Tuesday, July 26, 2005

How much longer NZs independent foreign policy?

On a number of occasions since 1984, people with a NZ passport have been able to justifably be proud of the fact that their country has stood up and acted independently. Unlike Australia, which is still caught up in the 'yellow peril' phobia of a white island in the middle of an Asia/Pacific sea, NZ has had the balls to say no to the US where they deserved it. Examples include being nuclear free, not joining other US stooge countries like Palau and Micronesia in backing Israeli aggression in the UN general assembly against overwhelming world opinion, and most significantly not invading Iraq and creating the chaotic mess that country is now.

However, serious questions are being raised about the new leader of the opposition who is currently leading the polls in NZ. A financial ideologue who oversaw the radical economic policies of the early 90's , he belongs fairly and squarely in the old 'white' conservatism of NZs past, which may yet rear its head. He has at best obfuscated on the question of readmitting nuclear ships to NZ waters and backing George W Bush in his wars, at worst he is saying one thing to powerful people in the US and keeping mum to the NZ public. Of this we can be certain, he has no personal enthusiasm for the independent foreign policy NZ has charted over the past 20 years. If he wins the election, how long will it take before NZ is following Australia into the Middle-East and making unnecessary enemies for ourselves? Is NZ's security best served by identifying itself as a vocal 'me-tooist' for Rumsfeld & Cheney and therefore a neo-colonial outpost, or are we trying to develop a genuinely 'Pacific' culture? It will be interesting to see whether NZ will take the mature, independent path in this election and vote against Brash.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

An unconditional condemnation but let's get one thing straight

The terrible events that occured in London deserve a swift expression of empathy for the victims and an equally swift condemnation of those who committed these acts. I have no hesitation in making either.

Having said that, let's get one thing straight. The cause of this attack is that extremist groups, arising out of non-democratic and non-politically permeable societies believe that as long as Western governments and Western companies continue to act in the middle east [and other parts of the developing world] in their 'national interest' even when this interest runs counter to any morality, Western or otherwise, they will never have the chance to shape their own societies. It's not because they want to 'change our way of life' or because they 'hate our freedoms. This mythology is the most dangerous fallicy in the world today. They certainly do not approve of many Western behaviours, but neither do they approve of some Mongolian or Brazilian behaviours. The reason those countries are not attacked is because they are not activily involved in interfering in Muslim countries, not are they perceived to be.

The first step in winning the war on terror will be to recognise one cannot win a war on terror. The American, British and Australian war of aggression on a country that had not attacked them and which did not pose any reasonable threat to them [Iraq] demostrates that the war on terror is a dangerous, open-ended catch-all that has done nothing but stir up a pandora's box of violence and extremism. The irony of all this is that this will be added to Sept 11th, the Bali bombings, & Madrid as the great examples of why the 'war on terrorism' needs to be fought. To put this in perspective, what happened in Britain is happening every other day in Iraq - people who are just as innocent are dying because of a hell created by our own governments overthrowing a stable if oppressive government which at least kept the water running. Neo-cons will say that Iraqis have freedom and this is the price they must pay - well cut the arrogance, it's not George Bush's kids who are paying the price it's ordinary Iraqis who have to live in shite and dirt-poor Americans who have to fight for your fundamentalist freedoms.

When Americans begin to consider whether it is in their national interest to give more foreign aid to Israel that they do to the entire African continent, or whether in might be a good idea to spend money educating their own poor people rather than employing them in a military that is more powerful and more expensive that the rest of the world's combined, perhaps the extremists will be starved of their oxygen. Instead of invading countries to create democracies, how about removing trade barriers from those that exist?

Those who committed Thursday's atrocities are not absolved in any way from their actions by these facts. However, perhaps we in the West should start realising that other people are suffering as well, their lives are just as important and as valuable as ours, and that George Bush, Tony Blair and John Howard should be held accountable for not acting in our interests let alone in accordance with international or moral laws. Perhaps when we give Osama his lethal injection, George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld will be next in the queue.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Choudhary and stoning

NZ MP Ashraf Choudhary has got himself into a stink over some dumb comments on a NZ TV programme:

Here's the story:

Choudhary was asked whether the Muslim holy book, the Koran, is wrong to recommend that gays in certain circumstances be stoned to death.

He replied that "what the Koran says is correct", adding "in those societies, not here in New Zealand."

Well, apart from noting it was a pointless question from a journalist [is Choudhary, a list MP who voted for civil unions and abstained on legalizing prostitution really likely to let this affect his voting patterns, there must be a million more relevant questions to ask], Choudhary could have answered the question a lot more cleverly, by stating - truthfully - that the Quran DOESN'T say this. This has apparently been overlooked in the whole issue, with no-one bothering to say that, while some Muslims believe in stoning and perhaps one or two countries on earth actually practice it, it's NOT PRESCRIBED IN THE QURAN. The same can not be said about the Bible, however.

On another level, is it necessary that every single person in the parliament endorse in their personal beliefs what the majority considers acceptable? I'm sure that there are a lot of extreme personal opinions in there, from both right or left. Representative democracy surely means that all ideas should be represented in proportion. If only 1% of NZ believes smoking Marijuana should be part of their religion, there's nothing wrong with having a single MP who believes this. If 1% of NZ believes that NZ should be a theocratic Christian state, they should have 1% of MPs. Just because a person holds views which are not acceptable to the majority doesn't disqualify his or her right to hold them, or to be an MP. Democracy means that extremist views should not be translated into law because the majority doesn't accept them. I don't think it means that people should be vilified for holding them privately.

Monday, July 04, 2005

The line between freedom of speech and vilification - a tricky one

Just reading an article in the Sydney Morning Herald trumpeting the right to criticize other's religion beliefs. While I am uncomfortable with laws verging on restricting freedom of speech, even deeply offensive speech, I was somewhat taken aback by the following quote:

"There are also laws protecting people from vilification based on gender, sexual orientation and race. This is as it should be, given that these are inherent, unchangeable qualities. An attack on a person based on their race, gender or sexuality is an attack on their right to exist. Religion is different. We are not born with religious ideas; we learn them and we teach them. They are a cluster of facts, mythology, feelings and suppositions existing only in our heads. They can be altered, strengthened or abandoned."

Aside from the obvious [at least to me] perspective that abandoning one's religion may not be as easy as the writer suggests, or indeed that that religious ideas "exist only in our heads" might be deeply offensive and debatable in itself, I found it intriguing how in this author's mind, choosing to parade one's choice of how to have sex is seen as involiable in the same way as gender or race are.

Gender is an undoubtably biological essentialism. The difference between males and females is hardwired from conception and the distinction is important in all significant cultures. It is not feasible to decide to hide the fact that one is female [I know it has been done it certainly would be next to impossible for most women]. Race is a more ambiguous category, and certainly not like gender, but on the other hand, it is not possible for most black people to pretend to be white [and vice versa, not that that would usually be advantageous].

'Sexual orientation' on the other hand, is not something as plain as the nose on one's face, as it were. It is possible to consider oneself 'gay', even to maintain a homosexual relationship, without it being obvious to every single person you meet. This is not the case with gender, or race. While some maintain that homosexuality is not a choice and is genetic, the evidence for this is far from unchallenged. It is hard to believe that less than a quarter of a century ago people could still be locked up for homosexuality, whereas nowadays it is considered sacreligious to hold the opinion that it might be anything other that a genetic inevitability.

I'm not suggesting that people should be able to debate with every gay person they meet about the rights and wrongs of homosexuality. It would be most inappropriate, according to the mores of our society, for an manager to impose his or her views on an employee who identifies as 'gay', and to expect them to listen to disparaging comments about homosexual lifestyle. On the other hand, why should every Christian be forced to endure unsolicited debates about God or Christianity from those in authority? Should a Muslim employee be asked everytime that there is some terrorist event around the world whether he or she knew about it or was involved [it happens]? Or should a Hindu be required to accept snide jokes about cows?

I think we're going down a dangerous path if we regard religion as simply 'political ideologies' that can be debated willy nilly regardless of the offence it causes. By and large, people are born into religions and hold them very deeply. It's not easy to change. Nevertheless, I think that laws should not impede genuine and respectful debate. Perhaps it's better that we have laws which indicate it's not carte blanche to ridicule others' beliefs, and leave it up to the courts to determine when the line from free speech to harassment and incitement has been crossed.

Here's the article I commenting on: