker slo­gans.

If I vis­ited the grave of my grand­fa­ther, who fought in World War II, and saw a swastika on the next head­stone, I’d be mad as hell – re­gard­less of the in­tended sym­bol­ism.

I would like to think I’d get past it and recog­nise that the right of the next-door de­ceased to have what he liked on his tomb­stone did, in some warped way, sym­bol­ise what Grand­dad had fought for in Europe (though he him­self would not ap­pre­ci­ate such a view­point).

I would also con­sider that a dis­pleas­ing nearby head­stone is far less in­sult­ing than find­ing a loved one’s grave van­dalised, pil­laged of items, or lit­tered with trash – all of which are sadly more com­mon oc­cur­rences at our ceme­ter­ies and, when re­ported, don’t draw nearly as much outrage.

Matthew Dal­las, ed­i­tor

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