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Marc My Words – 5 Nov 2004

Marc My Words – 5 Nov 2004

One covers who you are - the other changes it.

This week it's a 'two for one' deal because a couple of Court cases have raised my hackles. The first concerns the controversy involving Muslim women and the burqa; the second regards a cannabis related case in Christchurch.

It seems strange to me that the rights and wrongs of women wearing the burqa have become a topic worthy of much discussion. Clearly what people choose to wear is their own business. While I personally find no rational explanation for why any woman should feel so dishonoured by the body their supposed god provided them with that they would choose to hide it in public.

It strikes me as someone ashamed of their creator's creation! I don't see cows covering up for fear of being seen. Nor do I see the same standard applied to the male of our species. It is for me a telling example of the subjugation and humiliation of women. Nevertheless it is not my call. If adults choose to waddle around in duck suits, that's their business.

In that sense I'm a bit more tolerant than our only self proclaimed Muslim in Parliament, Ashraf Choudhary. (I say 'self-proclaimed' because many Muslims have disowned him for what they regard as his diminished sense of moral capacity - he was the person who after long and careful deliberation came up with his underwhelming 'abstention' on the Prostitution Bill!). He was quoted as saying, "Muslim women should not only remove their burqas in Court, they should not wear them in public."

While I disagree on the second point, I do agree on the first. We pride ourselves on having an open and tolerant society. But our court processes should not be undermined by cultural lines drawn in the sand. We demand that the accused be allowed to face their accusers. Literally.

Except in very special circumstances, for example involving children and rape victims, we demand the right to see the face of our accusers. That should remain inviolate.

In addition, customs officials should not be compromised doing their job. Currently the procedures for checking the identity of veiled Muslim women are under review, as more Middle Eastern visitors come to New Zealand. Why should frontline staff be faced with dealing with the difficult issue of matching faces to passport photographs when tourists arrive veiled or wearing the burqa? Should be easy.take the veil off and put it back on when done. If you don't like our rules then go elsewhere. It is after all our country. What tolerance would there be from the Customs officer in Iran for a Kiwi woman who arrived wearing short sleeves, a pair of hiking shorts, and with her hair uncovered? Her reception would be less than hospitable.

Did these women who demand to keep their feminine graces covered by the burqa in a Court of law, remove their veils for identification when they first arrived and processed by the Immigration Service? Do their driving licences carry a photograph that actually resembles them and not the cloth they're cocooned in? Why don't we throw this uncompromising and intolerant twaddle of theirs into the rubbish bin of political correctness, and demand that where there is a legal and commonsense reason for abiding by our rules they do so, as the price of admission? Let's dump this ethnic and cultural nonsense once and for all and leave our system to work in the manner of our choosing.

Frankly I think these women are lucky to live in a country where they may follow their own religion for the most part unimpeded. In Saudi Arabia for example all religions other than Islam are banned. A Christian cannot even be buried there! What a great example of tolerance!

Still.I can't help smiling though.It is a gentle irony that the debate regarding the wearing of the burqa occurred at Halloween!


I have never apologised for my hard line against drugs and l sure as hell don't intend to now. However a recent case concerning the use of cannabis screams for comment.

We know that most of the negative physiological effects of marijuana are well substantiated. These fall into six categories:

· Brain - marijuana initiates changes in brain chemistry. Its use hinders the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, a chemical that triggers various types of signals throughout the nervous system.

· Mood and behaviour - marijuana use leads to difficulties in concentration paying attention, and the ability to learn complex information. There is also an impairment in the perception of time (see below), as well as of certain aspects of memory.

· Heart - marijuana affects heart rate and blood pressure and simulates those conditions found in people under high stress.

· Lungs - marijuana contains 50 per cent more tar than tobacco and has an irritating effect on the upper airways, including the sinuses and larynx. There is some evidence that it may cause lung, head and neck cancers.

· Sexual performance - studies have linked marijuana to a reduction in the number and quality of sperm. Sperm mobility is affected, with a consequent reduction in fertility. Considering that some of the people who have a drug lifestyle accompanied by the requisite criminal activities, this may actually be a positive!

· Blood flow - marijuana has been shown to decrease blood flow to the limbs. In extreme cases these may require amputation.

For anyone who argues the nature versus nurture nonsense, an Australian study of 311 pairs of identical and fraternal twins concluded that age and lifestyle were significant factors in drug dependency. A study of same-sex twins showed that those who experimented with marijuana before the age of seventeen were up to five times more likely to use harder drugs such as heroin and cocaine later, regardless of genetic and family background.

Anyway, enough said.

We know the damage that drugs can do and without going into an arduous menu of reasons (medical and legal) for maintaining harsh sanctions, I want to turn attention to one particular case.

Putting all the above aside, the recent case of Neville Yates deserves special consideration. He has received his fourth conviction for marijuana cultivation and a ninth on cannabis-related grounds. He claims that his use of cannabis is for medicinal reasons. Even so he was given a four month sentence of imprisonment.

I met Neville in my Christchurch office and in my opinion he is no angel. But before we rush to judge too harshly we should also note that he is a disabled man who is wheelchair-bound and brain damaged. He suffers from chronic pain. Since a serious accident when he was 14 years old, he has had a stroke, suffered paralysis and has had one foot amputated.

I certainly don't want to diminish the prohibition against cannabis but I cannot see what is to be gained from incarcerating Neville Yates. What public interest will be served?

It will cost at least $20,000 to keep him in prison for that time. He will not be assured of much medical or therapeutic help; he'll be a vulnerable target for the violent bullies who are in there for more serious offences; and he'll come out no better, in all likelihood, worse. A more satisfactory scenario for Neville Yates would be a proper medical assessment and for him to be treated as a clinical rather than a criminal case; he should be given proper assistance to reclaim some semblance of a life that has been riddled with pain and tragedy. The point is he is not a dope fiend preying on others, but a heartbreaking example of a damaged person being further damaged by our lack of compassion - and no doubt immune to our sympathies because his brain damage has made him less sociably acceptable than most.

The issue here is less about the rights and wrongs of the marijuana debate but much more about how we fail to treat compassionately the less 'cuddly' amongst us at the point where they need it most.

Marc Alexander MP


++ find out about the PETITION AGAINST SMACKING BAN on Marc's new RADIO show this Monday, 1pm on Plains FM 96.9.

++ next PUBLIC MEETING 5pm Mon 29 Nov, at 173 Cashel Street: Lincoln Tan, chair Christchurch Asian Youth Council and Managing Director bi-lingual iBall Newspaper

Email Marc -


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