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It's much bigger than Paul Henry

It's much bigger than Paul Henry

by Ali Shakir

Now that he's resigned, and the core of the storm he'd stirred up seems to have passed. I think it's time to calm down, take a deep breath and start reflecting on what's been happening the past few weeks.

I reckon Paul Henry has made the right decision to resign. He couldn't possibly have come back after suspension to continue playing the role for which he'd won People's Choice Award as Best Presenter only weeks before he ignited the last furor. His viewers will always expect him to make them laugh, at any expense, and it's a task he just can't proceed in carrying out. Nor can he slow down and behave all of a sudden, that would "de-Paul Henry" him and people would dump the show in no time. … He needed a time out, and so did we!

But why would anyone thrive on mocking people's looks, names, ethnicity or even sexuality? Isn't that supposed to be an uncrossable red line? I have no idea about Henry's social background, well, except for his lately-pronounced gypsy descends, but usually, people who are desperate for attention have seldom experienced unconditional love in their life.

As an Iraqi, I know how such a complexity had driven an abused destitute child in Tikrit to become one of the world's most notorious tyrants, and how that all made me and my family, among millions of Iraqis, pay dearly. At an early age, Saddam realized fear was his only way to get noticed, and he would spend the rest of his life manipulating it.

It is actually very sad and very consuming for any human being to be in that position, but misfortunes can always occur, and we have only limited control over them hitting us at any given time. That said, we must always be conscious lest such a destructive inclination, like a cancerous tumor, evolve into a tendency throughout a nation.

Years ago, I went to visit an overwhelming exhibition on the Holocaust in Montreal, and saw for myself how Hitler and the Nazis had exploited the anti-Semitic feelings in post World War One Germany, and how that had eventually led to the world's largest mass murder in history.

Paul Henry's vulgarity would only be of minor significance had it been faced with public resentment. It could have been considered a slip of the tongue or even a behavior disorder that can be resolved with a few psychotherapy sessions. But unfortunately, thousands of New Zealanders have chosen to voice their support to his approach, vehemently demanding TVNZ to put him back on the air, while only few hundreds, mostly Indians, on Facebook and elsewhere, condemned his infamous comments on The Breakfast show.

What made things even worse, in my opinion, was TVNZ news and current affairs PR manager Andi Brotherston's remark in defense of Henry's conduct: "the audience tell us over and over again that one of the things they love about Henry is that he's prepared to say the things we quietly think, but are scared to say out aloud". Although Brotherston immediately apologized for her "horrendous error of judgment" and offered to resign, yet the thought of what she'd said, and that it could be true, is by itself terrifying.

On my way to Howick Beach, where I meditated every morning for the past couple of years, I met kind people "who looked and sounded like New Zealanders". I've often marveled at the freshness of their smiles and the warmth of their greetings. It freaks me out to even think that those kind, smiley people are actually feigning friendship and hospitality while their hearts are full of hatred and contempt against people like me, who "don't look and don't sound like New Zealanders", so to speak.

Of all the dormant volcanoes in New Zealand, I honestly think racism should be most feared. Undoubtedly, it's a stigma that must be handled very carefully and given extreme attention because not only does it threat the consistency of the community, but it can seriously damage New Zealand's integrity as a bigotry-free country in the world.


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