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Jeanette Fitzsimons on the US tragedy

Jeanette Fitzsimons on the US tragedy

12 September 2001

General Debate speech by Jeanette Fitzsimons on the US tragedy Embargoed until delivery - slot number four

Like others here today I want to express my horror at the violence and terror which has engulfed so many thousands of people and left families grieving around the world. Like many other New Zealanders I woke up this morning wondering about my son in the United States and was relieved when his e-mail arrived.

The enormity of a tragedy on this scale takes some time to comprehend as we grieve for the dead, the injured and their families and friends.

We grieve also for the vision of world peace which has been sorely tested by this atrocity. Yesterday in New Zealand - today in the US - is the UN International Day of Peace. As we paused in the Green Caucus at noon yesterday to share a minute's silence with millions of people around the world, to recommit ourselves to the struggle for peace for all peoples, we could not know that the final plans were in progress for this appalling massacre.

Today's events seem like a huge set-back for that cause. It would be easy to feel powerless or despairing that humanity can ever learn to solve its conflicts in less destructive ways. But that is a temptation we must not give in to.

It is understandable that outrage at this atrocity will lead in some quarters to calls for unthinking retaliation, for choosing a culprit and venting our rage on them. We must not listen to those calls, or we risk escalating the horror until it leads to a global conflict. That may, in fact, be the outcome this attack was designed to produce.

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We are all agreed that the organisers of this dreadful act must be brought to justice and removed from society. No country should give them succour and New Zealand should co-operate internationally to find them when their identity is known.

But having done that, this is a time for calm heads and wise counsel. We must not let the hate that has motivated this action infect us, too. Fear of anyone different is always just around the corner in most societies and can easily escalate into hate. If we are to call ourselves civilised we must rise above the temptation to hate those of unfamiliar cultures, races and religions, and to base our international relationships on hate.

It is a time for international leadership to ensure that we do nothing that could lead to more innocent lives being lost. It is a time not for revenge but for justice, and then for healing. It is a time for methodical examination of the evidence rather than hasty assumption of guilt.

I must say I was astonished and saddened at a couple of attempts this afternoon to bring politics into our expressions of mourning and condolence. To compare dropping flour from a light aircraft over a Springbok tour game, in protest against a violent and racist regime, with today's attack devalues the tragedy we are mourning.

To use this event as an excuse for maintaining a global spying system used mainly against civilians and commerce raises the question of what use that system, and the others like it in the US, was in detecting the preparations for this tragedy.

The principle of non-violence is one of the four fundamental principles of the Green charter. It guides our policy development in all areas. We will not let these terrible events shake our faith on the processes of building a world peace - in fact we will redouble those efforts.

Building peace needs work at every level. It is not just the absence of violence, but the presence of justice and freedom. It will not happen between nations and religions until we have learned to build it between people. And that does not just happen - it needs to be worked at.

At the most basic level it needs to be worked at in schools where children can learn as young as seven the processes of non-violent conflict resolution, listening and mediation. The Peace Foundation programme called 'Cool Schools' is an excellent model. The UNESCO 'Culture of Peace' programme is another.

It needs to happen in families. Anger management courses and assertiveness courses are all contributing.

There cannot be peace if we tolerate injustice and violence elsewhere. New Zealand's action in welcoming some of the Afghani refugees is a positive move to building world peace.

There will not be peace and security for any while some have no homes, no food and no hope.

We must not let fear of the perpetrators of this horror damage our commitment to civil liberty, encourage the development of police states or destroy the freedom we have worked for and which sets us apart from less fortunate nations.

Let us all commit to giving peace another chance.


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