That’s tak­ing free speech too far

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION -

Even Richard Prosser must have been sur­prised by the global fall­out from last week’s ‘‘Wo­gis­tan’’ episode, although the New Zealand First MP has been a time bomb wait­ing to ex­plode for quite some time.

Prosser used to be­long to the Democrats for So­cial Credit – and dur­ing the 2008 elec­tion cam­paign, he called for the South Is­land to se­cede and form its own par­lia­ment.

In pre­vi­ous mag­a­zine col­umns, he had urged the manda­tory arm­ing of taxi drivers, and for dairy own­ers to keep loaded shot­guns be­hind their coun­ters.

In fact, New Zealand First leader Win­ston Peters – who drove Bren­dan Ho­ran from the party cau­cus ear­lier this year – mildly re­buked Prosser for lack­ing ‘‘bal­ance’’. (Just what the bal­ance for ‘‘ Wo­gis­tan’’ might be was left to the imag­i­na­tion.)

Yet by the end of the week, Prosser was in full apolo­getic re­treat, amid ru­mours that he was un­likely to be high on the New Zealand First party list at the next elec­tion.

As many noted, the Prosser af­fair pro­vided politi­cians with a golden op­por­tu­nity to outdo each other in stat­ing their ab­hor­rence of racism and Is­lam­o­pho­bia.

For his part, Labour leader David Shearer rather clum­sily warned: ‘‘I find this of­fen­sive . . . If those sorts of com­ments were made in the Mid­dle East, it could incite vi­o­lence – we don’t want that here.’’

Shearer seemed to be de­nounc­ing Prosser’s claim that Mus­lims are in­her­ently vi­o­lent by warn­ing that say­ing so might trig­ger their propen­sity for vi­o­lence!

A more sub­stan­tial is­sue about in­ap­pro­pri­ate lan­guage and free speech got lost dur­ing the Prosser ruckus.

Last week, For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter Mur­ray McCully not only in­ter­vened to de­ter Na­tional MPs from meet­ing with the vis­it­ing West Pa­puan in­de­pen­dence leader Benny Wenda but – in­cred­i­bly – the new Speaker David Carter for­bade Green and Labour MPs from host­ing Wenda at a func­tion on Par­lia­ment grounds.

Both ac­tions were clearly meant to im­press In­done­sia, with whom, McCully said, he was pur­su­ing a pol­icy of ‘‘ con­struc­tive en­gage­ment’’.

McCully seems to­tally un­aware of the ori­gins of this nowdis­cred­ited term.

‘‘Con­struc­tive en­gage­ment’’ was the Rea­gan-era stance to­wards apartheid South Africa – and was pro­moted in op­po­si­tion to the suc­cess­ful United Na­tions pol­icy of sanc­tions, dis­in­vest­ment and iso­la­tion that even­tu­ally drove the rulers of South Africa to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble, and ush­ered in ma­jor­ity rule.

McCully ap­pears set on fol­low­ing the same Rea­gan­ite recipe of fail­ure with re­spect to In­done­sia, while shun­ning the ap­proach that suc­ceeded not only in South Africa, but in Ti­mor as well. Talk about his­tory re­peat­ing it­self.

In the 1980s, the Labour government of David Lange pur­sued an iden­ti­cal pol­icy of ap­pease­ment to­wards In­done­sia, over Ti­mor’s claims to in­de­pen­dence. Even­tu­ally, Ti­mor se­ceded re­gard­less, and In­done­sia has sur­vived its loss.

To­day though, we seem de­ter­mined to re­peat the same mis­take with re­spect to West Pa­pua’s le­git­i­mate quest for in­de­pen­dence – and again, we’re do­ing so to win brownie points with In­done­sia. Call­ing this craven pol­icy ‘‘con­struc­tive en­gage­ment’’ doesn’t make it smell any sweeter.

Ar­guably, our pol­icy stance on West Pa­pua is as rep­re­hen­si­ble, and more dam­ag­ing in the long term, than any tran­sient opin­ion piece by Richard Prosser.

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