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The Racist Cacophony


The Racist Cacophony

Point of View with Barbara Sumner Burstyn

Racists in our midst? Without doubt Winston Peters has won first place in the ‘racist we all love to hate,’ category. No right thinking, liberal minded person would embrace his philosophies. Even his deputy, Peter Brown landed in hot water over his comments that Enoch Powell had been right in his warnings on immigration levels. In the subsequent fallout Mr Brown defended himself by saying his argument on immigration was about numbers of immigrants and not about the races involved.

But it seems a thin disguise to say it’s just about the numbers. Of course it’s not. But use any other vehicle to try to open discussion on the topic and you’re automatically branded a racist.

What’s really alarming here is not whether Peters and his party are racists but how impossible it has become to even discuss the subject of racism in our country without bringing down a cacophony of protest.

Instead of reasoned debate we get, on the one hand, protests on the steps of Parliament and on the other, over-blown political rhetoric, with both groups obscuring the real issues by tossing round media-catching words like Hitler and Klu Klux Klan.

But like it or not Peters is in tune with international dialogue on immigration and multiculturalism and he may just presage for New Zealand the kind of future that countries like Denmark are now ruing.

Considered for years to be a model of ethnic acceptance, the Danes lauded multiculturalism. Now they’re not so sure. 5% of their population are recent immigrants but they consume upwards of 40% of welfare spending. Then there’s the escalating gang rape statistics, almost entirely fuelled by Muslim men and European victims. Australia and France are suffering the same trends. But it’s in Norway where the debate on the downsides of embracing multiculturalism is most active. A professor at the University of Oslo recently called on Norwegian women to take their share of responsibility for rape (Muslim men make up the majority of the country’s convicted rapists while almost all their female victims are non-Muslim) because their manner of dress was inappropiate for Muslim men.

This bending of established cultural sensibility to accommodate new customs may be laudable and necessary but how far do we go in accepting the practices of other cultures? Recently in the US the Council on American-Islamic Relations objected to the prosecution of two men in Chicago for the ‘honor killing’ of their cousin on the grounds of ‘ethnic and religious stereotyping.’ Or how about suttee? Or forced marriage? Or female circumcision?

Sure those are the extreme ends of multiculturalism. But if we’re not even willing to talk about the fundamental issues, the building blocks of creating a more multicultural society then how can we begin to formulate a response to issues that will inevitably come with that blending.

And what immigration numbers? Countries like Demark are now finding that as immigrants from a particular group increase, they mix less with the indigenous populations, live increasingly in self-imposed isolation from the surrounding culture and exclusively practice their own customs. And while it may seem far-fetched in New Zealand today, in Demark the Muslim population has grown so strong they are now openly seeking to introduce Islamic laws.

In a show of solidarity for new immigrants Green MP Metiria Turei naively suggested Maori had more in common with immigrants than Pakeha New Zealanders. But does she really think a swelling immigrant population, once it got the numbers, would respect the tenets of bi-culturalism, let alone multiculturalism, any more than the system she is presently part of?

The organizer of the recent noisy protest on the steps of Parliament, Karuna Muthu told reporters the kind of racism he encountered in New Zealand was very subtle and sophisticated. "The issue is racism and don't run away from it," he said. But he’s mistaken. The issue is not racism. The issue is the pressures of multiculturalism and how we accommodate it.

No one is served by removing so called racist remarks from the records of Parliament as Muthu is suggesting. Such things are signposts of a country experiencing growing pains, a country no more than a few years behind its European counterparts. A country with an opportunity to get its cultural flavour just right.

But it doesn’t happen by allowing essential issues to be hijacked by the loudest voice, leaving this discussion (like so many others) to grandstanding politicians and enraged special interest groups. By wilfully allowing those groups to define the issues in the narrowest, most self-interested terms we all give up our discernment and our judgment and our opportunity to participate in nation building. Personally, I stood with every other liberal minded New Zealander, flinching at almost every grandiose and ego driven statement made by Winston Peters. But right now he’s all we’ve got. He’s the only person trying to engender debate on an issue that will only grow in relevance to New Zealanders. And if, even after open dialogue we don’t agree with him, the remedy is not to shout him down, or expunge his comments from the records of Parliament or limit his unpopular free speech. It is more free speech. It is discussion, debate and reason.

© Barbara Sumner Burstyn, Sept. 02


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