David Slack

And Bill Clin­ton are in agree­ment: ter­ror­ists might win in the short-term but ul­ti­mately larger forces will see them off.

Sunday Star-Times - - SLACK AT THE BACK -

If, in my last liv­ing moment, I find my­self lost to a huge ball of flame I know what will be go­ing through my mind: ‘‘Is this the work of ter­ror­ists? Or did I do some­thing un­be­liev­ably stupid this time with the gas oven?’’

Which one’s the sui­cide bomber? Peo­ple worry about that guy in seat 16b with the beard, about the woman with the pram, about those women in hi­jabs speak­ing a for­eign lan­guage, which turns out to be Welsh. Mean­while, sta­tis­ti­cally greater threats to our life lie in wait for us – the car, the al­co­hol, the cancer, the steplad­der.

Af­ter 9/11 Bill Clin­ton wrote about ter­ror and ter­ror­ists. It’s what I go back to each time there’s fresh break­ing news and I think: God, not again. It’s what I go back to when politi­cians ex­ploit that news to in­flame hos­til­ity to­wards the guy in seat 16b and the woman with the pram.

What Clin­ton wrote was: in the short run, ter­ror­ists can in­flict un­speak­able mis­ery. But in the longer run, he said, look at the long story of hu­man­ity. We keep ris­ing, on­ward, up­ward; noth­ing stops us in the long run, from get­ting bet­ter.

Isis can do its worst. Hate-filled young men in Eng­land and France and Bel­gium can do their worst. But it will never be enough, not in the end, be­cause in num­ber they are small. They know that fear is their most pow­er­ful weapon. Their shadow is huge and ter­ri­fy­ing, but the light is hit­ting some­one lit­tle.

In the end, Bill Clin­ton said, they lose. Ev­ery time. Hu­man­ity goes on and keeps get­ting bet­ter, slowly, and of­ten painfully, but in­evitably.

A bomb can ex­plode with­out warn­ing in Manch­ester or Brus­sels or Bagh­dad, and leave us feel­ing vul­ner­a­ble and scared, but his­tory is car­ry­ing us up­ward. We are liv­ing bet­ter and longer than the gen­er­a­tions be­fore us.

We are also ab­surd and fool­ish and wrong­headed and do­ing our best to com­pletely ruin the planet, but the point Clin­ton was mak­ing was true: the ter­ror­ists might win for an hour or a day, but not in the long run. Larger forces will see them off. Larger forces keep car­ry­ing us for­ward to be bet­ter, health­ier, more pros­per­ous and sta­ble.

There are hu­mans who are be­yond con­tempt, de­spi­ca­ble and evil; but the worst you can say about most of us is that we are a bit of a dis­ap­point­ment.

That on­ward march of his­tory, though – can we be sure it keeps on Hu­man­ity goes on and keeps get­ting bet­ter, slowly, and of­ten painfully, but in­evitably. ris­ing? Boy, if you’ve been watch­ing the adap­ta­tion of The Hand­Maid’s Tale on Net­flix, the hor­ror of a postrev­o­lu­tion­ary theo­cratic to­tal­i­tar­ian USA gone all Tal­iban and do­ing un­speak­able things to women, you might think to your­self: I’ve seen a bit of that, on 4Chan, at the Trump ral­lies, in some of Mike Pence’s speeches.

But this month a street preacher in Ari­zona held up a sign say­ing ‘‘You de­serve to be raped’’ and was hit over the head with a base­ball bat by an en­raged woman. I have to say I cheered with the rest of Twit­ter, and not qui­etly. I see my dou­ble stan­dard here, but you re­ally should see what those mon­sters do in Mar­garet At­wood’s dystopian Amer­ica.

What do we want, al­most ev­ery one of us? Peace, surely, what­ever be­lief, what­ever reli­gion we might hold to.

And maybe tol­er­ance. Al­though that can be more of a chal­lenge to achieve: peo­ple don’t trust what they don’t know.

In Toronto, I keep hear­ing, the food is just amaz­ing, and that’s be­cause the place is truly mul­ti­cul­tural. By that they mean: all cul­tures are wholly mixed. There have been no eth­nic en­claves, no siloed neigh­bour­hoods. There is lit­tle racial ten­sion, be­cause ev­ery­one is fa­mil­iar with ev­ery­one else’s ways. They know the guy in seat 16b, they know the name of the baby in the pram.

If it were ac­tu­ally true that the world’s 1.8 billion Mus­lims wanted the rest of us dead, there’d have been rivers of blood long be­fore now. Fa­nat­ics are set on do­ing us the cru­ellest harm. They num­ber in the thou­sands, per­haps the tens of thou­sands. But they speak for no-one else. Our task is to keep a sense of pro­por­tion about that. And hunt them down like dogs.

One of my ear­li­est mem­o­ries is of sit­ting at a table at kin­der­garten be­fore Easter, dip­ping hard-boiled eggs in coloured dyes. The other kid at my table had painted his blue, and started eat­ing it.

The kindy teacher came over and said, ‘‘Oh, Cole, did you eat your egg?’’ His mouth was full and his lips were blue but he shook his head – no.

That ran­dom mem­ory was all I could think of this week dur­ing the Todd Bar­clay debacle. He lied when we could all see ev­i­dence to the con­trary, as clear as blue egg all over a 4-year-old’s face.

Per­haps it’s also an ap­pro­pri­ate anal­ogy be­cause the apol­o­gists for his be­hav­iour were quick to point out that the poor guy was just young and im­ma­ture. Todd Bar­clay en­tered Par­lia­ment at just 24 and his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer is cooked at just 27 – talk about peak­ing early.

He was our first MP to have been born in the 90s, but af­ter this elec­tion Chloe Swar­brick is likely to scoop the ti­tle of Baby of the House given she’ll only be 23.

Are they just too young to go into pol­i­tics?

Plenty of other young guns in par­lia­ment have done just fine – Jami-Lee Ross be­came a Manukau City Coun­cil­lor at 18 and an MP at 25. He’s now Na­tional’s se­nior whip. He took the man­tle of youngest MP from Gareth Hughes who was elected at 28 and is now sixth on the Green Party’s List. Jacinda Ardern be­came a Labour MP at 28 and of course is now the deputy leader at just 36.

Who could for­get Mike Moore, who be­came an MP at 23 and went on to be­come prime min­is­ter?

De­spite their youth and in­ex­pe­ri­ence, they didn’t squan­der their po­ten­tial, just like the more ad­vanced age and ex­pe­ri­ence of oth­ers hasn’t stopped them from stuff­ing up.

Aaron Gil­more was 39 when, in his sec­ond term as an MP, he drunk­enly ut­tered that now in­fa­mous line ‘‘Do you know who I am?’’ at a restau­rant in Han­mer. We all know who he is now – an id­iot.

Shane Jones, a self-de­scribed ‘‘red­blooded adult’’ was caught pay­ing for red-blooded adult films on his min­is­te­rial credit at age 55. He looked less red-blooded than red-faced.

You see, im­ma­tu­rity can strike at any age. We shouldn’t hold politi­cians more or less ac­count­able based on their age.

It’s not the num­ber of trips you’ve had around the sun that will de­ter­mine your suc­cess in Par­lia­ment.

Whether you en­ter Par­lia­ment at 24 or 44 I think it will be ei­ther your ego or your ar­ro­gance that will de­ter­mine whether you end up with egg on your face.

Todd Bar­clay ap­par­ently had plenty of both. Whether you en­ter Par­lia­ment at 24 or 44 it will be ei­ther your ego or your ar­ro­gance that will de­ter­mine whether you end up with egg on your face.

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