Don’t fear the haters – laugh at them

Sunday Star-Times - - News - Jonathan Milne

They were pa­thetic. Half a dozen white power thugs, ridicu­lous with their close-shaven heads and Nazi­in­spired mo­tifs on their jack­ets. Even to call them thugs gives them too much credit: they turned up to con­front a peace­ful rally against racism on Satur­day, hurled a few ep­i­thets, then ran whim­per­ing to po­lice for pro­tec­tion.

The Na­tional Front’s lit­tle day out in Welling­ton yes­ter­day should re­as­sure New Zealan­ders. When ex­trem­ist groups are gain­ing mo­men­tum in some parts of the world, they re­main a laugh­ably in­ef­fec­tual pres­ence here – and most im­por­tantly, we know how to re­spond to them.

We don’t shut them down or knock them down; that would be to sink to their level. Mostly, we ig­nore them as ir­rel­e­vant. And if we must re­spond, we do it by speak­ing com­mon sense to their big­otry.

New Green MP Gol­riz Ghahra­man, who came to New Zealand as a young Ira­nian refugee, spoke at the rally against racism yes­ter­day: ‘‘To­gether we stood strong against hate and divi­sion,’’ she said after­wards.

And she cel­e­brated free speech: ‘‘I want to thank you all from the bot­tom of my Kiwi-Ira­nian refugee heart for standing with the peo­ple who are voice­less, who have been si­lenced.’’

In New Zealand we pro­tect free speech – even when we ve­he­mently dis­agree with oth­ers.

To­day we re­port vile ex­pres­sions of ha­tred of Is­rael by vis­it­ing speak­ers at an east Auck­land Is­lamic cen­tre, some of whom de­nied the Holo­caust and called for the ‘‘sur­gi­cal re­moval’’ of Is­rael.

Jewish com­mu­nity lead­ers want one of the speak­ers, Ira­nian Em­bassy first sec­re­tary Hor­moz Ghahre­mani, thrown out af­ter he called for Mus­lim na­tions to unite against Is­rael.

New Zealan­ders are di­vided in their views on re­solv­ing the Is­rael-Pales­tine con­flict, but al­most all would con­demn the speak­ers’ pro­posed an­ni­hi­la­tion of Is­rael.

Do we, then, de­mand the ex­pul­sion of this so-called diplo­mat? That is more dif­fi­cult.

New Zealand re­quired Kuwait to with­draw its pre­vi­ous am­bas­sador, who was ac­cused of as­sault­ing and in­jur­ing a woman in Welling­ton. Po­lice would have charged him, but Kuwait re­fused to waive his diplo­matic im­mu­nity.

It’s fair to say that this, too, re­flected a clash of val­ues. Not about beat­ing women: both New Zealan­ders and Kuwaitis would agree that is rep­re­hen­si­ble. But our two na­tions did clash over the ac­count­abil­ity and trans­parency with which the al­leged crime should be treated.

Am­bas­sador Ahmed Ra­zouqi was pro­tected by diplo­matic im­mu­nity, en­sur­ing emis­saries are not vul­ner­a­ble to the whim or mal­ice of for­eign regimes.

Our gov­ern­ment can­not over­turn diplo­matic im­mu­nity, and nor would we want to. It pro­tects more New Zealan­ders, rep­re­sent­ing our na­tion in hos­tile climes, than it harms.

New Zealand of­fi­cials tried hard to per­suade Kuwait to front up their am­bas­sador to po­lice, we re­port to­day. Kuwait re­fused. So he could not be held to ac­count in the crim­i­nal courts – but he will be held to ac­count in the court of pub­lic opinion,

Win­ston Peters, the new For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter, says Ra­zouqi can run but he can’t hide: ‘‘Diplo­matic im­mu­nity is not anonymity.’’

That is an ap­pro­pri­ate way to re­spond to Iran diplo­mat Hor­moz Ghahre­mani, too. He is guilty, not of a crime, but of in­flam­ma­tory hate speech that risks rad­i­cal­is­ing the young or the fool­ish.

We can­not charge him. We should not ex­pel him. Rather, we should pub­licly expose and ridicule him and his rhetoric.

Just as we do with the laugh­able skin­heads of the Na­tional Front.

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